New Threads: Meet the best dressmakers in town

The art of dressmaking is thriving as customers seek out experts who can make them something beautiful, that fits them beautifully too


‘A dress can’t change anything”, argues a character in The Dressmaker, a new revenge comedy movie with Kate Winslet (due here later in the year) set in the Australian outback in the 1950s. What Winslet, as the femme fatale Myrtle Dunnage, so stylishly proves with her sewing machine and haute couture is that a dress can be transformative.

With dressmaking in focus, who are the best in Dublin? For women who desire something special, something tailored to flatter their figure, something unique for a celebratory event like a wedding or for everyday work, here is a guide to seven of the top thimble queens in Dublin – in France they are called couturières du coin – most of whom earn their reputation by word of mouth.

Two – Gill Howard and Anne O’Mahony – get special endorsement from designer Peter O’Brien. “These women cut and sew to the level of Parisian couture ateliers . . . and I am not exaggerating.”

Anne O’Mahony
One of O Mahony’s most challenging wedding dresses was for an American lecturer in medieval history who loved cartridge pleating, medieval brocades and damask silk and wanted all these things for her TCD wedding dress.

Another memorable project was a 12 foot dress for a character in a Glyndebourne opera, that entailed a lot of understructure. “I was wrecked at the end of it,” she says. No stranger to period costume or to clients who want something they can’t get elsewhere, O Mahony’s extensive experience working with Ib Jorgensen, pattern cutting training in Milan (she still speaks Italian), at the Abbey Theatre and on Riverdance enabled her to set up on her own in 2001.

Her reputation for corsetry, cut, handsewing and tailoring has been firmly established. “People who come to me want something that fits, that looks good and that nobody else will have,” she says.

“In the shops sizes are usually 8-16 and after that it can be difficult to find the same style. Sometimes they see something in a magazine they can’t find in the shops. I can guide them into something that is right for them. It is important to build a good relationship.”

Prices start at €180 for skirts/trousers, dresses from €450, suits from €600 and wedding dresses from €1,500. Studio 32, Tower Design Centre, Grand Canal Quay, Dublin 2, Tel: 01-6729369/087-2272924

Denise Long
Long got her first sewing machine at the age of four, and it set her future career on track. As the daughter of an artist, creativity was always part of her home life and she set up in business as a dressmaker while still a diploma student at the Grafton Academy 20 years ago. Bridal wear, evening wear and tailoring are her specialities and she survived the recession by downsizing and concentrating on remodelling clothes “when it became fashionable to do that rather than have new ones made,” she recalls.

“A lot (of customers) find it hard to buy off the rails because the sizes and pattern makers of the clothes on the high street are often from Asian countries and are not always flattering to western figures. A big part of the job is guiding customers through the process by making a toile and showing how it works, how even a few centimetres can change things. I go into town with clients to choose fabric and it doesn’t matter what size you are, if you have good cut and good fabric and a style that complements your figure, then it works – that is hard to find if you are buying off the peg.”

Prices for dresses start from around €300, wedding dresses from €900 depending on style, fabric and the amount of work involved.

16 Merrion Grove, Blackrock, Co Dublin. Tel: 085-7128513. Text to contact.

Sarah Foy
“I am completely and utterly obsessed” says Foy who joined the Grafton Academy while still at school and later gained experience in corporate wear and lingerie which now stands to her advantage.

She started her business 10 years ago with a sewing machine doing bridal and evening wear “because I could always design bridal, it came easily to me.” She initially supported herself by teaching diploma students at the Grafton. Since then it has grown through word of mouth and her very first wedding customer came back this year to order a dress for her daughter’s communion. Foy believes firmly that the style of any wedding dress should reflect the personality of its wearer and she loves the relationship with clients for whom she sources all the fabrics and trimmings. “We rarely do strapless because that is done to death in the shops – the current trend is for separates – a skirt with a bodice and some sort of lace jacket which is more flexible.” Clontarf, Dublin 3. Tel 086-17800220


The Stitch Shop
With a background in management and customer service, Emma Delaney opened The Stitch Shop four years ago with a Brazilian seamstress. “It was a time of recession so I took a leap of faith and went down the alterations route,” she says. Today she has two dressmakers who are skilled in flattering a woman’s shape and advising on length and fabric choices and business has grown through personal recommendation. “These girls are brutally honest,” she says. Though customers are mainly for bridal and special occasion wear, she attracts younger customers by offering a customising service and is active on social media with illustrations – a lace insert in a pair of denim shorts or the addition of red lace to vamp up a plain red dress. “A customised dress can look more expensive and different and young people are open to that,” she says. Prices start at €250 for a dress including lining but excluding fabric, though she has copied a DVF wrap dress for €200.

63 Lr Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin 6. Tel :01 -4410011/087-7620643

Gill Howard
Anyone trying to get Howard to make an outfit has to wait as she is much in demand in the movie and theatre world for her prowess in costume construction having trained in period costume for stage and screen in the 1990s in Liverpool. After graduation she worked on Broadway shows such as The Lion King and The Lord of the Dance and started costume design for movies. Her skill lies in taking modern approaches to period costume – using plastic boning, for instance which is more flexible and comfortable and moulding the body into a period silhouette.

“You create texture with folding, pleating to give texture and depth – to create shadows.”

She has worked with all the leading Irish costume designers such as Joan Bergin and Consolata Boyle and on outfits for Sabina Higgins, notably re-cutting and re-beading a Tudor rose dress for the presidential UK state visit. Howard has private clients but is about to start her third year working on the TV drama series Penny Dreadful in Ardmore Studios. Ashbourne, Co Meath.

email: Tel: 087-2259232

Barbara Kosznik
The proud claim of this highly skilled Polish dressmaker and tailor who employs eight in her atelier in Dún Laoghaire is that her clothes are as well made inside as out.
Poland has many tailoring schools, she tells me, and enthusiastic comments from satisfied customers fill a visitor book.
Kosznik spent six years at tailoring school in Poland followed by four years gaining industry experience before setting up on her own for a further 12 years. She started her business in Ireland in 2009, at first doing mostly high class alterations, but was increasingly sought out for made-to-measure bridal and daywear. Her fabrics are sourced from Italy and Paris and generally it takes maximum four weeks to fulfil an order.

When it comes to weddings, the Irish celebrate more, she says. “They have three, four or five bridesmaids, whereas in Poland it is usually just one.”

Prices for wedding dresses start at €900.

83 Lr George’s Street, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin Tel: 01-2806277/085-8354588.

Denise Assas
Assas trained in Esmod in Nice and won the gold medal needle award Aiguille D’Or on graduation.

In business in Dublin for 25 years, she is well known for her luxurious French fabrics and trimmings and for both bridal wear and tailoring. One spectacular wedding dress for an Australian client involved hand stitching ostrich feathers one by one onto the hem of the skirt and attaching crystal pieces “because she wanted glitter as well”. Another for a posh wedding in Kensington involved an elaborate hand embroidered motif of flowers on silk tulle all the way down the dress “but I love embroidery and the handcraft end of dressmaking,” she says.

“We have a bit of magic at our disposal and can create the illusion that people look slimmer – or bigger if they are too thin. They get more personal and honest advice than in a shop because the shop has to sell. A dressmaker wants you to look good because it also reflects on them.

“We are more objective and without being rude, you just have to be blunt at times. I do drawings showing the shapes that suit their figures and even the most perfect size 10 has lumps and bumps they want to disguise. “It’s very personal and you have to be a bit of a psychologist.” With a regular clientele for suits and daywear, she is also in demand for theatre and film. Prices start at €700 for a suit including fabric and lining, with wedding dresses from €1500. Each piece is unique and not repeated. 67 Dame Street, Dublin 2 Tel: 01-6797544/086-8294864

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