Sé Sí: 30 years in business
Deirdre Macken owner of the much-loved Sé Sí in Dublin’s Temple Bar celebrates 30 years in business this year
Deirdre Macken in Sé Sí in Fownes Street, Temple Bar. Photograph: Eric Luke
What is Sé Sí about? It’s the inside of a happily disturbed mind. I really sell junk – gems of junk. I stock whatever I like and I love young designers so we stock things they make. We want to be the friendly side of fashion: I don’t think fashion should be elitist or snobbish.
What was your original intention with Sé Sí? I wanted it to be an alternative department store so that you could come in with your office clothes on and walk out with an amazing hairstyle, a tattoo and a new outfit, while your partner waited upstairs eating great food in the Floating Seed and later in Café Irie.
How did you start out? I was a New Romantic and when I left school at 17 no-one was selling clothes I wanted to wear, so I set up a stall in Mary Street market.
I used to go to the Afrospot nightclub in Temple Bar, and Bartley Dunnes, Pygmalion, Bruxelles.
It wasn’t a calculated decision to sell clothes but six months after starting the stall I had a shop called Let them Stare on Dublin’s Bachelors Walk.
Where do you source your stock? I do a lot of travelling and go to lots of markets in the UK and Europe.
What influences you? Clothes as art – peacock dressing. I’m heavily influenced by images. I love to say I’m not convention’s fool. I like when people think for themselves but it can be a lonely road to be different.
What is in Lucy’s Lounge (in the basement of Sé Sí)? We have a €5 rail which gives people the chance to use the fabrics or buy something cheap. We stock vintage: accessories, clothes and household textiles. We sell items for fancy dress, such as era-specific gloves and hats, and menswear and thrift or “yesterday’s fashion”.
My husband Rory makes really extravagant things that people wear to festivals. They’re not the type of clothes that you say: “Does my bum look big in this?”, they are the kind of clothes that prompt the question: “Do I look amazing in this?”
How do you encourage young designers? We allow them to make things and give free sewing lessons to kids who are mad about clothes, or need help with portfolios, in return for working in the shop.
I’ve sold Pauric Sweeney, Mark O’Neill, Claire Garvey . . . I’ve even sold Louise Kennedy. All the students from the art colleges would give Sé Sí Progressive their clothes on sale-or-return.
Were the shops your only endeavour? In the mid-1990s we ran club nights – in The Kitchen for Bono (everyone would dress up) and in the Pod.
Have the customers changed much? Back then if you did anything different, then creative people who wanted something to happen thronged to you. Vintage is more mainstream now. Sometimes mothers and their daughters come in and the mothers are more free-spirited.
Do you own or rent? I bought the building 25 years ago. It took a year. Despite the heartache I believe it was easier to set up a business then. The Government is extremely anti-business. They should encourage small businesses rather than penalising them with excessive rates.
Has Temple Bar changed a lot? There have been three phases. The pre-construction phase which was everyone together trying to do something different, it felt very Berlin and organic.
Then Temple Bar Properties started construction and a lot of the dreamers and movers left. Lots of artists and micro-businesses were moved out to make room for change.
Now it’s settled down. I have always loved Temple Bar. I actually like some of what Temple Bar Properties have done – the cultural spaces and public spaces. I don’t like the way Temple Bar is portrayed in the media. There’s a great community here – I get positive feedback from tourists.
Sé Sí is open noon-6pm daily at
11 Fownes Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.
In conversation with Ruth O’Connor