Carousel, the Exchequer Street shop chosen by The New York Times as an essential place to visit in Dublin, has a new fan: Uma Thurman, the celebrated US actor and Pulp Fiction star who was seen shopping in the Dublin boutique last week with her 19 year old daughter Maya Thurman Hawke from her marriage to Ethan Hawke. The pair bought four dresses (shown below), some bags and cards.
Thurman Hawke who is studying to be an actress is a rising modelling star and is currently the face of the British brand All Saints spring summer 17 campaign in which she appears in a series of images and a short film “Far From Here” shot in her native Woodstock. She was here to appear in a new screen adaptation of Little Women being shot in Mayo with Angela Lansbury, Emma Watson and Michael Gambon.
Carousel Owner Tom Walsh says 700 inquiries came through the website in the wake of the New York Times mention and there were more than 100 multiple online purchases, giving an overall 10 per cent surge in sales.
What the new US customers are discovering is what Irish fans already know: that Carousel’s Circus label offers modern vintage-style dresses and separates in floral, polka dot and geometric prints at affordable prices from €49-€69. Plus, they come in more than 200 shapes to suit every silhouette.
“We don’t stick to seasons and we have our own pattern cutters; and through Facebook we find out very quickly what customers want, so we have huge flexibility,” says Walsh.
Customers range in age from 25-45: many are musicians, others are mothers and daughters who shop together. “We sell a lot to school teachers because necklines and hemlines suit schools,” he adds.
One of the first successful styles introduced, the Twiggy dress – a simple cap-sleeved A-line with tie collar – in turn sparked a shorter version called Anna, a blouse that has since become a bestseller, reappearing in more than 200 fabrics. Thousands of this blouse have been sold to a US wholesaler and the income generated has enabled Walsh to develop his brand further, to invest in fabric and to travel to trade fairs in the US, France and London. With two shops in Ireland, including one in Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork, he has now just opened his first in the UK, in Brighton. Circus is now stocked in more than 180 shops worldwide.
So how did a banker from Cork start a flourishing fashion business? After four years working in a bank in Cork, Walsh moved to the UK, becoming a buyer in Selfridges following their management training programme.
In 1989 he left and started buying and selling vintage clothing in London markets before returning to Dublin and setting up Carousel in 2001. Initially he sold vintage dresses from other brands but in 2010, in order to survive tough times, he decided to create his own brand and eventually found a manufacturing partner in India. “When you are based off Grafton Street, you have to offer something different,” he says. With 30 years’ experience of vintage dresses and knowing the demands of contemporary taste, Circus’s eclectic patterns, vibrant colour and flattering shapes became a formula that worked. “If a shape works, we keep it,” he says. Cutting out intermediaries keeps prices down and means that the ethically produced clothes in India go straight from the factory to the shop floor.
The latest styles include the Nathalie Lemon print dress (€69) with boat-neck collar and A-line skirt; the Brigette cat print (€65) with a classic fit and flare shape, a sundress that was one of Circus’s first styles; and the Vivien butterfly print dress with vivid colour and a shape inspired by 1940s style. Fabrics are mostly cotton, rayon or viscose with stretch cotton and jersey for winter. “Some shapes will look completely different if the base colour is different”, says Walsh, “but I like to keep things fresh, new and interesting.”
He admires the way the reduction of the VAT rate to 9 per cent has contributed to the flourishing of the restaurant trade, and argues that fashion also adds to the tourist offer and traffic to the city centre at weekends. He says 50 per cent of his business is from tourists and yet VAT on clothing is 23 per cent. “If you go to Copenhagen, that small country takes their fashion industry very seriously and has one of the biggest clothing industries in the world. Small fashion businesses in Ireland have to struggle to survive – and are not seen as having investment potential.” See ilovecarousel.com