Sharon Hoey is a name indelibly associated with bridal wear, and with 30 years’ experience of dealing with brides and their wedding dresses, there is little the designer doesn’t know about this emotionally charged aspect of fashion and its trends. Her boutique on Lower Mount Street, which she runs along with manager Orla Lee, is a visual feast of dreamy wedding dresses and ball gowns made in luxurious Italian fabrics. There is everything from slim columns of slithery silk to long lace dresses and tiered tulles. Everything is made in workrooms on site.
On other rails in the boutique sits her other brand AndTate, less well known but with a fast-growing fan base, a trans-seasonal day-to-dinner range that began initially with white shirts launched in Paris in 2019. “It was a passion project,” she says, explaining that what started the ball rolling was a fruitless search for the perfect white shirt when her son was graduating and his girlfriend couldn’t find the right one to wear with her ball skirt.
“We then spent a year on research, and discovered that cotton for men’s shirts was different and of better quality because it was going to be washed more frequently and therefore built to last.” Along with adapting some of the key characteristics of men’s shirts like single needle stitch seams, details included abalone shell buttons, collars cut a little lower so as not to rub against make-up, and tailored softer cotton sides to make tucking in easier. Later, black shirts were added to what became an instantly successful range.
AndTate has expanded since to include equally well-crafted ready-to-wear pieces including dresses, ball gowns, skirts and more decorative shirts and tops. Their design and structure is the result of years of experience fitting wedding dresses and working with women’s bodies, “so I know how to make [their wearers] look good. Our crafting is important to us and makes our brand a little bit different,” she says. Shapely silhouettes, clever structure and luxury materials are a winning combination.
She shows me some of the skirts – one in bubble organza called Twilight which is very fitted at the waist “and shows off the best part of the leg and lengthens at the back”. Another in navy taffeta pique has a central seam, tulip-shaped skirt with pockets, and what’s called a crinoline hem that holds the shape. A simple 1950s-style dress in red satin-backed crepe “that slides over the tummy is really flattering, drapes and hangs well”, she says.
Plain, textured fabrics predominate; there is little pattern or fuss. A simple black day dress has practical detachable white cuffs, while at the other end of the spectrum, a bubblegum pink skirt and bell-sleeved top was recently worn by presenter Kathryn Thomas at the Rose of Tralee. Another high-waisted skirt tapering at the ankle boasts an exaggerated hip line decorated with black braiding, and comes in either coffee or black duchesse satin.
“For me, it was important to design clothes that suited any age, any figure. A lot of the shapes we do are playful, and fashion can elevate your mood, how you present yourself and affect how you feel.” The pieces are flexible and could be worn equally for partywear, special occasions or daywear. Fond of wearing black, she describes wearing a full-length black tulip skirt with a black cashmere Monaghans sweater recently, “and I felt great in it all day”, she grins.
Customers appreciate the quality fabrics and the fit. She reminds me that after she graduated from the Grafton Academy, she started with fashion in 1983 like other celebrated Irish designers Mariad Whisker and Lainey Keogh, and only moved into bridal wear later in order to survive the recession. She and her husband, Richard Tate, run the business jointly.
Years of experience have given her insights into how women feel about their bodies. “They hate their arms and love their backs and like to show off their figure when choosing a wedding dress. They want to flatter their figures, so a lot of my wedding dresses have corsets that lace up inside to give shape and support.”
Current trends include a revival of lace largely due to influencers, she says. “We have a load of brides in their 60s, quite a few marrying for the first time but generally the majority of our brides are those in their 30s, usually well established in their careers.” A popular choice is a short dress under a long full detachable skirt, “because weddings today are three-day events”.
In the meantime, she has just completed her AndTate collection for spring 2024 which will be presented at Showcase in January and will have, she says, “loads of colour because the Irish love colour”, which is already evident in her current collection. Find AndTate in Arnotts and online at andtate.com