Ruth Griffin is a blogger (Rua Ruth), Irish fashion history expert, and industry insider. This summer she’s running a series of tours on The Lost Fashion History of Dublin and today she’s taking over our Instagram. We decided to catch up with this glamorous soul for a chat about how she’s enlivening Dublin’s historic fashion scene.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am from a little village in North Sligo called Drumcliffe, made famous by W.B Yeats for its breath-taking scenery. I grew up in a garden full of flowers right underneath Benbulben Mountain and 5 minutes from miles of sandy beaches.
Both my parents are from Dublin so I had the advantage of enjoying the countryside and also the all the fun of Dublin as a child. My Mum is very glamorous and I was inspired to love fashion and to dress up from an early age.
I moved to Dublin when I was 18 to study Fashion at The National College of Art and Design. After college I worked as a designer, stylist, personal shopper and costume designer before going on to study a Masters in History & Culture of Fashion in London College of Fashion.
It was in London that I felI in love with the online retailing world. Just out of my masters I joined Matchesfashion.com and later on Liberty of London. I now work as an Online Editor for a luxury retailer in Dublin creating feature content and presenting the experience of luxury shopping in an online space.
Where did the ideas for the Lost Fashion History of Dublin Tours come from
The Lost Fashion History of Dublin Tours were inspired by a number of things. My Granddad had a Gentlemen’s Outfitters on Exchequer Street from the 1950s-1970s and when I was growing up my Father, who is a History teacher, would always tell me tales about this rag-trade quarter of Dublin.
When I went on to study a Masters in History & Culture of Fashion in London College of Fashion I was homesick for Dublin and wanted to write about Irish culture and fashion – something my classmates in London thought was hilarious as they didn’t think there was ever any style in the city! This only drove me on my mission to uncover the lost fashion history of the city. To my mind we had a wealth of fascinating designers and style icons which had never been celebrated. I wrote my thesis about the Lost Fashion of South William Street, which focused on this street – the original rag-trade district of Dublin as a city space from which to explore how fashion was designed, made and displayed in the city.
@rua_ruth here doing an @image.ie take-over. This is the beautiful #ReadingRoom of the @NLIreland where I do most of my research for my #LostTours of Dublin. It has got to be the most beautiful library in Dublin. I sit here for hours finding lost fashion in old magazines and journals. The National Library on Kildare Street is well worth a visit even just to get a glimpse of the Reading Room or to check out their W.B. Yeats exhibit. See more about my fashion historytours and results of many happy hours in this library on @rua_ruth #lovedublin #fashionhistory
In 2011 I transformed my thesis into an event for ABSOLUT Fringe with an interactive tableaux, tour, talk and workshop on South William Street. It was a sell-out success and since then I have been giving talks and tours privately and with different festivals and organisations like ReDress, The Science Gallery, The Friends of The National Gallery and Failte Ireland. The Lost Fashion History of Dublin Tours are a natural progression to showcase to Dubliners and tourists alike the amazing fashion history in different quarters of the city.
Tell us one interesting/wacky/totally unexpected fact about Dublin’s fashion history.
One of the most amazing things I have discovered about Dublin’s fashion history is that we were always connected to the trends, even in the 18th Century when Paris was setting the trends via fashion plates and the first magazines. Ireland and Dublin were by no means an isolated backwater. Fashion trends would arrive by ship into Dublin and Irish women were able to stay up to date and dress in the latest fashion sometimes within 3 weeks of the fashion plates being printed.
Any tips for hunting down an Irish vintage item?
Keep your eyes open at all times! Vintage items come in the most unexpected places and never when you are looking for them. My advice is to look into your favourite vintage and charity shops frequently, that way you will give yourself the best chance of finding a gem. Also, researching online using Pinterest for the type of vintage styles you like first means you can focus when you go into a vintage store and you won’t be side-tracked by a treasure trove of beautiful things.
Favourite shops in Dublin?
I love Brown Thomas who have been on Grafton Street since 1849 and is still the most beautiful Irish store at the forefront of fashion and design in Ireland. I also love the Irish Design Shop for its beautifully curated selection of Irish craft, Om Diva for its vintage gems, young designer selection and for being such a pure joy to shop in. The 3rd Policeman vintage store in Rathmines is also a top favourite for authentic vintage.
Best shop in the world, in your opinion?
It has got to be Liberty’s of London, I was Online Editor for a period of time and working there was everything you could imagine, it was like being part of an imaginary world – the creative team there are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met.
You studied design in college – why did you ‘leave’ that?
I studied Fashion Design at The National College of Art and Design and while I adored creating clothes and working with textiles I was always more interested in what happened after the piece was made. I often used to wonder who would wear the piece and where they might go throughout the process of making it! The stories of fashion are what really inspired me and so I went on to study Fashion History and later became a writer as it is in this space I can explore and observe every aspect of fashion.
If you could recommend one book and movie, what would it be?
I love historical biographies, no surprise there. One of the most amazing books I ever read was the biography of the photographer Lee Miller by Carolyn Burke who was a Vogue model, muse of Man Ray and all round fabulous character. The story of her life was unbelievable. From an Irish angle the biography of Maeve Brennan by Angela Burke is an incredible and bittersweet account of a genius writer and stylish Irish beauty living and working in 1950s Manhattan.
When you’re not working and not giving amazing tours, how do you spend your day?
I love cooking and baking. A day spent playing around in the kitchen trying out recipes and throwing dinner parties is my idea of heaven. I also adore shopping and snooping around antique and flea markets for hidden fashion treasure!
The Lost Fashion History of Dublin Tours are running monthly for the duration of the summer with tours around Dublin’s most stylish quarters from Merrion Square and Grafton Street to O’Connell Street and The Liberties. Tickets are €12. Available for Private Tours and Stylish Hen parties. Book here