Boutique Awards Judge Emma Kelly on her love affair with buying Irish

Voting for our inaugural Boutique Awards is well underway. The task of compiling worthy contendents was no easy feat, but having an arsenal of savvy, in-the-know judges – each of whom are thought-leaders in their own right – made the task easy and enjoyable.

Before finalising the list of winners in this year's awards, each judge will be explaining why she shops locally and telling us about her favourite boutique buy. MD of Elevate PR, Emma Kelly founded what is now one of Ireland's premier PR firms and has spent the past 16 years working closely with fashion and lifestyle clients. Her knowledge of the Irish fashion industry is unparalleled, and her familiarity with the wealth of independent stores around the country invaluable.

I'm a keen boutique browser. I have always tried to support independent shopkeepers - those entrepreneurs who take a big risk in running their own businesses - and to shop local and buy Irish.

As a child in the 1980s, one of my earliest fashion memories was my English grandmother Tiny’s love of the Kanga brand, which had a standalone boutique in Dublin. My mother and aunts all wore this colourful brand of dresses as well.

Even as a poor secondary school student, I always took a look at what John Rocha had designed for Chinatown in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. The Design Centre, which then was in the basement of the space occupied now by Topshop on St Stephens Green, was run by Nicki (now owner of Havana) and Shelley (now creative director at Brown Thomas). My best friend Twan saved up for a Suzie Wong outfit there. On the day of my Inter Cert results in 1986, I bought a leopard-skin dress and leggings in the sale for £5 each at Quinn & Donnelly’s eponymous boutique.


In my college days my ultra-stylish godmother Claire bought me the most beautiful dress from Kamoflage on Dawson Street (I think for my 21st birthday), which is where jeweller Vivien Walsh and family operated a covetable lifestyle store. Vivien later had her own beautiful boutique in town - now in Monkstown - and that is where I first came across Sonya Lennon, who worked there. She moved onto Firenze, which was responsible for bringing many international labels to Ireland for the first time. My friend Helen bought her 21st birthday Sybilla dress there. Otokio stocked the hand-knitted Lainey Keogh collection and introduced Dolce & Gabbana to Dublin; I lived in a pair of its trousers. My neighbour Natasha worked there, which was such a cool job at the time. I remember my mother buying me one pair each of black and blue Levis in the short-lived Jaspar Conran boutique on Dawson Street, and them becoming my college uniform.

These were all memorable retail experiences. I cannot remember what the high street or department stores were stocking at the time.

Later I loved discovering Isabel Marant in Costume boutique, and Vivetta, another great label the Tuckers brought to Ireland. Smock was a quirky boutique which opened first in Temple Bar and then moved to Drury Street. Susan and Karen had a really innovative eye and introduced interesting new labels to Ireland. Havana has always been at the cutting edge with the likes of Simone Rocha. For a strong edit of Irish design Atrium is worth checking out in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre along with MoMuse. Boutique shopping is more magical.

Click here to vote for your favourite boutique

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