What do you get when you combine the colourful eclecticism of a granny’s attic (minus the cobwebs) with the stylish finesse of a Parisian boutique tucked away from the main shopping streets? Add a dash of uncontrived charm and hospitality, and you have Om Diva, a Drury Street boutique unmissable by its inviting rose-pink façade and kaleidoscopic window displays. The shop was founded just over ten years ago by Ruth Ni Loinsigh, after running a stall in nearby George’s Street Arcade spurred her on to create a three-storey fashion hub of contemporary (on the ground floor), vintage (in the basement) and emerging, unique Irish designers on the highest level (Atelier 27). Additional, private levels also house studios, in which some of the Atelier’s alumni – including renowned couturier Sean Byrne – have taken residence. Categorising Om Diva as a ‘hidden gem’ would not do the place justice: a gem it certainly is – locals and foreign visitors alike fawn over its vibrant jewellery and ethereal, printed skirts – but it is far from hidden, as the boutique has garnered acclaim from Marie Claire Italia and Harper’s Bazaar alongside regular features and editorials in Ireland’s key publications. I sat down with Ni Loinsigh in the midst of Om Diva’s new-season collection launch to talk faux-furs, international aspirations for Ireland’s fashion industry and the importance of a sincere work ethic.
Did you have a definitive, light-bulb moment when you thought up the concept of Om Diva, or was it an idea that evolved over time?
Well I had travelled for six years before I came home, and to fund that travelling I was buying and selling, so I would travel to Asia and fill up a rucksack full of wooden beads and skirts made out of saris and I would take them to the markets in Europe, or to beaches in Greece. So I basically sold all over the world; all over Australia – right up the coast – and Israel, all over Europe, Amsterdam, Germany, France, Paris … so it was something that I had always done to fund my travels. And when I came home, I thought that was part of my travelling history and something I would leave behind, but once I realised that working in an office was (maybe) not for me, and the salary was only just paying my bills, I thought – there must be something else I can do that I’m passionate about. I loved clothes and travelling, and I was working for United Airlines at the time so I was able to get cheap flights. So I thought, maybe I’ll just set up a market stall at the weekends so then I’d be able to travel again, plus have the regular job, I’d be able to buy again ‘cause I loved buying and selling, and I loved fashion and at the time, when I started the business I was making everything for the stall so I was going out to India and buying all of the fabrics. I had tailors there, and we would sit down and work on something together – it wasn’t haute couture by any standards, but still we had such access to lace and fabrics and buttons and bows … It was very fresh, and the stall was a huge success, so I was able to give up my job and it just really evolved from there. So yes, it was born out of passion for the things that I’m passionate about: traveling, buying and selling, business, and fashion.
What is the Om Diva ethos when it comes to customers/dressing women?
Someone asked me this recently also, if I had an ethos or if there’s a pep talk I do every day to our staff because everyone always says that [our staff] are always so friendly. I think there’s just general contentment with the staff, respecting your staff, and then that translates into being really genuine and respectful of your customers. If you’re not being treated well, you’ll naturally be less happy in your job. And I guess all the girls here are happy, and it’s a really inclusive atmosphere, so we talk creatively all the time, we love our customers – we have so many nice customers – so I suppose the ethos is to be genuine, and once you’re genuine, then you won’t go too far wrong with your customers. Obviously there are days when you’re not really on-form, so then we’re just quiet – but that doesn’t happen very often, and it would only usually be one of us, so the rest of the Divas make up for it!
After 10 years of cultivating a fashion boutique in Dublin – and having an insight into the evolution of Ireland’s fashion industry in that time frame – how would you hope to see the Irish fashion sector further develop over the next decade?
It would be great to see more international support for Ireland, I think – this year was great, because it was the year of Irish Design [ID2015] and they were really heavily involved with supporting a whole group of established and semi-established designers and bringing them over to London Fashion Week for the two fashion weeks in February and September. That was amazing in allowing them to have a platform for the international market because London is such a melting pot. It’s just so hugely expensive for Irish designers to get to any of these shows, and to exhibit and that’s really scary for a designer who’s not necessarily turning over a lot of cash flow. So if there were more grants and so forth … I think the Irish community are very supportive, Brown Thomas are great with CREATE every year, and then you’ve got Marion Cuddy supporting Irish designers. Places like Topshop and River Island could possibly have some platform for graduate designers, and maybe allow them to design collections – I know they have those kinds of platforms in London, such as the RI Design Forum. We are a small country, that’s just the way it is, and we’re separated from Europe by sea so that causes its own problems as well – but I just think the wealth of talent in the country is really deserving of more international recognition. So grants, mentoring; maybe if Aer Lingus were to say that they would do free flights [for designers] or something like that? Because it would cost nothing for them, so if there was some kind of support network there that would be great – it would allow them to progress a little bit more. At the end of the day, there’s only four and a half million people in this country, so you’ve got a small market – international is where they really need to be. Also, in terms of interning, it would be great if interns were paid some kind of living wage – not necessarily minimum pay, but just something so that they didn’t have to rely on parents/relatives as university is so expensive. Interning is really important, but I just think if there was some kind of monetary compensation that would be great, and it also gives people a sense of self-worth that they’re getting paid to intern … It all comes down to respecting people and respecting their craft.
What can we expect to see in-store for Autumn/Winter 2015?
Oh my god, we have so many nice things, it’s so exciting! My heart is beating really fast at the moment, all the time, because every time we open a box some yellow faux-fur will pop out, or a peek of metallic or some sequins. And then of course, we have the usual quirky jewellery; so not just your classic pearls and costume jewellery, we have these amazing hand earrings, we have earrings stuffed with hundreds-and-thousands! We had a really good creative staff meeting before I went away, so I basically take all of those ideas and use them to buy. I’m not just going for what I want to buy, I’m also thinking of what Jenny (Cassin) likes, what Morganna (Murphy) likes. So we end up with this massive explosion of colour and texture and print, and fabric, and shiny things, matte things, furry things; lots of versatility. It doesn’t matter what age you are, what height or size you are, even whether you are a girl or a boy – we will have something to make you feel good!
Piece by / Amelia O’Mahony-Brady