Veteran designer Paul Costelloe finds himself with an unexpected business gain on his hands.
t 75, Mr Costelloe is pulling in a whole new fashion customer after his runway pieces went on sale in Ireland for the first time.
Dresses, jackets and coats made for his bi-annual London Fashion Week catwalk shows are now available to buy at the new Curated by Design Centre boutique in Kildare Village.
The 2,000 sqft store opened as part of the ‘Creative Spot’ initiative by the Bicester Collection who have 11 shopping destination villages across Europe and China – including Kildare Village which opened in 2007.
The sale of Mr Costelloe’s one-off pieces came about following a request from Ashling Kilduff who helmed the Design Centre in Dublin for 26 years and was “devastated” to see it close for good during the third pandemic lockdown.
The new Curated by Design Centre boutique is part of the initiative to support both established and emerging designers and to champion Irish design and talent.
“We have been blown away by the support of Irish customers and by the reaction of international visitors who are really embracing Irish fashion,” Ms Kilduff says.
With her business partner, Patrick McDonnell, Ms Kilduff stocks 25 Irish designers across clothing, jewellery and millinery from transeasonal collections with names like Loulerie, Helen McAlinden, Roisin Linnane and intends to add to the line-up over the next year.
“People have been bringing Paul Costelloe’s pieces to the till without even trying them on because they know they are so covetable and special. There has been a big reaction from international visitors and the prices starting from €300 upwards are very well received,” she said.
A big believer in diversification in business, Paul Costelloe famously dressed Princess Diana in the 1980s and he admits he is curious about this new customer he has attracted after 50 years in business.
Customer footfall to the new destination store augurs well, especially in the light of tourist figures.
Desirée Bollier, chair and global chief merchant of The Bicester Collection, says the number of tax-free shoppers in Kildare Village for the first week of May was three times higher than in 2019.
The composition of that tax-free number was over 70pc from the US and the balance was a mix of visitors from Middle East, with China third.
“Clearly the US visitor is loving coming back to Ireland and we are starting to really see the numbers rise,” said Ms Bollier.
She said tourists love to discover quintessential brands that are aligned with the heritage of that country and when curating each village to its own personality, she is keen for them to promote designers that visitors may “never come across in their normal shopping pattern”.
Shopper behaviour has changed globally and Ms Bollier said they had changed their business model and moved “more towards a higher, more discerning type of customer” by curating their services, including personal shoppers and private guest spaces called The Apartment.
“All of that took place during Covid because we realised actually our guest is not coming for a bargain. She is coming for an absolute indulgence and experience and we saw that in the numbers. Our double digit growth in Kildare Village is at an all-time high, beating 2019,” she said.
The post-pandemic customer is looking for quality service, environment and food.
“The customer is more demanding than ever and their threshold for mediocrity disappeared,” said Ms Bollier.
Speaking after the opening of a Creative Spot pop-up with the British Fashion Council in Bicester, Oxfordshire, Ms Bollier said that in the future, experiential retail will be key.
“If you don’t take the customer for granted and you don’t turn that relationship into transactional, you are touching a nerve, a memory.
“Is digital online disappearing? Of course not, it will never disappear. We have that capacity to compound experiences and to really select which ones we would want to spend time with and which ones need to be transactional. And that’s really where the world is polarising and we want to be in the experience part,” said Ms Bollier.
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