“It was less a case of choice, and more the stars and the moon being in the right place,” explains Deirdre Macken about just how the 74 Francis Street Collective came to be.
On the far end of Francis Street, past the bushels of antique stores and the croons of BIMM, is number 74. Playing host to vintage clothing, gypsy wraps and flat whites, the 74 Francis Street Collective differs slightly from its neighbours. But do not be deterred, this nook on the corner is more than fitting for the so-called Antique Quarter. A step inside confirms that it can more than hold its own in terms of both relics and rock‘n’roll.
Not exactly a new idea, the 1990s saw the birth of the collective or the concept store. Less generic than a department store, but with just a hint more pretension, these one-stop-shops infused strands of creativity that had previously never met. Coffee and clothing, boots and books, and, jumping forward to present day, the ever popular, barbers and beers. The one in question, number 74, is of the coffee and clothing variety. Playing host to two vintage stores, a lingerie and leisure boutique, a hair salon, a coffee shop and the more-than-occasional gig, courtesy of the aforementioned BIMM students, the 74 Francis Street Collective is a true merging of creativity.
The head honcho, Deirdre Macken, is long known on the vintage scene as the maven of Lucy’s Lounge. An unmissable, bubble-gum pink building in the centre of Temple Bar, with close to 35 years in the business – and in a successful business at that – the first question to Deirdre was why another store. The reply? “Space.”
“I had just moved from the country into the city and was just looking for a space to continue on with the behind-the-scenes parts of Lucy’s Lounge,” says Macken. Not long ago, Lucy’s Lounge expanded onto the online market. “Younger people, they want to shop online, so we went with it. But personally, I’m old school. I like to touch, hold and feel the garments. I like the stories of the clothes, the interaction. The Francis Street Collective offers that.”
Upon entering, a bustle greets you at the door. The various vendors interacting with the clientele, the daughters of Two Pup’s owner Zoe Ewing-Evans wandering playfully around and downtempo jazz filtering through the speakers. That feeling of community that Dublin 8 is renowned for is reflected effortlessly throughout the store.
Community is a word that graces the lips of each of the concession owners frequently. Maeve Brady speaks of the support from the Antique Quarter as a whole, while Zoe speaks of the ever changing variety of coffee drinkers who pass by. “During the week we have students, the lunchtime rush brings in business from the local businesses, while at the weekend we have a whole other set coming in for a late Saturday morning coffee.”
Zoe, one half of the duo, tells of the less-than-smooth beginning for the Two Pups on Francis Street. “There were, of course, doubts initially. When we first saw the space, it was dark and damp. Less than desirable.” Thankfully Kevin, the other Pup, is extremely hands-on and, all by himself, damp-proofed the walls, built the furniture and did everything to get the place in tip-top shape.
Expertly done, the café space of number 74 would not be out of place in the likes of Kreuzberg or Greenwich Village. It’s bright and open with neo-industrial interiors, and it’s hard to believe that it was once a dark and damp room. Even harder to believe, is that the Two Pups, Zoe and Kevin, started out in the coffee industry just a few months ago.
Chatting to Zoe, she explains how, last year, she and Kevin were merely throwing business ideas around. “I have two kids, so it needed to be something child-friendly.” Ideas went back and forth, she explains, “but we just kept coming back to coffee”. The Two Pups – kids in tow – began attending the farmers markets in West Cork and Kildare.
“The market scene in Dublin was already pretty saturated, so it took a while to break in. Eventually though, we began selling at New Market, then Block T. From there, the gigs just got bigger and bigger.” The Pups, so called for their youth in the industry, grew up and moved into their current surroundings in February.
When it was all kicking off, Zoe admits that she was unsure about the concept. “While we were setting up, there were moments that I thought – vintage clothes and coffee together, how will it even work?” But Zoe’s fears were laid to rest as the customers came and embraced the collision. In the end, the crossover came naturally.
“People do tend to look confused when they first walk in.” The space was previously home to the Cat’s Meow, a vintage store run by collective member Kiki La Femme. “Some come in looking for clothes, others for coffee, but ultimately they find both. After they overcome their confusion I think people really warm to the mix,” says Zoe. “[They’re] browsing rails as they wait for their coffee, or ordering a coffee while waiting for their hair appointment, the customers merge as fluidly as the collective itself.”
The mingling doesn’t stop with the customers either. “If you had of come a little later, I would have had my hair done,” says Vertigo Vintage owner, Maeve Brady. With a vintage event ahead of her that evening, Maeve looks to the in-house hair guru to see to her.
Specialising in dreads and fairy locks, Jen Zenn, of Velvet Moon hairdressers, started her trade 15 years ago, training as a stylist with Toni & Guy. With, in her own words, a bit of a gypsy heart, Jen felt that the conformities of a salon were not for her, so instead, she worked the festival scene. Carting around her stall, Velvet Moon, Jen provided a mobile salon service for festival goers. The service itself was that of a standard salon, but it was Jen’s own non-standard hair that really drew the crowds. A woven creation featuring everything from dread extensions to feathers to crystals, before long it was Jen’s mystic mane that was taking centre stage.
“People I met at festivals were always asking me to make dreads for them and it just went from there.” Herself a customer in Lucy’s Lounge for years, Jen was approached by Deirdre in December of last year about occupying the space.
“I always assumed that I’d hate working with other people, but now that I am part of the Francis Street Collective, I actually prefer it!” With an abundance of creatives in one space, the energy can only be electric. “We bounce off of each other, working with the others means motivation and inspiration is never far.”
Jen’s section in number 74 has a mysticism about it. A single stylist’s chair with an oversized mirror, the area is decorated with trinkets and feathers, all of which are ready to be braided into the next customer’s hair. Complimented by its surroundings, Jen shares the middle room of the collective with Vertigo Vintage. A vibrant array of what the owner calls “real vintage”, it is this authenticity that draws people in, according to Maeve.
“People often approach and commend me on having real vintage. It is something I take pride in.” Taking pride in her work is the name of the game when it comes to Vertigo Vintage. When approached for the interview, Maeve was busy at work, shining a pair of 1940’s style shoes. “The stock may be second-hand, but I always ensure that it is in the best possible condition when it goes out on the floor. If there is a mark too stubborn or a fault that can’t be mended, I mark it as is. It is important to bring your customers quality.”
Maeve Brady, a part-time office manager, got into the business through a personal interest. “I’ve always worn vintage,” recounts Maeve. “People would often say that it was only because I was so petite that I could find garments to fit, but I knew that simply wasn’t the case.”
Starting out by hosting vintage parties, Maeve moved quickly onto the market scene. This, she described as a “gruelling, hard day’s work”. With a helping hand though, the markets were successful. Maeve’s late husband had helped with the set up and the take down at the markets. Following his death however, things proved gruelling once more.
“It was really tiring and after a while I came to the conclusion, that life really is too short. When Dee offered me the space I jumped on it.” Trading with ease, Maeve comes in just three days a week and under no strict confinements. “The shop sells itself really. If I’m not here, Zoe or Kevin deal with the sales. The Two Pups look after the money and the atmosphere at large looks after the customers.” It seems that the real mechanic behind the 74 Francis Street Collective is the atmosphere. The good vibrations draw you in and encourage you to stay a while.
Someone all too familiar with this, is Kiki La Femme of number 73. Formerly of Kiki’s Bootiki, a concession that was in the Collective, Kiki has since moved in next door and opened up a sister shop, aptly named Spaced Out Sister. A lingerie and leisure boutique carrying garments which Kiki explains, “are a gentle suggestion for women to spend more time on themselves”.
Leggings, camisoles, and big cosy knits, the range contains everything to make women feel good on the inside. Fashion intertwined with mindfulness. “The collection is all about you, taking time to yourself. To discover your passion and have the strength to go forward and follow it”.
Kiki herself is no stranger to following her passion. “People have suggested that I stock dresses and skirts but that’s not what Spaced Out Sister is about. What I want is to sell items of clothing that bring my customers to a place of oneness with themselves, it’s my vision and I really believe in it.” It’s a vision apparent throughout the unit, as delicate garments and dreamy negligees decorate the interior, with gentle music and Kiki’s own mellow persona setting the mood.
Space. Though it may have been Deirdre’s initial goal regarding number 74, it was definitely not what she has ended up with. Instead empty space is scarce, but what fills it richer than ever. Long live the 74 Francis Street Collective, a true merging of creativity.
The 74 Francis Street Collective, including Two Pups Coffee, Velvet Moon, Vertigo Vintage and Lucy’s Lounge, can be found at 74 Francis Street, Dublin 8. Spaced Out Sister is next door at 73 Francis Street.
Words: Sinéad O’Reilly
Photos: Aoife Herrity