sew sexy
happy collaboration between designer, stylist and photographer: hurrah! :D
happy collaboration between designer, stylist and photographer: hurrah! :D

peekaboo design studio

Fashion facts of life from one of Dublin’s most sought-after rock-chick fashion designers, Susan Dempsey, the creative force behind Peekaboo Design Studio

 UK fashion dame Vivienne Westwood’s new collection for Urban Outfitters is attracting a whole new generation to the wonders of sumptuous silks, in-your-face tartans and sizzingly sexy, diaphanous gauzes that skim your figure.

And on a smaller, but equally sassy scale, there’s an arcane designer in Europe who’s attracting a clientele of discerning women.

Dubliner Susan Dempsey is the woman behind Temple Bar’s Peekaboo Design Studio. With some of the same edgy rock credentials of doyenne Vivienne Westwood, the Irish designer’s work has evolved from the club scene into a style that embraces all the emotional landmarks of a certain type of woman.

Her clients may have first come to the shop as a 16-year-old debutante, returned for their college ball gown and again for their wedding dress, she says.

Susan’s obvious delight in mastering her craft tends to attract the knowledgeable buyer whose own sense of design has been channeled into reproducing some of the all-time classics of fashion.

“We often encourage people to bring in their own designs or share any ideas they may have,” she confirms. “By the time they’ve advanced to knowing their own shape and what structural shapes flatter them, they’d be fluent in tailoring devices that suit them.”

Those tailoring devices that have become instinctive responses to Peekaboo’s clients would be the ‘fashion facts of life’ like: “a straight neckline for a modest lift, a scooped-neck for a more ample cleavage and sweetheart for the fuller figure,” says Susan.

Susan’s self-taught skills and innate eye for design means that her studio never lost its street-style urban edge. She began designing and hand-making clothes in 1993, when her original designs hit a chord among clubbers.

And her trademark corsetry is one of the features that attract her dedicated clients. The structured bodice of a Peekaboo corset is a key statement of womanly confidence, whether it’s worn above sumptuous silks and satins of an ‘event’ gown’s skirt, or with jeans.

Susan works from her studio in Dublin’s Temple Bar using high quality silk, silk satins and velvets. While pieces can be had off-the-peg, every bespoke Peekaboo item is unique to the wearer’s specifications.

She welcomes her clients in bringing their own fabrics and ideas to the store. Which infers that making the most of having a ‘maestra’ fabricate your statement gown, means that you’ve already satisfied yourself that you’ve found the perfect texture of fabric in the absolute colour you want and know which accessories will enhance your finished effect.

Hickeys Stores, which has branches in many of the major cities and towns throughout the country, has had great success in its recent collaboration with top Irish designer Peter O’Brien.

Its latest ad campaign illustrating the glamour of 40s femininity with designs by the former Dior, Givenchy and House of Rochas designer, shows a return to simple basics that emphasise the key motifs of classical tailoring: short-cropped, minimalist shapes in jackets teamed with contrasting fuller skirts.

“There is a revival in knitting and sewing,” Hickeys’ Managing Director Ian Donnelly explains.

“People are coming in again for accessories for existing clothes they have. “There’s been an increase in traffic for sewing – sewing schools have really filled up this winter – and we’ve found that in the current climate people are looking at sewing differently.

“People were time poor whereas now they’re looking at something traditional at a sensible cost.”

But where the creative bargains are really catching Irish women’s imaginations is in the haberdashery department, he says.

“Not everyone is a ‘sew-er’ and the haberdashery departments offer quite simple things for people looking to revitalise say an old jacket, or even a plain black new garment from the likes of Penneys.”

Hickeys’ decorative buttons, motifs, flowers and braids are fast fixes for the ‘iron on’ market as well as those nifty with needles.

Sewing machine shops around the country have also seen a rising interest in not just their machines, but all the smaller pieces that go with it.

For those keen to get started there are little portable machines available through ebay, but these are designed for light and limited use. For anything other than hemming lightweight fabrics, look to a more versatile machine, say the experts.

“Expect to get a basic machine for under €200 and it will do button holes, zig zag, it’ll have a ‘free arm’ for doing cuffs, or hemming or taking up a leg of a jean; it’ll sew a variety of fabrics.”

• Log onto and click onto ‘projects’ for free designs and instructions to get you started: there’s a cool canvas handbag that’s looks like an easy place to start. And see for further details on corsetry.

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