Noreen Fox, the Queen of Rosslare: ‘My style is wearing what I feel good in, I hate people dressing sensibly all the time’

Deirdre McQuillan: Owner of The French Connection boutique on Rosslare Strand is marking 50 years in business, its longevity a testament to her energy and personality

They call Noreen Fox the Queen of Rosslare, and it’s not for nothing; this 75-year-old former midwife has always known how to dress with panache, encouraging others to have fun with their clothes. This year her boutique, The French Connection, on Rosslare Strand, celebrates 50 years in business – its longevity a testament to her energy, vivacity and engaging personality.

Her own best advertisement for what she sells, on the day we meet she is dressed in an ankle-length tulle skirt topped with a sleeveless white ruffle top, handpainted Birkenstocks, ankle jewellery, necklace and a bold silver ring. “I don’t see why women say things like ‘I am far too old to wear that’. Women don’t feel they can dress young when they are older. My style is wearing what I feel good in, and I hate people dressing sensibly all the time – you need to go a bit mad now and then, break out a little, and you can be transformed,” she says with a smile.

So how did Noreen O’Sullivan from Cahirciveen, who had trained in Holles Street, end up opening a clothes shop in Wexford? “I married Peter (Fox), an accountant, whose family had a mobile home here. After we married and Peter got a job in Wexford, I decided on a change of career and wanted to open a clothes shop, because I was mad about clothes and spent every penny on them,” she says, adding that her husband supported her in every way.

Other support came from the late Bill Kelly of the well-known Rosslare hoteliers, who offered her a room for a fashion show, while a sister in Aer Lingus brought down colleagues as models. The story of how she found an old Protestant church in the 1970s in which to establish her shop is a tale in itself. The owners, who had converted it into a home, were anxious to sell and suggested the Foxes would come to discuss the sale. “They arrived with a bottle of whiskey and four mugs and the deal was done that night,” Fox recalls, “and we bought it for £8,500.”


Having acquired the property, they extended it, adding a sunroom and in recent years a “back shop” which is occasionally used for entertaining. It’s a welcoming, bright place on a corner just beyond Kelly’s Hotel. “This is a small place, but very cosmopolitan, and because of the hotel we get a lot of people every week as we have a display there,” she explains, describing how every Tuesday for more than 20 years she would stage a fashion show in the hotel. It was a very demanding, pressurised commitment, but it grew the business.

“Running a shop requires huge energy,” she says. “I go to bed early and getting up at six is no problem. I am an active, outdoors person, I walk the beach, I cycle, the gym is too time-consuming, but I do Tibetan Rites every day (an ancient yoga practice) and the Wim Hof breathing method.”

The clothes are sourced mostly from Italy, and some from France. Her most popular brand is High, made in Italy, which appeals to businesswomen for its versatility and amalgamation of city and leisure wear. Others include streetwear brands Souvenir, and VDR (Via Delle Rosa), made in Turkey, which is quirky and colourful. Italian sweaters and cardigans in a range of shades cost €75 – “we sell them every day and they are great for Irish weather”.

Current offerings include furry gilets for €85, tulle skirts for €275 and a variety of skirts for €85. The most expensive items are well-cut jeans and certain coats at around €600. “My clothes are not for weddings,” she says, though typical of her unconventional style is a photo of her at a recent wedding wearing a voluminous white dress by VDR, now on sale for €95. The shop also has a charity rail with all items for €20, with proceeds going to the Peter McVerry Trust and Focus Ireland.

During lockdown, she kept going by sending customers photographs and dispatching “boxes of clothes” with occasional mishaps, like when one customer who had ordered a jumper got a facemask with a dog on it instead due to an order mix-up. It was during this period that she began her Instagram account in which she now models new arrivals herself, making everything she wears look cheerful and appealing.

“I like to show them the best ways of putting things together,” she says. Grooming is key, and her hair is cut in Italy every six weeks while on buying trips and kept in trim by a local hairdresser. She insists that everything she buys must be good quality and washable.

She is also the mother of four grown-up children, all of whom have interesting careers. Her eldest, Nicola, who was only five months old when her mother started the business, shares her passion and has her own clothes shop called Blue in Blackrock. “I love travelling with Nicola on buying trips – we swap around a bit as we are both clothesaholics. We have a great time buying in Milan.”

She attributes the shop’s success to ensuring she stocks clothes in every price range “that are nothing too serious”, but also pays tribute to her assistants – Betty Nolan, now living in Tenerife, worked with her for 25 years, while Julie Freeman has been with her even longer.

“I close from December 1st to February 14th, and open every year with a fashion show. How could I retire when I can meet people every day and wear nice clothes? I would not have stayed here unless it was fun. Life is what you make it.”

Deirdre McQuillan

Deirdre McQuillan

Deirdre McQuillan is Irish Times Fashion Editor, a freelance feature writer and an author