Two women who competed for Best Vintage of the Year five years ago have become firm friends and now work together to showcase their collectable vintage pieces.
Being pitted against each other for TV3′s Xposé Best Vintage of the Year in 2017 was the unlikely root for the friendship that has developed between vintage aficionados Ella de Guzman and Naomi Fitzgibbon. Since then, the pair have actively joined forces, whereby Fitzgibbons’ selection of individually curated pieces through her online shop Vintage Finds You, have a special space at de Guzman’s Siopaella on Wicklow Street, Dublin, on Saturdays.
De Guzman, the pint-sized, effervescent Canadian, along with partner Steve Ryan, opened Siopaella in 2011. They say it was the first company in Ireland dedicated to the designer resale business, and it now has two stores on Wicklow Street.
As a seller of preloved designer handbags, accessories and clothing, de Guzman is an expert in designer handbag authentication: “I spent time in San Diego training in authentication with NARTS [National Association of Resale Professionals] and for every 30 bags coming in, I get lots of counterfeit ones – both low grade and the super fakes, ones you need a trained eye for. We have traded 145,000 pieces since we opened, and we guarantee a piece as genuine for life. The Gardaí also use me to authenticate seized items and we are also called in to help fight claims via PayPal for people who have been duped online. While some companies use AI (artificial intelligence) to authenticate, I need to see how it smells, feels and weighs to give a true indication to its authenticity”.
Siopaella stocks 3,000 brands, with pieces by Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermès and Gucci the most in demand. Depending on the item, customers can save up to 75 per cent on the new purchase price, according to de Guzman.
Limited edition and collectable pieces are the exception: “A Louis Vuitton bum bag – which has discontinued the monogram print – retailed for about €1,500 during production, but we sold one in 10 seconds online for a thousand euro more, as its highly sought after”.
In the case of Fitzgibbon, her passion for vintage clothing was inspired by her late mother Helen Kirrane, who was affectionately known as the Duchess of Anglesea Road: “She was quite obsessed – if not a bit possessed – by fashion. Once she was stopped by the police for dangerous driving on her way to mass in Donnybrook as they thought her vision was impaired by the feathers on her hat.”
Fitzgibbon’s online shop, Vintage Finds You, is actually her hobby, which she conducts in parallel to her role as Director of Nursing and Services at Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association. “I put every penny back into it, which allows me to travel to London, Paris and New York collecting pieces.” She also tended to the late Princess Margaret in King Edward VII hospital in the 1990s: “I nursed her after her stroke in Mustique, and even then she was beautiful with her striking violet eyes, tiny soft hands and her embroidered silk nightgowns. She introduced me to her sister Lilibet [Queen Elizabeth II] and asked me to interpret her CT scan for her.”
“Vintage has become part of many people’s staple wardrobe over the past three years, with people like Billy Eilish and Lady Gaga pushing the vintage concept as opposed to the ‘Oh my God, not that smelly old stuff’ when I first started. Women have discovered that they can be contemporary while wearing tailored vintage pieces,” says Fitzgibbon. She doesn’t chase labels – instead basing her choice on the cut and tailoring – but her true passion is Irish designers. Her most coveted piece was a dress by Irene Gilbert, whom she describes as the Holy Grail of Irish vintage. She was the first Irish couturier in the stat, who also dressed and befriended Grace Kelly.
Her customer base is women aged 30-55 in Ireland: “Instagram live video has elevated me to a whole other level, as I do live posts once a week, which is especially helpful to people who are not in Dublin and cannot come into Siopaella (or her home, where she has a dedicated vintage showroom).
She describes her clientele as a “very eclectic mix” and her pieces have been worn by government ministers, and recently by actor Charlene McKenna, who wore an Ossie Clarke 1970s satin jacket for a photo shoot this summer.
Collaboration between the pair is taking place every Saturday between now and Christmas at Siopaella on Wicklow Street. siopaella.com and vintageclothes.ie