Photography by Kylie Harrigan
Along cobbled lanes and past kaleidoscopic shop fronts in Temple Bar lies Lucy’s Lounge, a bubblegum pink vintage treasure chest of Cinderella dresses and opportunities for self-expression. It’s owner, Dee Macken, is as captivating as her magical store. Dressed in white frothy petti-coats layered one on top of the other, a jaunty turquoise felt bowler hat, over-sized glasses and cheerful red scarf, she talks with passion, determination and honesty about the first love of her life; fashion.
Dee describes her shop as the inside of a pleasantly disturbed mind. Antique dolls, clocks, birds and tree branches line the ceiling. She believes there is magic within its walls. According to her, it is Dublin’s worst kept secret, a sacred place for people who love clothes and expressing who they are. For Dee, it is an obsession, one that has lasted a lifetime. “I love dressing up. I love escaping through my clothes. People say clothes are frivolous but I don’t think they are. You can have so many memories through clothes. That’s why vintage is so popular, because it’s such a nostalgia thing.”
Dee always knew she liked fashion. “When I was a kid my mother would walk all over Dublin looking for one specific thing. If I wanted a tweed suit, she would have to find one. And if I wanted a tweed suit, the next season it would be in fashion. She’d always ask me how I knew.” Her teenage years were spent as a New Romantic, dressing up as Laura from Little House on the Prairie. She frequented the discos on Fleet Street; “places you could go and just dress up and wear whatever you wanted.” Back then, there were no jobs and college wasn’t an option. Dee had already decided to do something with clothes; “I knew there were loads of people like me who wanted clothes that were different but they had nowhere to buy them.”
Dee moved to London and started a stall there. “I lived on east street market and I started a stall there and one in Camden and Portobello. Margaret Thatcher was in power at the time which was great for people who wanted to set up small businesses. There were lots of courses for free which was great coming from Ireland where you had to pay to go to college. She was very supportive of us because her family were shopkeepers.” By 1987, Dee had five shops, one in London and four in Dublin. Se Si began its life on the cobbled streets of Temple Bar. “Dublin was less sophisticated than it is now. There was a rawness to it - everyone wanted to do something and escape. People would go to London or New York or Berlin and come back with ideas and set up clubs or events or shops. You didn’t have to worry about big insurance costs or places being developed. That was the 90s.”
As creative and alternative as Dublin was back then, it was still for the most part a conservative and religious society. Dee has vivid memories of being spat on or shouted out just because of what she was wearing. “I had to wear a massive overcoat when I left the house, but in a way it allowed different tribes, whether you were a mod, a new romantic, a hippie or a punk, to find each other and become friends.”
After a few years spent avoiding Dublin during the Celtic Tiger (when Dublin wasn’t a nice place to be and nobody wanted second-hand), Dee bought the building where Lucy’s Lounge is now, rented some of the space to various small businesses and has been there ever since. One of her favourite things about working with clothes is meeting customers; “Sometimes someone will walk in with a fantastic story or someone comes in who looks amazing. My breath is taken away. I’m thinking, ‘My heart is going to stop beating if I don’t get across the room to talk to that person.’” Or there are those Cinderella dresses (as Dee calls them), that are just waiting for the perfect person. “There was a beautiful dress, it was a 1920s bias cut full length dress. Everyone tried it on; it didn’t fit or they didn’t want it or the colour wasn’t right. One day, this girl came in, she was an actress, they were doing Henry VIII in Ireland at the time. I swear when she put it on, it was like a glove. A week later she came back and told me she had met her fiancé-to-be in that dress. That was the Cinderella dress that was waiting for her.”
Dee is optimistic about the future and about Dublin’s place in it: “I think we’re living in great times. I love it. People are so educated and there are so many facilities. When I was setting up a business, you had to be older. The fact that I was a young woman who dressed differently and sold second-hand clothes always went against me. Now, it’s great to be young, you’re championed. I love the tolerance and awareness. You couldn’t be different in Ireland before. You couldn’t be gay. You couldn’t have mental health issues. There were no allowances. It’s lovely now.”