Love Letter to Jenny

Of all the Vintage stores around the country, it is surely Jenny Vander that evokes most affection in the hearts of nostalgic fashion lovers. This is certainly true of myself and became more apparent when I finished this post only to find it was less blog, more novel. So here you have it … an unashamed rambling ode to Dublin’s loveliest Vintage dame.

Originally opened 30 years ago, you can’t but admire the incredible vision of first owner Carey Fagan on bringing such a concept to the capital, long before Vintage was ‘in vogue’. But of course Jenny Vander has attracted a succession of strong independent women to her bosom. After working as an assistant in the store, an incredibly young Eve Linders bravely took over the business herself when Carey decided to move on. Eve then ran it until about 19 years ago at which time she left Dublin.  Enter Gail Kinsella.

Gail had in turn been working for Eve in the then George’s St Arcade store and took over Jenny Vander as her next successor. At this time it was a quirky, cool Vintage shop focusing mainly on fashion from the 60s and 70s.  Although this existing market continued to be catered for, it was Gail’s vision that turned it into the store it is today which offers museum pieces from as far back as the 1700s alongside its more ‘modern’ Vintage. She relocated about 7 years ago to the nearby stand-alone setting on Drury St., a move that proved to be a great success. It is a testament to her that Carey still visits whenever she’s in Dublin (and approves of the evolution of the store … just so you know!)

Gail herself gained her sartorial knowledge from stylish role models in the form of her mother and aunts. The young girl was inspired daily watching these elegant ladies groom themselves;  Gail came to appreciate and identify with their love of glamour. It was from these women that she acquired her enjoyment of quality fabrics, fashion history and the heritage of clothing… knowledge and understanding from which all Vintage lovers who have visited Jenny Vander over the past 20 years, have benefited.

Upon spending a morning in the company of the ‘fountain of knowledge’ that is store manager Marion (direct quote – authenticated), I was given the honour of sitting behind the now famous counter to experience Ms. Vander from this special perspective. It’s a funny thing but whenever I sit, I have a habit of immediately looking directly above me. What a rewarding little habit that turned out to be! The array of headpieces and hats that posed above me in peacock-like show was as mesmerising as the places they brought me… Speakeasies in 1920s Paris, New York operas during the 1940s and Dublin dress dances in the 1960s. I could hear the clinking of glasses, swinging of bands and whispers of suitors admiring their beau’s attire. Although I visit Jenny Vander regularly, this was a new, unique indulgence. I felt privileged to observe, just for those few moments, how it is to run this historic Dublin shop and watch the day unfold as the glass door opened and closed to accommodate its many visitors.

And it is those people that come in to Jenny Vander that make working there such an amazing job as far as Marion is concerned. As I watched her in action, I couldn’t help but envy her role as I imagined how her days were spent. From Victorian blouses to rows of art deco jewels, dozens of beaded clutches to beautiful eclectic headpieces, the surroundings were hypnotizing.  In particular it is Victorian garments that send both ladies into orbit, particularly anything made with Whitby Jet, the gem favoured by Queen Victoria when in mourning for Prince Albert and popularised by her people. However, every piece in the store holds its own importance. Marion explains that when you’re putting each item out on the floor yourself, you do make a connection to it. There is a specific woman for each item in the store, she tells me. I adore this thinking and often feel that way myself. That beautiful Vintage dress is waiting for you to find it, not the other way around.

Marion says she is constantly amazed at how simple you can keep things for people. To look at each person that comes in the door as an individual is the key. Her favourite part of serving people is to see them come to life when they have a piece of Vintage on them. It seems unexpected. They stand differently and they become their own character…. Perhaps someone they always wanted to be. That, she says, is the magic.

She goes on to share how much she enjoys seeing three generations of women enter the store together: the eldest of which is brought back to her own youth through the viewing of the clothes, the middle lady (who likely has role of mother and daughter) perhaps shopped in the Dandelion Market so many years before while the youngest is developing her own style and writing her personal fashion history by exploring the threads from decades previous. This, I suppose, is what makes Vintage shopping  unique. It’s so much more than a shopping trip – it’s a celebration of legacy, respectfulness of history and sharing of knowledge that means something to each person involved in the process.

Although every experience is different and there is a thrill in every customer encounter, it is the gentlemen that come in, often religiously at Christmas or for birthdays, that give Jenny Vander her biggest thrill. The men know that they will get personal attention and are confident that time and care will be put in to helping chose their lady’s perfect piece. They say that they are less intimidated than they have been in some bigger stores. Clearly they can relax here as some of them stay deliberating for up to an hour and a half. They carefully explain their lady’s style, describing her petite build and glamorous ways, sometimes getting carried away in their own love and revealing incredibly romantic tendencies. On one occasion a man came in to find that ‘perfect’ bag for his wife. He loved the bags so much that he left with three!

For my 30th birthday my own brother-in-law told my sister that he was going to get me a gift himself and, knowing I loved Jenny Vander, took himself off there during his lunch break. On the day, I was presented with a beautiful gold and green flower brooch that I absolutely adore and get so many compliments on. Seeing the box and imagining him going in to the shop discussing the options with Marion or Gail gave me such a kick. There was also a small voucher for the store in the package. He assured me that this wasn’t from him but rather the lady that had helped him choose the brooch – she was delighted that I loved the store so much and wanted to send something for my birthday. Such a lovely gesture for a faceless Vintage admirer and one which I will never forget. I can completely appreciate the welcome that fish-out-of-water men are given.

As I continued my Jenny Vander behind-the-counter role play, a lady that I recognised as a Dublin actress came in preparing for the IFTAs and wanted Marion’s advice on accessories. The women already had a dress she was considering wearing but wasn’t sure if she should be getting Vintage instead. She was told honestly that her current dress was beautiful and advised that she should practice restraint with the accessories whilst a fur stole would be recommended. I could immediately sense the woman’s ease and confidence in the guidance. Clearly there is no hard-sell policy here. Jenny Vander is not a pushy lady; for her it’s all about giving the best experience. ‘Everyone will come back’. This is a philosophy not a quick fix.

Even the way in which Marion came to be Gail’s right-hand-woman seems in keeping with the ethos. Marion was a customer in the Arcade and had huge admiration for the passion, energy and dedication that Gail put into the store. The ladies instantly clicked and became good friends with Marion religiously commuting to Dublin every fortnight. When Gail required some support around the time she was growing her family, she needed someone she could trust. It was racehorses that brought Marion to Kildare and a love of old movies, 1950s clothing as well as Dior’s New Look that brought her to Jenny Vander. Everything fell in to place from that time and the relationship has worked ever since. Those involved will say that Jenny Vander herself is the reason the connections have existed and thrived – it is as if she has a life of her own and plans it so everything is just as it should be.

But surely Marion must wish it was her own store? I am set straight. Her role, she explains, is a freedom. It is not a job, it’s life. Amazingly she tells me that she would never work in another Vintage store … this voyage took on a life of its own. Things seem to come together in the name of Jenny Vander’s success and sustainability. Jenny Vander, she says, is an eclectic glamorous lady that calls the shots and is confident in her ability and style. Marion is privileged to play the part she does in maintaining this wonderful Dublin woman. Gail, she tells me, embodies this culture as a successful, stylish business and family woman. She is also a great promoter of young, local talent and a supporter of various charities. Clearly the characters of each lady create the synergy that feeds the great ongoing accomplishment.

Of the ever-growing Vintage market, Marion says it’s wonderful. She says that an eclectic mix of stores will always be good for people and allows scope for experimentation. There is a myth that Jenny Vander’s Vintage is astronomically expensive but they have stock starting at €20 and they will always try to help financially if someone has fallen in love with something but can’t afford it straight out. It’s important that they look at the bigger picture. Someone that has been helped out is likely to come back and will always be a great advertisement for the store.

80% of Jenny Vander’s customers are regulars but absolutely everyone gets full attention. A store like this isn’t the norm and nor should the customers be treated in the normal way. The regulars are those women that don’t necessarily come in on a whim but rather they plan their trips 2-3 times a year to treat themselves. One customer is a collector in her own right and has Victorian and Edwardian pieces that she purchased from Jenny Vander when she still resided in the Arcade. She has an incredible appreciation for quality and adores the 30s, 40s and 50s. Customers like this often request specific items and Gail will make it a priority to try and source these when on shopping trips.

Yes, there is a celebrity following with Blondy, Yasmin le Bon and Kiera Knightly all shopping in the store and yes, these are incredibly important Jenny Vander ladies but you won’t hear them shouted about. This is because every woman who shops in the store is an important Jenny Vander lady.

So who is the Jenny Vander lady? She dresses specifically in Vintage as a lifestyle choice and always looks like she stepped off the set of an old movie. She wears high-street but always accessorises with elegant Vintage jewellery. She has a signature look. She dresses eclectically. She spends lots on Vintage. She comes in only for a browse. She is a regular. She is a first-timer. She is confident in Vintage. She is shy but getting there. In other words the Jenny Vander lady is you, me and everyone with even the slightest desire to explore Vintage. From students to pensioners, the same joy is taken from visiting Jenny Vander as she herself gets from her visitors. It really is that special a place.

Here’s to another fabulous 20 years ladies (and a wonderful further 30 Ms. Vander)


Jenny Vander is located at 50 Drury St, Dublin 2