The lovely people at Associated Editions have asked me to review an upcoming release of theirs, “Cleo – Irish Clothes in a Wider World” by Hilary O’Kelly. Most of us Dublin based crafters will be aware of Cleo’s shop on Kildare Street. It’s somewhat of an institution, selling and promoting Irish handcrafts. This book details the history of the shop through interviews with its owner, Kitty Joyce, but also provides an insight into life and fashion in Ireland over the 20th century.
I learned a lot from this book. It talks about Cleo’s humble beginnings as a dressmakers on South Anne Street set up by Kitty Crowe in 1936 and provides a rich description of the fashion industry at the time and the shops that were located on Grafton St, South Anne Street and Dawson Street. The photographs are fantastic. Interestingly, the name Cleo’s came about because the previous shop owner was a South African woman who had called her shop Cleo’s and Kitty didn’t see the point in getting a new sign done!
This book has been very well researched, and covers topics such as how wartime shortages brought about the change in focus from dressmaking and the introduction of handknits and crocheted garments into the shop. It weaves historical events into Kitty’s life and overall provides a fascinating history of the times through fashion. I particularly enjoyed the section on knitting in Donegal and the work of the Congested Districts Board.
I just love the photography in this book. it’s a mish mash of personal photographs, letters of gratitude from high profile customers and dockets and receipts that show the prices of the time. It feels like you’re looking through a box of treasures that have been found in the back of the shop. You can almost imagine yourself diving into the box and discovering all the items in there.
Cleo’s certainly has a rich and varied history. Trade missions to Japan. Stores in Kenmare. Photos of sweaters on Steven Spielberg. Stock in Bloomingdale’s. I certainly had no idea of the reach and influence of the shop on Kildare Street!
I don’t want to give too much else away about the book, but suffice to say I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a fantastic history of fashion, Dublin, Ireland and most importantly (to me anyway) handcrafts. You can buy the book for just €20 from Associated Editions, here.