I first spotted it while walking back to my hotel, after a lovely evening of Mumford & Sons covers and the obligatory-but-still-beloved rendition of “Galway Girl” that I’ve come to expect from Irish pub musicians. The dark storefront glittered like a gilded mirror in the yellow-orange streetlights, and I thought to myself, I’m coming back tomorrow when that place is open.
The next day, armed with two friends and my trusty Nikon, I ventured back into downtown Kilkenny intent on finding the store whose window display had caught my eye. A few charity shops (the Irish equivalent of thrift stores) and a cluttered antique store later, we came upon Shutterbug Vintage.
As soon as we stepped inside the Patrick Street storefront, I knew we’d hit the jackpot. Long necklaces dangled from antlers hanging above the counter, a rack of luscious furs stood in a tidy line to our right, and beaded jewelry clothes-pinned to chicken wire blanketed the white expanse from floor to ceiling. Antique chairs were covered in one-of-a-kind leather or embroidered satchels, while the tiny, half-open drawers of an old bureau served up a cornucopia of delightfully over-the-top clutches and belts. The entire back wall was magnificently obscured by a color-graded row of sparkling formal dresses, beaded and sequined in a manner more reminiscent of the 1970s Oscars than your high-school prom. While one of my companions fingered a floral velvet dress and the other admired a pair of carpetbag-patterned Jeffrey Campbell heels, I began chatting with the top-knot-wearing associate behind the desk to learn more about the store.
Paula, as she introduced herself, said that Shutterbug is owned by brother and sister Blanaid and Eoin Henessy. Paula explained that Blanaid set up a pop-up shop in Dublin before coming back to her hometown of Kilkenny, where she initially opened the store with a single rack of clothes.
Since then, Shutterbug has expanded considerably and now boasts items both old and new: the clothing is all hand-picked vintage, while most of the accessories (from Egyptian-looking collar necklaces to 20s-inspired turbans) are manufactured specifically for Shutterbug and its thriving online counterpart, Folkster. Blanaid has journeyed as far as New York, Thailand, Hong Kong and Australia to purchase pieces and gain inspiration for the store, while photographer Eoin continues to run a photo studio out of the floor above the storefront.
Later, I got the chance to correspond with Blanaid herself to fill out some more details:
Whitney: When did Shutterbug Vintage start, and how long before that had you been dreaming about starting it?
Blanaid: Shutterbug started in 2004 as a media business, with my brother Eoin. We moved in to this premises in 2009 and slowly our front office, which was overflowing with stuff from various shoots I’d styled, turned in to Shutterbug—the store! I would say it became a proper shop in late 2011, though while it sounds like a surprising twist to the business, it was actually always part of the original business plan; written on a sheet of A4 paper in 2004.
I have always wanted to do something creative, but I also love business—so fashion retail is a great combination of the two areas. I just wanted somewhere for both ourselves and the customer to have fun, filled with randomness and sparkles!
W: How did the idea for the store come about—what inspired you?
B: Growing up, we were encouraged to be creative, individual and enjoy the whole thing—fashion, life, whatever—just not take it all too seriously. I love that way of approaching fashion and it’s what we try to create in the Shutterbug store. I wanted it to be made from found wood, recycled objects and vintage bits and bobs. I wanted mad layers of interest, imperfections and adventures in shopping. I want our customers to feel like they are part of the family in the store, not just guests with a time limit!
W: I love the tongue-in-cheek description of the store’s ethos as “overdressed for the occassion, underdressed for the weather”—could you talk more about the philosophy behind the Shutterbug/Folkster aesthetic?
B: I think the Shutterbug/Folkster customer is either adventurous or willing to consider starting to be adventurous! We describe the Folkster girl on our site as “the kind of girl… who isn’t defined by any one style, who looks for inspiration in the unlikeliest of places—from the still sea to the stars, from the desert to the… door of a building that is passed by hundreds of people and rarely noticed.”
W: What draws you to vintage clothing in particular?
B: The creativity of it all—it is unique in itself, but add your own personal style and suddenly it seems to fit with everything, from your older era items to your High St. hauls. It needs the added ingredient of personal style to work, but it is that ingredient that makes it all so exciting and individual to each wearer of vintage.
W: What are your hopes for Shutterbug 5 years down the road? 10 years?
B: Ooh, good question—in five years I hope to have our Folkster fashion range in stock and also stocked in other stores internationally. I’d love to have our Homewares section up and running. I hope to still be surrounded by the amazing team we have in store, still feel the incredible support of my wonderful family and friends (who often come and lift/paint/carry/price when the going gets tough) and of course, continue to grow our Shutterbug/Folkster clan of absolutely lovely, outstanding and inspiring customers!