THE owner of a bridal store at the centre of controversy in Limerick has broken her silence to declare that her business has “ceased to trade and will not re-open” following a “media frenzy” that made the business “unsustainable”.
Shirley Flanagan of Robelle Bridal in Annacotty, which gardai are investigating after a dozen complaints from brides-to-be who put down up to €2,000 apiece in deposits since December last and saw a number of brides storm the store this week in the hope of securing any dress left available on its racks, released a statement through her soliciter Darach McCarthy on Thursday evening.
“It is with regret that my bridal business has ceased to trade and will not re-open. Robelle first opened its doors in December 2014 and, as is the case with any small business in its infancy, it was at its most vulnerable when social media grasped the disappointment of a small number of customers, and a media frenzy ensued.
“New business ground to a halt and cancelled orders made the business unsustainable. Every effort will be made by me to facilitate the honouring of orders through other retailers or to refund brides over time. It was always my intention to run a successful bridal business and to provide a quality service to customers. I have no further comment to make to the media on the matter,” adds the statement, signed by Ms Flanagan.
Representatives of a French wedding dress company have revealed that they were forced to cancel an order for 28 wedding dresses to Robelle Bridal, due to the failure by its owner to pay for the dresses.
Agents based in London and Belfast for the prestigious brand Lambert Creation said they also fear that there could be brides who gave deposits for that brand and never received them, after they pulled the order worth in the region of some €60,000.
They are anxious to get in touch with any brides who may have been affected to see if they can help them.
It is understood that another bridal company in London declined an order by Ms Flanagan, after their suspicions when she attempted to “place a massive order bigger than a New York stockist”.
Gardai in Limerick are investigating at least 14 complaints from brides-to-be who put down deposits in the store in Annacotty, ranging from €300 up to €2,000 since December last.
Representatives of Lambert Creations said they had supplied some sample wedding dresses to the store late last year on good faith, but “thankfully” managed to get them returned in February, due to their difficulties in receiving payment from Ms Flanagan.
“The amount of business she wanted to do with us within a short space of time was quite unbelievable – something like 18 orders alone in one weekend. The whole saga has been going on for months. We were supplied with an order list for 28 dresses, along with the names of the brides and the dates of their weddings, but money never came through for any of the dresses. We don’t know if the order was actually genuine. We had to get our dresses back, but I’m just afraid that some of our prospective brides could have been let down,” she said.
“After the order was cancelled, she told me she refunded all the brides, but I didn’t really believe that she had actually taken all these orders. She seemed so nice, but if something seems too good to be true then it generally is.”
Another representative for the same designer added: “This isn’t the first time it has happened in this industry, and it’s bad for business. It is not the supplier’s fault. It is also quite sad, as for many women this is their first and only time getting married, and some view it as a bad omen if they can’t get the dress they wanted.”
They added that the management of the company in Rennes, France, had also been made aware of the owner’s history in relation to fraud and deception after Googling her and discovering her court appearance in 2013.
Any brides who may have ordered a Lambert Creation dress can contact email@example.com to speak to an advisor.
Linda Kelliher, the manager of Ennis Bridal Boutique in Clare, said: “My heart goes out to all those disappointed brides who have been let down. The owner has kindly offered to give 50% off any in stock dress to any bride that can provide proof of purchase in this case and wedding arrangements over the next two months.”
The now discredited Robelle Bridal has been in operation since December last, and after taking the first orders five months ago, it is only in recent weeks that the dresses should have arrived. Except no bride has received the dress she wanted or paid for.
However, some have managed to receive a sample dress in store, often several sizes too large for them in lieu of getting their deposits back, and one bride said she secured a €300 deposit back recently.
One bride-to-be said she left a deposit of €2,000 in recent months for a €5,000 Rosa Clara dress.
“My wedding isn’t until next year. I thought I was going to be a really chilled-out bride. It’s unfortunate and it’s just so embarrassing. I was being charged the recommended price, but I just can’t believe this,” she said. When contacted, Rosa Clara, which lists Robelle as a stockist on their site, replied: “We want to inform you that the company is aware about this issue and that we will get in contact with you when we have a solution as soon as possible.”
A number of brides said they have been informed by Sophia Tolli and Allure that they have also not been stockists for some time.
Ms Flanagan was previously before Limerick District Court in March 2013 charged with five counts of deception and two charges of producing a forged certificate dating back to 2009 and 2010.
She was due to lodge monies totalling €4,436 to her group policy with Quinn Direct to insure five foreign national taxi drivers, however this policy had been cancelled as no monies were paid into the account.
Her defence said that the mother of two began the fraud after her situation had become quite dire and she became overshadowed by desperation. He said she had lost everything as a result including her home.
There was no website in place for the store, and the Facebook page for Robelle Bridal was also removed on Tuesday morning.
Her Twitter page is still active, and asks ‘Are you a Robelle Bride?