Turning heads: Hats off to the new crop of Irish milliners

Irish millinery is free spirited, not tied down by imposed rules

Irish design: millinery by Michelle Kearns, Deb Fanning and the Season Hats.

Irish design: millinery by Michelle Kearns, Deb Fanning and the Season Hats.

 

Millinery and fantasy go hand in hand. Extravagant hats create mystery, glamour, sophistication and that playful childish sense of dressing up. In Ireland millinery means fanciful dos for nuptials and race meetings, and with weddings every weekend and the Curragh racing season starting on Saturday, April 13th, Irish hatmakers are busy turning straw, silk, satin and flowers into perchers, discs, boaters and pillboxes – headturning affairs for Ladies Day and other events.

“Hats communicate in a way clothing can’t,” says celebrated milliner Stephen Jones.

Given that the crown prince himself, Galway-born designer Philip Treacy, revived and reinvigorated hatmaking, are the Irish particularly gifted when it comes to millinery? According to Lina Stein, the Australian master milliner and teacher who has been based in Ireland for a number of years and trained many success stories, Irish millinery is free spirited, not tied down by imposed rules as in other countries. Thus, Irish makers tend to be more resourceful and imaginative.

Ashleigh Myles, winner of this year’s Fashion Innovation Award for millinery, used everything from cereal bowls to Ikea tables and lamps as shapes for hats

Ashleigh Myles, for instance, winner of this year’s Fashion Innovation Award for millinery at the Golden Egg Awards in Galway, used everything from cereal bowls to Ikea tables and lamps as shapes when she first started making because she couldn’t afford expensive hat blocks. “Nothing was safe in my kitchen,” she says.

Self-taught, since her hobby became a business in 2013, she has won many awards for her handcrafted hats and headpieces though she continues to work as a financial controller in her native Rush. Her winning collection in Galway was made entirely from 2,000 black and red cable ties.

“They are easy to manipulate and bend but hard work,” she says of these unconventional hat materials.

Headpiece with giant silk roses €320 by Anthony Peto.
Headpiece with giant silk roses €320 by Anthony Peto.
Parasisal pillbox hat in lime and taupe €280 by Wendy Louise Designs.
Parasisal pillbox hat in lime and taupe €280 by Wendy Louise Designs.
Leather percher embellished with crystal and finished with spiked black feathers €240 by Ashleigh Myles.
Leather percher embellished with crystal and finished with spiked black feathers €240 by Ashleigh Myles.
Hydrangea hat with quills, beading and birdcage veiling by Deb Fanning €445.
Hydrangea hat with quills, beading and birdcage veiling by Deb Fanning €445.
Black leather rose on sculpted tulle by Michelle Kearns €330.
Black leather rose on sculpted tulle by Michelle Kearns €330.
Handmade suede roses on sculpted wire frame €545 by Michelle Kearns.
Handmade suede roses on sculpted wire frame €545 by Michelle Kearns

Husband and wife team

The Season Hats is another award-winning Irish company run by husband and wife team Paul Stafford and Selina Horshi in Derry using innovative techniques – plissage (pleating) and laser cutting – and applying it to millinery.

Their signature satin folding hats fold flat like a fan and then unfold into spectacular pieces. Inspired by Chinese paper folding techniques, they are simple to store and transport, each piece made up of 46 bits of precision cut French satin. It’s no wonder they have been featured in Vogue, OK, Schon and many other magazines. Their most recent fan is Saoirse-Monica Jackson of Derry Girls.

Aoife Harrison is another established Irish milliner who started her successful business 10 years ago. She not only makes bespoke pieces for mothers of the bride and groom, but also wholesales and teaches the craft too.

Her Hatty Hen Parties in her studio at the Pepper Cannister Church in Dublin are particularly popular – for €50 a head, participants get 2½ hours’ demonstration on a Friday evening and are then encouraged to try their own hands at headpieces. Prosecco and cupcakes are provided and, according to Harrison “it’s all a bit of fun for all ages and even business groups and nobody needs any experience”. Many come back as customers.

Akbar unfolding wedding tiara €280 by The Season Hats.
Akbar unfolding wedding tiara €280 by The Season Hats
Peaked panama bellboy cap by FAO Millinery €170.
Peaked panama bellboy cap by FAO Millinery €170
Mocha panama with handwoven ikat trim by FAO Millinery €235
Mocha panama with handwoven ikat trim by FAO Millinery €235
Zailea by The Season Hats €895.
Zailea by The Season Hats €895
Straw boater with beekeeper veil and crystal embellishment by Aoife Harrison €300.
Straw boater with beekeeper veil and crystal embellishment by Aoife Harrison €300
Black silk covered wire veiled headpiece €595 by Leonora Ferguson.
Black silk covered wire veiled headpiece €595 by Leonora Ferguson

Main influencers

According to Harrison, the main influencers today when it comes to hats are the British and Spanish royal families: “The young royals have really encouraged young people to wear hats and the Duchess of Sussex really nails it because she has a role to play and so many events to attend.”

Current taste however, she says, is for softer styles, and hairpieces that can be worn on the left or right side of the head are more substantial than fascinators “and they don’t block the view like a big saucer or a very wide brim at weddings when there is a lot of kissing and hugging”.

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