Witty, whimsical, wacky, wonderful. Georgina Heffernan catches up with leading Irish milliner, Carol Kennelly, to find out fabulous creations.
Georgina Heffernan: Did you always want to be a milliner?
Carol Kennelly: No, I did my degree in Hotel Management, and loved working in hotels for many years. Millinery was just a hobby, which began because I always found it difficult to find the perfect hat to complete my Ladies Day outfits, when I attended the races. I was astonished when I won two best dressed competitions wearing my own headpieces, Listowel in 2007 and Galway in 2008. Prompted by this success, I decided to train with the award winning milliner Lina Stein. Two years later I took the leap from hobby to career.
What’s the inspiration behind your creations?
My pieces are so varied that my inspiration comes from many different places. It could be something as random as a fireworks display, a dress worn by Lady GaGa, champagne bubbles, architecture or nature. When it is a commissioned piece I need to be led by the outfit, the wearer, her colouring, build and personality.
Who is your favourite milliner and why?
It has to be Philip Treacy. I think it is just incredible how much he has done for millinery. Truly inspirational.
How did you develop your taste and what inspires you today?
I think my taste developed mainly through travel, but also from watching glamorous old techni-colour movies. My inspiration for this Autumn / Winter is all about opulence. Decadent jewelling, intricate beading, luxurious velvets, pearl encrusted pieces and brightly coloured feathers. It’s my own personal backlash against everything negative that is happening in the world. True escapism!
What’s different about your creations?
My racing pieces tend to be a little outside the box, but I enjoy their uniqueness, and the fact that they evoke a reaction. I like my racing pieces to turn heads for all the right reasons. My pieces in general tend to be very labour intensive, and quite often have a large amount of hand stitched beading on them.
Who do you envision wearing your pieces?
Initially the majority of my customers would have been ladies attending race meetings across the country. Now more and more of my business is coming from the wedding market, both brides, mother of the bride, and wedding guests. The export market is also growing well.
What have been your greatest challenges as a designer?
Because my background is not in fashion, I am very aware that most traditional milliners probably know more about the craft than I ever will. However, in some ways, I think my ignorance can also be a benefit as I approach millinery differently, and this can be seen in the uniqueness of my pieces.
What is your favourite piece you’ve created and why?
My favourite piece changes on a weekly basis. "Brooke" is one of my all-time favourites, I love her drama. The eureka moment at four in the morning when that piece finally came together. "Charlotte" will also be special to me as she was worn by Annemarie O'Leary when she won Best Dressed at the Galway Races, only 6 weeks after I started my business. I finished a plum feather commission piece this morning and I am so excited by how it turned out.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I love being my own boss, and the flexibility that that brings to my work week. Flexibility is very important as family life with two small children can seem like a constant juggle at times. The thing that gives me the most job satisfaction is making something that I and others think is beautiful.
So what’s next?
Who knows! That’s the exciting part of it all, the possibilities are endless.