Georgina Heffernan caught up with the talented designer to find out more.
Having Welsh and German grandparents, plus a lifetime in Ireland, possibly explains Jean Condron’s unique personality; celtic creativity and humour with Teutonic precision and unwavering commitment all fuse into ‘hats by Jean’.
Jean lives with her family in Enniskerry surrounded by the beautiful landscape of county Wicklow, the ‘garden county’ of Ireland. Her shop and studio is located in the picturesque Enniskerry Village.
Just like an illusionist’s magic creates a fan-tailed dove from thin-air, Jean conjures up each individual creation to give a woman and her adoring males that ‘wow’ factor.
Georgina Heffernan: Did you always want to be a milliner?
Jean Condron: Not that I knew of! I got involved in millinary purely by accident. My daughter Lana was going to a wedding but she couldn't find a headpiece that suited her outfit so I decided I'd have a go at making something for her. I was always handy enough with a needle and thread so I just added a bit of imagination and produced my first hat. From there, a few of her friends and some other people who were at the wedding asked me to make them something and it grew from there. Three months later a good friend of mine convinced me to create a brand for my pieces and make a range for a Wedding Fair and before I knew it I was in the millenary business and I haven't stopped since.
What's the inspiration behind your creations?
For bespoke hats the woman who is going to wear the hat is my primary inspiration and of course her outfit. Everyone is unique; shape of face, skin-tone, hair colour etc. and most women will come with some of their own ideas that I will try and incorporate into their piece. If I'm collaborating with a designer I'll tap into their thinking and their inspiration.
For other pieces that can be bought 'off the shelf' in my shop in Enniskerry village I really just let my hands and my imagination get together and see what happens! Always, though, I will aspire to create a piece that makes a statement without taking centre stage - I leave that to the woman who is wearing it.
Who is your favourite milliner and why?
I genuinely don't have a favourite milliner but if I see something unusual I do find myself trying to figure out how a section of the hat was made or some other technical aspect of the piece. I like all kinds of hats/head wear and admire every milliner that produces a quality product.
Was it tough getting started in business?
To be honest, it all happened very quickly and without much cognitive thought so I just had to run with it and ensure I could evolve as quickly as the business did. However I find that the longer you are in business the more challenging it gets; more clients, more deadlines, business decisions and the growth pains that goes with a developing business. I still love it though and wouldn't change it for the world.
What trends are coming through in head wear for 2013?
People are getting very adventurous with fashion lately, a lot of layering, bold prints and extravagant embellishments which can translate in the headpieces but I do think when it comes to head wear we're constantly reminded about the greats: Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Jackie Onassis.
What has been your greatest achievement in your career to date?
I've had lots of memorable moments however one of my greatest achievement was seeing one of my hats being introduced to the Queen, or I suppose I should say 'one of my hats which was on the head of a client who was being introduced to the Queen'. I was contacted from a lady in London who was to have an audience with Her Majesty and couldn't find a hat to match her outfit. She saw some of my work and came over to see me in Enniskerry where we decided on a style. A few weeks later she sent me a photo of the 'handshake' and my hat was there in all its glory with the Queen. When I show people the photo I jokingly tell them that the Queen is saying "May one ask where one got her hat?"
Describe your own personal style?
I think that "my style" is actually more on how I try to understand and interact with my clients rather than any particular recognisable design style in my hats. I like to explore different styles and techniques.
Have you had to streamline your business as a result of the recession? How has it impacted you and your peers in the fashion industry?
Thankfully 'Hats by Jean' has been steadily growing since day one. I started my business in the recession so I don't have any other period to compare it with. Without doubt though, the fashion industry has fallen fowl to the recession just like most other industries and people will jeopardise the quality of items they buy for a cheaper price. However for a special occasion people want to look their best and understanding that I ensure all my creations are of the utmost quality yet affordable.
Where do you see the brand going in the future?
My boutique Hats by Jean already stocks stunning jewellery and other accessories (as well as head wear of course) but as of end of Feb we'll be stocking the most beautiful outfits for those special occasions.
What's your motto?
One that I picked up from a lovely man who came into my boutique on day and when he guessed I was having a 'bad day' he said 'always remember tough times don't last but tough people do!'
Hats by Jean
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