Elizabeth Christina Design was launched in 2013 and since it’s launch I have loved their Award winning pieces. Tina the creative talent behind the Millinery brand is amazing and her creations are inventive and visually stunning. In 2014 she won Milliner of the Year at the prestigious Rose of Tralee Kerry Fashion Designer Awards and then also won the Fashion Designer of the Year at the Tia Maria Hi Style Awards. Last year she followed this amazing winning streak by winning the The Kilkenny Shop Award for Style at the Tia Maria Hi Style Awards 2015. I am delighted to be featuring her today with an interview that explores her passion with millinery.
What is your first memory of fashion?
My first memory of fashion is helping my mum cut out the pattern of a jumpsuit she had made for me. The material was lemon with white stripes. I was about 8 years old and was so excited to wear it. It was me and my mum working together at the kitchen table to create, which was on my part this much longed for jumpsuit.
Design has always been in my blood. I was born with a love of fashion and design. My mother and grandmother were gifted when it came to dressmaking, pattern making, knitting, and crochet so for me it was a love that came naturally. My mum had no design qualifications, but she had amazing talent and an extraordinary understanding of design.
Millinery is such a fascinating area of design and really allows the designer to be so creative and experiment in so many colours and materials. What drew you to millinery over fashion design?
To be honest it was an unexpected step. I am a great believer that everything happens for a reason and will lead you to your true passion. I got married in 2012 and wanted a very specific type of headpiece. I searched every website and bridal store to no avail. The day I picked up my wedding dress my mum simply said,’ if you can’t find the headpiece you want why not make it?’ And so it began. I came home from London with my dress and designed my headpiece.
Having spent 16 years in visual display and visual styling I hadn’t even considered a change of career but once my bridal piece was designed I think even unknown to myself my love and passion for millinery was born. I love the fact that I can work on perhaps 10 to 12 pieces at any one time, with millinery you never get bored!
What training did you undertake to learn the craft?
I had completed a diploma in Fashion Design and Creative studies when I left secondary school. I took several millinery courses with two amazing traditional milliners Lina Stein here in Ireland and Carol Maher from Australia, my faith was sealed. By April 2013 I had walked away from my secure, well paid job, took a huge leap of faith and launched my millinery label under my full birth name ‘Elizabeth Christina’ Design. A few months later Elizabeth Christina Design was accepted as a member of the Crafts Council of Ireland.
Do you remember the first piece that you created?
Most definitely! I was only in business 2 months when I was asked if I would create two alternative bridal pieces for a bridal photoshoot. I remember being so nervous and wondering if the pieces would be good enough. To my delight they certainly were good enough, the shoot and both pieces were featured on ‘Style me Pretty’ arguably the largest wedding blog in the world and in ‘The Irish Wedding Journal’. It’s a very proud moment when you see two of your first designs featured in such prestigious media.
Where does the inspiration for your beautiful pieces come from?
I think my biggest influence is old world Hollywood glamour. My favourite film of all time is ‘Gone with the Wind’. The scene where Scarlett O’ Hara decides to make a dress from the drawing room curtains is one of my favourites of all time. As a child it changed the way I look at things, I find myself looking at regular everyday things and wondering what I can design them into. Actresses like Vivien Leigh and Gretta Garbo, beautiful, strong women but always elegant and exuding glamour. This era is where my inspiration comes from. I adore the elegance these women had. I admire Irish Designer Don O’Neill. I met him when I won Milliner of the year 2014 at The Kerry Fashion Designer Awards, for me his designs recapture the opulence and elegance of that old Hollywood glamour.
Are there any materials in particular that you love to work with?
I adore working with feathers. I love the fact that they are reflective of my designs in that no two are the same. Feathers can create such drama and yet depending on colour and type can be soft and elegant. The fact that as a milliner you have the skills to sculpt each feather into something unique is exciting. I also love thermo plastic materials which are being developed within the millinery sector. They allow the milliner to create new shapes and forms which would be virtually impossible to create with traditional methods.
Although I am sure that it would be hard to choose are there any moments in your career that you are most proud of?
The three most outstanding moments are when I won my awards. In 2014 having only been in business a little over a year I won Milliner of the year at the Kerry Fashion Designer Awards. I will never forget my shock when my name was called, there were such amazingly talented milliners in the competition it just didn’t register with me that I had won. The feedback from the judges was just fantastic and it gave me a new determination to ensure Elizabeth Christina Design would be a success. It was my first award and will always remain special. In November 2014 I won Fashion Designer of the year at the Tia Maria Hi Style Awards and in 2015 The Kilkenny Shop Style Award. Three amazing moments.
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps and become a milliner- would you have any tips for someone looking to enter the craft?
The most important piece of advice I can give is to create and know your own style. While I greatly admire other milliners I have one main rule and that is never to research other milliners and their styles. I think when you do you are subconsciously influenced when you start to create. For me my designs have to be true to my style, it’s the only way to stand apart. If your design is copied, take it as a compliment move forward and create something even more wow!
Your website is simply beautiful and compliment the designs perfectly, how important do you think it is as a designer to have a presence online? Do you think it is important as a designer to keep up with social media – are the ‘likes’ worth it?
I believe it’s hugely important, but you need to ensure that your online presence truly reflex your brand. It took me almost 3 years to find a photographer and web designer that I felt truly understood me and what I wanted to create with my brand. I wasn’t willing to compromise; I am a firm believer you need to surround yourself with like-minded creative individuals. I have gained customers from all over the world through social media, customers that would otherwise have no access to my designs. Are the ‘Likes’ worth it? Only if you are converting them into sales!
Since launching your own brand – what have been the biggest highs and also the toughest challenges that you have experienced?
The biggest highs have definitely been winning my awards. When you work hard, devote day and night to your business all the hard work becomes justified. On an everyday basis it’s when clients try on their finished design, the smiles of delight, seeing how pleased they are fuels my passion for design and millinery even more. My toughest challenge by far was the fact I was entering an industry where I knew no one and had no contacts. I was hard work developing contacts and networking but once you get to know like-minded creative people things start to fall into place.
What aspirations do you have for Elizabeth Christina Design in the future?
I set out to create a high end, high quality brand and my aim is to maintain that high quality. I am passionate about bespoke design and maintaining a unique style. I never intend to waver on my original brand concept. I have high expectations of customer service and intend to continue that high level of service to my customers. I would of course love to win more awards and have my sights set on Elizabeth Christina Design becoming one of Irelands best known millinery brands.
And lastly a very important question. Lyons or Barry’s tea? And favourite dipping biscuit?
I’m afraid I’m a coffee girl all the way, and what goes better with a great coffee than a chocolate chip cookie!
A massive thank you to Tina for the interview, the aesthetic of her pieces is right up my alley and I am delighted to be featuring her on my website. You can check out her website, and she is also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as well.
All images kindly provided by Tina Hemlock.