Today I am back with an exciting interview with Irish Milliner Aoife Kirwan. Aoife is an amazing milliner whose pieces are works of art. She is so creative and her attention to detail is just brilliant. All of her pieces are designed and handcrafted in the Republic of Ireland using traditional millinery techniques and the highest quality materials. I love her work so am delighted to be featuring her today.
I understand that you originally studied fashion design. Have you always been drawn to hats and headpieces or what was the draw away from fashion design into millinery
I always wanted to work for myself and to spend my days making my living creating something with my hands. I have always loved fashion and in particular accessories and how they can completely change an outfit bringing it from simple to stunning. During the recession I was made redundant and decided to go back to college to study fashion design. While there I won an accessories design competition that my college was holding in collaboration with Harvey Nichols. This led me to consider accessories as a possible path for me.
I headed to London and when I walked into my first millinery course I fell in love with the totally handcrafted element of hat making. Here was a craft using traditional techniques and beautiful old wooden shapes called hat blocks. Everything done by hand not machines. I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do.
I studied at the London College of Fashion before returning to Ireland to set up my business designing and handcrafting hats for discerning customers. My ready-to-wear collection is currently available in Arnotts Dublin as well as selected boutiques. Appointments can be made for personal consultations at my studio for custom orders.
I am sure that studying under Thomas von Nordheim was a great experience. What is the best thing that you learned or took away from that experience?
I found studying under couturier and milliner Thomas Von Nordhiem invaluable. He taught me the traditional techniques of proper millinery and instilled in me the importance of original design and exceptional finish through handstitching and handcrafting every element.
Do you think it is important for those who want to work in the area of millinery to undertake some form of formal training?
I think it is very important to learn the basics of millinery before developing your own techniques. When I decided to study millinery there were little to no training available in Ireland that would teach me the proper traditional techniques that I wanted to learn so I had to go to London to train. That is why when I became more established I decided to offer millinery tuition on a one-to-one basis from my studio www.AoifeKirwanMillinery.com/courses As one of my students put it “there is no replacement for one to one tutoring, online tutorials do not compare.”
Your pieces are just exquisite – where do you find your inspiration from?
Inspiration can come from anywhere from international fashion forecasts like Premiere Vision in Paris to being inspired by a new fabric to being inspired by shapes and colours in nature, art or architecture. Ideas can come at any time which is why I have sketchbooks dotted all over my home and try to always have one with me on the go.
My customers are my main influence as I try to create my collection to fulfill their needs full of pieces to inspire, complete their look, give them confidence and make them feel amazing when they are wearing my designs.
Do you have a favourite material that you like to work with?
For Autumn/Winter 2016 I have used a lot of sumptuous silk velvets, intricate hand-beading details, Swarovski pearls, handcrafted silk roses, vintage silk veiling and Italian leather.
Who are your favourite milliners and also fashion designers at the moment?
The talent in the Irish fashion industry is incredibly strong right now. The collections of Irish milliners Elaine Keogh, Davina Lynch and Martha Lynn are on pointe this season. Fashion designer Laura Jane Halton’s work is incredible. The new ready-to-wear collection by Delphine Grandjouan is to die for, I want it all!
What has been your biggest challenge with creating your brand Aoife Kirwan millinery?
It is a very tough industry and it can be very stressful working for yourself. You have to learn to be a good business person and marketing person as well as a good designer or your business will not succeed. Time management is vitally important. You need to work as hard as you possibly can but you also ultimately need to create a good work life balance or you will burn out.
Although I am sure hard to choose as you have had some amazing career moments, but what has been your proudest moment to date?
It would be impossible to choose. From this year alone there has been quite a few…
- Irish designer Laura Jane Halton winning Most Stylish lady at the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown wearing one of my hats in February.
- Having my ready-to-wear collection stocked in Arnotts from April.
- Taking part in the incredible Arc show in the RDS.
- Having my hats stocked in Brown Thomas for their millinery pop-up from May.
- Irish Country Magazine editor Jenifer Stevens judging the Most Stylish Lady competition at Punchestown wearing one of my hats.
- Broadcaster and publisher Norah Casey judging the Style Icon competition at the Curragh Racecourse wearing one of my hats.
- Ellen Sherry being interviewed by Gok Wan for Channel 4 at Royal Ascot wearing one of my hats.
- Being stocked in Kildare Village for the So Collective millinery pop-up in July.
- I also had some great press this year being interviewed for The Hat Show on Irish TV by Emily O’Donnell as well as being featured in great print media including Irish Tatler, Irish Independent, Irish Daily Mail, Irish Country Magazine, VIP, Irish Examiner, Irish Times Gloss Magazine & The Sunday Business Post.
- Showing pieces from my Autumn/Winter collection at the Council of Irish Fashion Designers fashion show at the Peter Mark Style Club this month.
The year isn’t over yet so hopefully I have some high points to look forward to, watch this space!
Do you have any advice for those that are thinking of getting into millinery?
Millinery is a vast and exciting craft and can make a great hobby. If you are thinking of millinery as a career make sure you really want it. Do your research first. Starting up and running your own business is incredibly stressful and extremely hard work. Ireland is a very small pond and there are many incredible designers here, you need to bring something different to the table with an exceptional finish and learn how to build and promote a business.
Get as much training and experience as you can, make sure it’s what you want, and if it is go for it. Learn from the mistakes and successes of others who have gone before you, train, develop your skills, do internships, attend talks (the CIFD have an outreach program where their designers attend colleges to talk to the students and answer questions). Contact your local enterprise board.
Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you want it and if you work incredibly hard for it giving it everything you have you can do it.
What does the future hold for Aoife Kirwan Millinery
Hopefully I will continue to develop my business and keep doing what I love to do. Follow me on social media to see how I do!
A massive thank you to Aoife for doing the interview – I adore her pieces and am delighted to be featuring her today. You can follow Aoife on Facebook, Instagram and also Twitter. Aoife also has a website here that you can see more of her work. She also has an online store that you can visit here.
All images kindly provided by Aoife for use.