Bodyke-based milliner, Ailish McElroy has recently launched her own line of handmade, bespoke hats and headpieces.
Ailish is originally from Rathfarnham in Dublin and worked abroad for a few years, before returning to Ireland to settle in Bodyke with her family.
Her designs are classic and edgy, with maximum elegance, creating that finishing touch to complement any outfit. Specialising in unique and imaginative headpieces, she was the official milliner for the Clare Rose at this year’s Rose of Tralee International Festival.
Millinery is a craft form that has been rapidly expanding of late and Ailish explains how she got involved in it.
“I have always been a very creative person and I have been a graphic designer for many years. I always had an intense interest in all types of design; fashion, interiors, architecture. After attending Ladies Day at the Galway Races last year, I developed an interest in millinery. I was soul-searching for an area I could devote myself to after starting a family and wanted to work for myself. I began by researching the time-honoured traditions of the craft,” she explained.
Ailish said hats are making a comeback in no small part due to people like Kate Middleton and Zara Philips, who, she says, have made it “more trendy” for younger women to wear hats.
“People are beginning to see hats as the ultimate accessory. This is also in part due to [TV shows such as] Mad Men and Downton Abbey and the resurgence in all things vintage. Everyone can wear a hat, although some people can be nervous at the thought as they may not be used to it but there is a hat for everyone.
“In Ireland, we have a reputation for producing fantastic milliners, who create a wide variety of styles, which have made the rest of the fashion world sit up and take notice. Millinery is an interesting area in that it largely relies on the wedding and racing industry for business.
“However, I do see people beginning to wear cocktail headpieces to special occasions, such as christenings and black tie events,” she said.
Ailish added that what she loves most about the craft is how she gets to work intuitively with the materials that she gathers.
“I can be inspired by the most random of things but really it’s more about a sculptural approach to making the pieces; balance of form, colour and texture. Wearing a hat makes you feel more confident, makes you walk taller and you just feel better in yourself. Nothing finishes off a fabulous outfit more than a hat,” she said.
Ailish took one-to-one millinery classes with different milliners in Ireland, before starting her own business. She also completed an internship with renowned North Clare milliner, Margaret O’Connor, who is based in London.
“The internship was an incredible experience. Margaret is so dedicated to her craft and is a true inspiration. I learnt an incredible amount from her, as she is so generous with her knowledge, not only about making hats but also about how to approach the business of millinery and the realities of trying to make it in the world of fashion. We were working on a line of hats for Brown Thomas in Dublin. Some were avante-garde pieces, while others were commercial. It was a very rewarding experience,” she said.
Since taking the plunge to start her own business, Ailish said it is a daunting experience, particularly for someone who also wants to balance family life.
“Up to this point, I have been focusing on learning the craft of millinery and trying not to think too much about the next step. I work from my home in Bodyke, which allows me to spend as much time with my children as possible,” she explained.
Ailish said that, while she doesn’t have a specific style, she does love certain materials more than others, and she does derive inspiration from the outfit that the hat or headpiece is to complement.
“There are certain materials I love to work with, such as silks, felts, lace, beading and feathers ,which you see a lot in vintage pieces. I also love berets and cocktail hats, as they tend to flatter most people and are very wearable.
“I tend to put in long hours experimenting with new materials to create something bespoke and unique. I now have my first range of hats completed, which I am starting to showcase at events, such as wedding fairs and fashion shows,” she said.
Currently, Ailish is working towards coordinating a collaborative event with other creative people in similar circumstances in East Clare to produce her first lifestyle photoshoot, which is scheduled for mid-October.
“I am really excited for the opportunity to work with other creative people in East Clare, as being a milliner is normally such solitary work. The aim is of this shoot is to push creative boundaries whilst maintaining a beautiful outcome and total image. My goal is that this shoot will give recognition and exposure to the talent that exists in East Clare,” she said.