Galway-trained milliner takes Asia shows by storm

Margaret O'Connor

A former GMIT textiles student has been hailed internationally for her millinery creativity with no less than two fashion shows in Asia in the space of a year.

The protégé of Ahascragh milliner to the Royal Family, Philip Tracey, Margaret O’Connor’s star shot through the sky when she was commissioned to create a piece for pop star and fashion innovator Lady Gaga.

Hailing from Boston, Tubber in County Clare, Margaret was educated in Gort and went to college first in the Galway Technical Institute (GTI) and later the GMIT to study textiles where she became immersed in the world of millinery.

Some of Margaret O’Connor’s hats on the catwalk in Jakarta with knitwear by Derek Lawlor.

When she was invited to create bespoke pieces for Brown Thomas in Dublin in 2014, she met knitwear designer Derek Lawlor, who was based in the UK.

The pair became friends and decided to collaborate on a collection for the Guangzhou Fashion Week in China last April – she the hats and headgear, he the unusual knits.

Their collection received a huge response and they were declared the winners of the Global Original Design Fashion Award, beating off competition from 170 designers.

They garnered the attention of the British Arts Council, who invited them to attend the Jakarta Fashion Week.

The pair created a whole new collection, which they labelled Electra.

“It was amazing – it was the highlight of my career if I have to be honest,” she enthused.

“There were 2,000 people who came to our show. We got a standing ovation. We had our own stand there for a week. Myself and Derek were the only UK and Irish designers there. They were really welcoming. It’s the best show I’ve ever done in my life.”

Margaret has recently opened her own shop on Market Street in Ennis, which doubles as her workshop. Like every local milliner, the absolute busiest time of her year is in the lead-up to the Galway Races, where her imaginative pieces regularly feature in the national media.

She mixes her high-end fashion creations with ordinary commissions for a wedding.

But her experience in Asia has certainly opened her eyes about the possibilities that could exist for her career.

Her collaborator Derek designed the knitwear for films such as the Orient Express and Mary Queen of Scots. He recently got a promotion to lecture at the world-famous Central Saint Martins (CSM), University of the Arts London.

“I’m 31 years old. I have to keep pushing myself to do different things. I was blown away by Indonesia. I’m from the West of Ireland where we looked after cows. My family just think it’s so funny, the things I’m doing now,” she laughed.

“I’d love my experience to inspire all the young girls in the GMIT, to push them to think big, not just Ireland or England but the world stage. I hope to go to New York Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week and give a female voice for Irish designers.”

Her pieces are available for sale in Galway in the Galway Hat Shop in the Corbett Court Shopping Centre.