Meet the new generation of Irish hat designers putting a modern twist on millinery

A Martha Lynn hat being modelled.

There’s a new generation of Irish hat designers who give a contemporary cutting edge to the traditional art of millinery. Paula Burns spoke to the best of them about their craft

MILLINERY no longer evokes an antiquated vision. With pioneering designers like Philip Treacy holding court at the milliners reign, modernity has become a scared word.

The hat is having its moment. Forget the dreaded fear of the ladies day fascinator, hats are now the style muses. Taking inspiration from the juxtaposing positions of nature verses architecture and form, Irish designers have brought the wonderful craft of millinery into the contemporary realm of fashion.

Aoife Kirwan

Kirwan attended the London College of Fashion to study millinery. It was from her first class she fell in love with the traditional techniques used in millinery. This led to private tuition with couturier and milliner Thomas Von Nordhiem at his studio in Bloomsbury before Aoife returned to Ireland to launch her own label.

Taking inspiration from anywhere from international fashion forecasts like Premiere Vision in Paris to being inspired by a new fabric to shapes and colours in nature, art or architecture, Kirwan’s design’s are unique. But it is her customer’s visions that remain at the heart of her designs.

Aoife Kirwan Tickle Me Pink, price on request
Aoife Kirwan Tickle Me Pink, price on request

“I try to create my collection to fulfil their needs full of pieces to inspire, complete their look, give them confidence and make them feel amazing when they are wearing my designs,” says Kirwan.

This spring/summer, Kirwan allows the traditional millinery techniques she has crafted to meet modern design.

“I have used a lot of silk abaca which is a beautiful fabric made from a mixture of pineapple plant fibers and silk which gives a bright lustre to the swirls used in my designs. I have incorporated this with wonderfully lightweight parasisal straws, sinamay, glittering sequins and ethereal windowpane edges.”


Aoife Harrison

A childhood love of vintage hats was what led Grafton Academy graduate Aoife Harrison to one day launch her own millinery designs.

“I am deeply influenced by vintage hats. I started collecting vintage hats from the 1920s-1960s as a child, so this definitely has an influence on my style of hats that I make,” explains Harrison. “But I can be inspired by anything. Flowers and feathers always feature so if I come across some beautiful feathers they can inspire a whole collection.”

Aoife Harrison Design 2, Price on Request.
Aoife Harrison Design 2, Price on Request.

It’s no surprise then that when it comes to looking for inspiration for her new collections, Harrison looks to the mother ship of millinery events, Royal Ascot.

She looks to the trendsetters of recent decades. “People who wear a hat with style and attitude are always an inspiration. I think Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, always wore hats so well and looked so elegant in a hat. Many of her hats were made by Philip Somerville in London and he was a wonderful milliner in the 1980s and 1990s.”

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a glorious sunset and with this in mind Harrison has created her SS16 collection.

“I love the changing colours we see in the sky in the evenings and how it can go from a mellow blue and pink to vivid pinks and oranges. I tried to capture these colours in feathers that I dyed.”

Martha Lynn

Martha Lynn combines her degree in fine art sculpture with the traditional millinery skills she learned at Philip Tracey’s and Stephen Jones’ studios to create an innovative collection of paired back elegance.

It’s not just designing a hat for Lynn; she believes her designs are “sculpture for your head”. Architecture and form are at the forefront of her inspiration.

Martha Lynn SS16 Yellow Cat design, price on request.
Martha Lynn SS16 Yellow Cat design, price on request.

“I love clean lines and graphic patterns teamed with bold colours. I am inspired by new materials, such as plastics, vinyl’s and combining them with traditional millinery materials like felt and straw.”

For this season’s collection, Lynn’s muses come from kinetic art and her healthy obsession with geometric pattern.

“For this season there are lots of bold primary colours. I experimented with new shapes and new techniques such as laser cutting which was a really exciting concept for me.”

As a milliner, Lynn strives to look to different forms when creating her designs. As a result this season she has introduced foam as a new material. It’s this experimental approach to breaths new life into the old craft of millinery.

It’s with this aesthetic to push the boundaries of design that has led Lynn’s pieces to not only be a hat but also a work of art.


Emily Jean O’Byrne

Galway-based milliner, Emily Jean O’Byrne began her design career studying jewellery and silversmithing. Next step in the design career was attending the London College of Fashion, where she began to combine both elements of her training to develop her own signature style in millinery.

Her love of design brought her to train under such renowned names in the industry as Louis Mariette and Dillon Wallwork, before going to Paris to work at Maison Michel, the official millinery house of Chanel. Parisian design has remained at the heart of Emily Jean’s artistic approach.

Emily-Jean O’Byrne’s Polka Loka, price onrequest.
Emily-Jean O’Byrne’s Polka Loka, price on


Opening her own boutique in Galway in 2007, O’Byrne incorporates a feminine approach to styling her clients. Her boutique is also a treasure trove of jewelled collars and belts.

For spring/summer 2016 O’Byrnehas reinterpreted her signature look of ‘individual classic chic’ to her ready-to-wear collection.

“I have focused on soft pastel colours incorporating lace detail and light organza. The racing collection is bolder with strong colours and quiet structured in design.”

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Edel Ramberg

With a mum full of ‘bonkers’ ideas and unbelievable energy, milliner Edel Ramberg is never short of inspiration. After graduating from the Limerick School of Art and Design, Ramberg had a short stint working in the big apple before training under the king of millinery Philip Treacy.

Apart from her mum who takes her out of her design comfort zone whilst keeping her customers in mind, Ramberg takes inspiration from the world around her.

Edel Ramberg Pink moon, €250.
Edel Ramberg Pink moon, €250.

“I love the outdoors, nature, especially trees. I think flowers, trees and branches give the most amazing shape inspiration,” explains Ramberg.

“Different light creates interesting silhouettes and colours, I love some flowers the way they sleep at night and bloom awake during the day. What we are surrounded by naturally is where the ideas for most of my hats evolve.”

Keeping the natural aesthetic Ramberg began to use feathers late last summer for this season’s collection.

“I always associated them with ‘mother of the bride’ hats. They are actually so versatile to work with and strong, they can be curved and shaped, dyed and manipulated to create really structured pieces,” she explains.

“I also started using a lot more veiling this year with various contrasting colour combinations.”

Ramberg is having fun with the traditional embellishments used in hat making while creating unique pieces.



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