Hats off to Loughrea millinery sensation

People can view the creations of an award winning County Galway milliner, who has worked with internationally acclaimed Philip Treacy, at his pop-up shop at Brown Thomas.

Loughrea man Mark T Burke is the latest millinery sensation from the west of Ireland. The 24-year-old who comes from Caherlavine is the elder of a family of two.

His career began when he designed and produced hats for Athlone Musical Society’s production of My Fair Lady. This was his first time to turn his hand to millinery and he received rave reviews, gaining an AIMS (Association of Irish Musical Societies ) nomination for his work on the show.

His glamorous designs continue to turn heads. His pieces are very popular at weddings and race meetings with his work being spotted at Royal Ascot and at the Galway Races.

He designed the headpiece for Heidi Higgins, the winner of the Best Dressed Lady title at the 2010 Punchestown Festival and was named Accessory Designer of the Year at the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards in March 2010.

His creative journey kickstarted with projects in his native Loughrea. He started by making costumes for Loughrea Youth Theatre a number of years ago and from there moved into working on various musicals around Galway. It was the production of My Fair Lady in Athlone and the Ascot hats that cemented his love of millinery and set him on the road to success.

He credits his former art teacher, Vicky Griffin, at St Raphael’s College in Loughrea, with nurturing his interest in art. A former graduate of GTI and the holder of a BA degree in textile design from GMIT he wanted to study sculpture originally.

“So it seemed only natural to marry the textiles with the 3-D process, hence, the millinery. Millinery always offers great space for creativity and to express yourself. There aren’t many rules once it looks elegant and makes the wearer feel great!”

He says he discovered by accident that his great grand aunt was a milliner. “None of us knew this until the 1901 census went online and we began to look into our past.”

After a short stint working with internationally famous milliner Philip Treacy in 2008 the young designer decided to concentrate on millinery.

He is a huge admirer of the Ahascragh man - more than 30 of his hats were worn at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in April last year - including the fascinator worn by Princess Beatrice of York.

“He’s top of his game, he’s the ruler of the millinery world, his pieces are works of art. I’m not just saying that because he’s from Galway but there’s no comparison to him at all. I like simplicity - simple shapes and lines - and a lot of his pieces would represent that. Treacy most certainly revived the hat in the 1990s and brought it back to the catwalk.

“I spent a few weeks with him and he was so generous with his time, talent and information. On a millinery training level it was a case of me soaking up as much as possible. My time with him convinced me that millinery was for me.”

Mark T Burke, who works from his studio at his home in Loughrea, has a strong focus on simple lines and shapes and attention to detail.

“I like classic, well cut, simple and timeless pieces. Sometimes the landscape sparks an idea - maybe a tree or the shape of a bowl or vase. I might say that would be an interesting shape to take on. I took part in the fashion show for the Volvo Ocean Race and got inspiration from the water, movement, waves and the sails.”

He set high standards. “There is no excuse for shabby stitching, I very rarely use glue and never use a sewing machine – everything is completely by hand.”

Although relatively new to the fashion industry he already has a loyal fanbase both in Ireland and the UK. His designs have been spotted at Royal Ascot, Cheltenham, the Galway Races, Buckingham Palace and most recently at the wedding of Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Philips to Mike Tindall.

It takes him 10 to 12 hours to make one of his hats which retail from €225 to €275 and are on sale at Galway Hat Shop at the Eyre Square Centre, at Pia Boutique in Loughrea and at the pop-up shop at Brown Thomas which continues until after the Galway Races.

He would like to design hats for American pop singer and songwriter Lady Ga Ga and the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton.

“Designing for Lady Ga Ga would feed into my hunger for theatre while Kate Middleton is one of the most famous and most elegant hat wearers. She has taken classic tailoring to a new level.”

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