It is wonderful to see so many Galway woman thriving in the world of fashion, and milliner and jewellery designer Brid O’Driscoll is another steadily making a name for herself in the business. She has been building a widespread client base since 2010, designing hats, headpieces, and neckpieces for mothers-of-the-bride and groom, wedding guests, and race goers among others.
The move into the world of fashion happened organically as the Clare native had been working as an interior designer until work slowly began to dry up due to the recession. She had always held an interest in millinery and started making some headpieces following the completion of a course at the Ennis Creative Arts Centre. It is immediately obvious upon meeting Mrs O’Driscoll that she exudes genuine warmth and passion for her craft.
“I had studied art in college, so I suppose in a sense I was going back to my roots. I just loved the millinery course, I loved working with hats and experimenting with different designs. One day someone said to me, why don’t you set up a display at a local fashion show that was taking place in Kinvara, and I said sure why not. I remember I brought everything I had up with me and was so nervous to see the reaction to the pieces. Thankfully people seemed to like them, and I started to get phonecalls. People just started to come to my house and that was how it all started.”
Brid’s husband Brian also found himself in the midst of a career change around the same time due to work in the construction industry drying up. He began a hurley making business, O’Driscoll Hurleys, so the pair can certainly be described as a very creative couple.
She began by mostly making pieces for wedding clients and that has evolved into making pieces for race goers due to the huge rise in popularity of Ladies’ Day events across the country. “At the beginning, I was really dependent on word-of-mouth and local fashion shows. We are lucky here in Galway there is such a large amount of events happening regularly. Jean in Willow Boutique in Ennis took in a display of my pieces and that was huge because it just gets your name out there.”
She started making collars as she could see there was a niche in the market for high end statement necklaces that can transform a plain outfit into something amazing. “I thought it was no harm to be doing something else along with the hats. When you are in design you are always dabbling in making bits and pieces. I went to a trade show and met Marissa Carter of Cocoa Brown tan. She loved the piece I was wearing which happened to be pink - the colour of the Cocoa Brown packaging. She was doing a lot on Expose on TV3 at the time and wore the pieces on TV which was great exposure. I had lots of enquiries of the back of that.”
Interestingly the milliner has also helped to inspire a novel, with author Colette Caddle spending time with her during the research of her book First we take Manhattan. The book is about two sisters who open a millinery business and in the story the sisters make it big after a Hollywood star is pictured wearing one of their pieces. This is not a million miles away from real life as some of Brid’s jewels have also made it to Hollywood. “Marissa Carter wore some of my collars to the Oscars when she was out there tanning the stars a few years ago. It was great because she was photographed and people were asking her about them so I managed to pick up a few clients from the US. I still keep contact with Marissa and she wears the pieces regularly. She is a lovely lady and a fantastic businesswoman.”
RTE presenter and stylist Marietta Doran is also a fan. “Marietta is a brilliant promotor of Irish design, she is one of the nicest people you could ever work with. I designed a beautiful pink piece for her to wear on the Friday of Punchestown this year. We also organised a fashion show to raise funds for breast cancer in The Merriman and we organised Marietta to come down and do the MC for the event. It was a fantastic afternoon out which people really enjoyed and we hope to organise a similar event this year.”
The Galway Fashion Trail is something else which has helped to promote her designs, along with the Galway Races. This year some of her pieces were modelled at the Prom to Paddock event at the Salthill Hotel which takes places on the Monday of Race Week and is in aid of Enable Ireland.
Sales of hats have certainly exploded in recent years, with fashion and style being as popular as ever. As well as Best Dressed Lady events at the races, there are now best dressed prizes at shows, and indeed many other social events. So there is no doubt the demand is there. “This year I had my first hat at Ascot, so that was brilliant. It was really exciting for me, it all happened very quickly after local boutique Ail Ruin [Clarenbridge] recommended me.”
Mothers-of-the-bride and groom pieces comprise a large part of the business as this is the day that ladies really want to shine, and there will be plenty of photographic evidence of the occasion. Brid also makes intricate bridal pieces, and the bride herself wearing headwear is something that has got more fashionable in recent years.
Millinery is an area where there can be a lot of satisfaction gained from seeing someone blossom. “I had a women come in one time, who was looking for something as he son was getting married, and she looked at this tiny little pillbox and said, ‘oh I could never wear that’. She put it on and I will never forget her face - she just beamed, and said ‘oh I can wear it after all!’ She was transformed. I had another woman come in to me who said she felt like going to the dentist she was so nervous about trying on a hat - but she left saying she was really excited about wearing one. That kind of thing is certainly nice to see. The perfect headpiece can make you stand out for all the right reasons.”
There is no doubt the perfect hat can really finish off an outfit and increase your confidence in how you look. It is great to see women thriving in business and especially from a rural base. Brid agrees that Galway is a creative place and the county is certainly a wealth of talent when it comes to hat making, the county being home to names such as Cathriona King, Gillian Duggan, Mary White, Fiona Mangan, and Emily Jean, among many others. Long live our love affair with hats and headpieces, they make the world a brighter place.
+Brid O’Driscoll Millinery, Kinvara, Co. Galway, 087 6633103 / 085 2370283. The milliner can also be contacted via Facebook.