Caithriona King spent ages perfecting her drawing of the Liam McCarthy Cup. She included all the details, such as the Celtic design, on the coveted trophy for the All Ireland Hurling Championship winners.
Her effort paid off and she won the competition for the best drawing in her class at Lackagh Primary School. She was seven-years-old and had taken the first tentative steps towards an artistic career which would eventually culminate in the Corofin woman becoming an award winning and much sought after milliner.
Winning the contest is the first memory the 38-year-old has of showcasing her artistic flair and being recognised for her talent.
“No-one else in the class had the depth of detail that I had on the sketch of the cup. I have an eye for detail and am a perfectionist which is sometimes to my detriment!”
She loved making things as a child, she used to make scrunchies for the other children at school. “I think I got my creativity from my mam. She is very good at knitting. My dad is a carpenter and he makes a lot of my hat blocks.”
After completing secondary school, Caithriona studied art at Waterford Institute of Technology. Later, she spent two years studying millinery at Wombourne School of Millinery in London.
“I loved studying art. The more hands-on aspects appealed to me most, creating things, such as pottery, as I am good with my hands. I specialised in photography and ceramics in college.”
The art of hat making totally captured her imagination. She began by making hats for family and friends for special occasions, such as weddings. Then, 13 years ago she made a tiara for her own wedding and beaded flowers for the bridesmaids’ hair.
“I knew millinery was for me, it was my thing. When I got married I said ‘ This is it’. I wanted to use the skills I had developed. I see hats as wearable sculptures. Some are very outlandish. I love these because they present a challenge and there are no boundaries for your imagination.”
She had been working as a care assistant with the Brothers of Charity services but decided to take a career break four years ago to concentrate on her millinery career.
“It was a hard decision to make,” she says. “My husband was farming and I was trying to set up my business. But in another way, it was an easy decision in that I would be doing something I loved and it would be great if I could make a living from it. Really, I suppose it was a case of ‘now or never’. I was after having my fourth baby and I felt I could do so much more with the hats. I wasn’t giving it my all in the past due to time constraints. I got a studio built on to the house and went from there.”
Caithriona’s business has gone from strength to strength. Through personal recommendation and national recognition - she won Milliner of the Year in 2015 at The Irish Fashion Innovation Awards and was shortlisted again in 2016 as well as being shortlisted for the Kerry Fashion Awards - her reputation has grown. One of her pieces was photographed by a Tuam photographic studio which won gold in the fashion section at a photographic awards ceremony in London. Her hats have also featured on the front pages of the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner. Her latest accolade was being invited to submit a piece for the ARC Fashion Show. This annual style extravaganza, where emerging and established designers and milliners showcase their latest work, takes place in Dublin on March 2.
Her hats cost from €120 to €300 and are distinctive because of their sculptural qualities. “My hats are sculptural, they are pieces of art. I use jinsin a lot [an Australian woven straw fabric famous ]. It has a gorgeous sculptural quality, you can make fabulous shapes from it. I work a lot with luxurious fabrics, beaded and embroidered materials and lace. I love rich colours - strong bold ones have more impact I believe.”
She has 200 hats on display in her studio. “I have lots of clients who come to me and I create a bespoke piece for them. You have to be aware of fashion trends but the person involved is important as well. I am led by my own styles - I like classical shapes with a funky edge.”
She is a big fan of Ahascragh milliner Philip Treacy because “his pieces are so different” and she says it “would be a dream come true”