Each week we speak to an inspiring go-getter as part of our Rising Stars series.
Here, milliner Margaret O'Connor tells SHEmazing! how the rural landscape of Co Clare inspires her, what it was REALLY like to see Lady Gaga don one of her creations – and why the future holds more than just hats…
Hailing from the rural Tubber, in north Co Clare – the very rugged environment that inspires her creativity – Margaret O’Connor first came to prominence in 2013.
Then, none-other than super-star singer-songwriter Lady Gaga wore her Marion headpiece to an exhibition on the late Isabella Blow, the famed muse, magazine editor, and – appropriately enough – celebrated hat-lover.
“When I was a small girl I used to draw a lot and as it was the only thing that kept me quiet, my mother would always have colouring paints and crayons to hand!” 28-year-old Margaret explains with a smile now.
“Then when I was a little older, my father got me into running. That was around the time Sonia O’Sullivan was winning gold medals for Ireland and got a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Sydney. I then got very into sports, hurling, GAA, soccer, running, everything really.”
Indeed, Margaret credits sport with having pushed her into a career in art.
She explains: “It comes naturally to be artistic, but the discipline, drive and competitiveness in sports is what I needed as an artist to develop my own creativity, to improve and keep on improving.
“Some people are very lucky as they can be creative and also good at other skills. I feel the only skill I have is my creativity so I’ve no other option! Millinery just happens to be the medium I work in at the moment.”
After studying sculpture and paint at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Margaret moved to Edinburgh where she commenced a work experience placement with celebrated designer Yvette Jelfs.
Following this, she moved to London to work with noted milliner Noel Stewart, though her real baptism of fire came later when her internship at Philip Treacy’s studio coincided with William and Kate’s 2011 royal wedding. Many of the guests on the day wore pieces by Mr Treacy – including Princess Beatrice, who wore a creation that divided public opinion.
Meanwhile, on a practical day-to-day basis, Margaret says tea keeps her functioning during those long nights in the studio: “Lyons and Barrys are absolutely essential!” she laughs.
The items in each of Margaret’s collections are like wearable works of art. Her Lichtenstein collection, for example, is just amazing.
Inspired by the famous American 1960s pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein, the collection is the result of Margaret’s lifelong love of his work. She says: “My background is in art so I had studied his work in GMIT in Galway years ago.”
“When I was in London and I’d visit the Tate and I always got excited seeing his work in the flesh. And while living in Edinburgh, I based the whole theme of the living room on a pair of Lichtenstein prints.”
As for the future, Ms O’Connor plans to become involved in the film industry, as well as the catwalks.
Indeed, she aims to be a global brand, and with Lady Gaga now a confirmed fan, it’s surely only a matter of time before we see her work on the red carpet at Anna Wintour’s MET ball!