Hats off as Sarah set for London

Story by John Donohoe

Wednesday, 31st January, 2018 12:09am

Hats off as Sarah set for London

Sarah O'Rouke modelling some of her hat designs at home in Ashbourne. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

London is the centre of the world as far as all fashionistas are concerned. And this year, with a royal wedding thrown into the mix, events like London Fashion Week become all the more significant.
So it with great excitement that young Ashbourne hat designer Sarah O'Rourke is looking forward to not one, but two trips to the British capital over the next couple of months, as her work as been selected to be put on show at major displays around the city.
As well as having a piece featured at London Hat Week in March, she is also currently working on a piece for London Fashion Week, which takes place next month.
It will be her second time to make an appearance at London Hat Week, having first been there in 2016.
“I hadn't realised what a big deal it was in 2016, until I got there and everyone was saying what a big thing it was,” she says.
At the time, she had entered a design, and was surprised and delighted to receive an email saying she was one of 130 from across the world selected. Hat Week is held every 18 months, and as soon as it was over, she knew she wanted to be at the next one.
The 30 year-old's journey from Hunter's Lane in Ashbourne to the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms off Covent Garden in London hasn't been a typical fashion designer's one, with sculpture and video production in between, as well as a family wedding which saw her talents begin to blossom.
After primary school, literally across the hedge in St Mary's in Ashbourne, and secondary education in Ashbourne Community School, Sarah headed up the road to Colaiste Ide in Finglas to do a post leaving certificate course in fashion. 
It wasn't really her thing at the time, so she decided that she wanted to study art. She comes from a very creative family – her mother, Margaret made a lot of her family's clothes, cushion covers, Christmas decorations and such, while Sarah's sister is an accomplished artists, having studied art. 
“And our dad wouldn't just put up a shelf, he'd design the room first!” declares Sarah of Fergus.
So, with this background, Sarah had thoughts of joining the creative world.
“I had never done art, so I had to build up a portfolio before attempting to get into college,” she says.
“So I did a year of drawing and painting, and then went to the Liberties College to do a prep course.”
Her endeavours were successful, and she was rewarded with a place at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dún Laoghaire. In her second year there, she decided to specialise in sculpture for her degree.
“This involved making pieces out of metal, wood, even straws,” she says, adding that her piéce de résistance was a square boxes work made completely out of straws, for her disassemble/reassemble piece.
Her third year in IADT saw her making fabric.
“I liked experimenting with fabric,” she says. 
But the college wasn't too impressed – it liked to separate art from craft, and didn't like the crossover between what they felt was 'craft' – the work with fabric, with 'art' – the sculpture work. Sarah, however, enjoyed producing portraits on fabric.
Designing hats was something she almost fell into by accident – there was a family wedding, and her mother asked her to make her a hat for it. Then other family members did. Guests at the wedding were asking where they got their hats, and she said : “I made them.”
In the meantime, she was made redundant from her day job, working for a video production company.
“My mum said 'why don't you start making hats fulltime?' and she said the family would support me getting going,” Sarah says. She was already making the fabrics, and her millinery was much admired, so she thought, why not?
Establishing her company, Saraden, she began making hats and doing markets around the country, and enjoyed success, but found not everyone was looking for a hat at a market.
So she developed other ideas on fabrics, her original college ideas of portraits, while also doing commissioned pieces for weddings, christenings, and other events. 
The custom portraits and sewn illustrations are sewn onto a sheet of Saraden personalised fabric using machine and hand sewing techniques, in close consultation with clients. 
“I expanded the range, and also still continue to custom make hats,” she explains.
Not having studied millinery, she began looking it up online to get ideas, and came across the London Hat Week sites. The requirements were that the design had to be based on the work of a particular artist.
Victoria Horkan was the artist that inspired her piece, and the colourful headpiece was chosen for the 2016 show. The design was constructed using Saraden Fabric, with Emu feathers individually placed between the fabric segments in complementry colours.  
The theme for this year's show in London is 'The Great Exhibition of the works of Millinery of all Nations', recalling the Crystal Palace World Fair of 1851. Sarah chose the Irish industrial Revolution for as her theme, in particular the country's tradition of hand making textiles for centuries, especially weaving and spinning. A Scottish man, Peter Tait, founded a factory in Limerick to employ famine survivors, and it became the first ready-made clothing factory in the world.
In creating her design, Sarah wanted to produce her own handmade fabric and add an engineering element into the design, with the main inspiration being gear cogs. 
At the Knitting and Stitching Show at the RDS, Sarah came across some gear shaped fabrics that were an ideal addition, and after three attempts, she had her piece ready. It has already been shipped to London.
“As well as the main show, I've been chosen to exhibit at the press launch on 22nd February,” she says. 
And she has a possibility of a second piece being on show at Hat Week, if 'Sequence' makes it to the final eight of a Hatalk.com hat making competition, which has a first prize of a week-long millinery workshop in Chateau Dumas in France. 
Sarah ended 2017 with the news that she was returning to Hat Week , and then began the new year with an invitation to  be featured at Fashion Finest AW18, during London Fashion Week.
This event, which takes place in in the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms, Great Queen Street, Holborn, on 17th and 18th February, is described as “the platform for UK and international emerging designers and one of the most ‘sought after and popular show’ during London Fashion Week”.
“This really blows my mind,” she says, and she is creating a completely new piece, 'Flourish' for it.
Of course, she also has to design some new hats for her mother, Margaret, and herself, to wear at Fashion Week, and is looking forward to meeting other designers, bloggers, fashionistas, and maybe even a royal family member or two, shopping for something to wear at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's big day out.  


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