HER wardrobe is the envy of ladies across the land and as part of its commitment to the Year of Design 2015 Limerick’s Hunt Museum will host an exhibition celebrating the Irish designer collection of local fashion icon, Celia Holman Lee.
Since she first appeared in a modelling shoot at the age of just 15, Celia has carved out a 50-year career in the often fickle world of fashion, working as a model, agent, fashion commentator and television presenter.
Throughout her career – which has spanned the swinging ’60s, the groovy ’70s and the discotheque ’80s – she has continually promoted Irish designers, gathering an extensive collection of their work which the Hunt Museum will showcase in the upcoming exhibition, Celia Holman Lee: Limerick Style Icon.
RTE’s Mary Kennedy will launch the exhibition on Wednesday, March 4.
“Thank God I kept a lot of my good clothes,” says Celia. “I also have my mother to thank – she’d give nothing away. I got that habit from her and wasn’t I lucky? Look at what I have to show now!”
The exhibition features an array of dazzling creations by a pool of creative talent, many of whom have worked in Limerick over the years. There are designs by Caroline Mitchell, Marion Murphy Cooney, Katherine Keane, Vonnie Reynolds, Michelina Stacpoole, Linda Wall, Paul Costelloe, Alison Cowper, Carol Kennelly, Richard Lewis, John McNamara, Miriam Mone, Peter O’Brien, Matt O’Donohoe, and Don O’Neill.
“I have a tonne of beautiful pieces from them,” says the 64-year-old. “It was through my style that I got recognised and the style came from this area.”
Down through the years, Celia has received a myriad of awards and plaudits and is regularly featured on the country’s best-dressed lists.
When asked where she got her sense of style, she credits her aunts, the Meehans, “the most glamorous”, and, of course, her late mother, Kathleen, “who never went outside the door without a hat”.
“Really and truly, good style you develop yourself,” she insists. “From the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and upwards there have been iconic people who I have admired and liked but I have always gone with my own direction of style. Even though I have admired various people down through the decades, I would never mirror myself on anybody.”
Celia’s modelling career began after she was stopped on the street as a 15-year-old by local model agent Ann Moloney. The girl from Carey’s Road did her first fashion show in Cannocks, now Penneys.
She recalls one of her more unusual early shoots which took place in the engine of an aircraft, no less. And not just any old aircraft – the first Boeing 747 to land at Shannon in April 1971.
“I remember getting the bus out to the airport from Union Cross. I walked across the tarmac and saw this big engine. They had to get a ladder for me to climb into it,” she smiles.
Celia feels that if you “buy good” and invest in a designer piece, then you should always hang onto it.
“The quality will last,” she asserts. “There might be a few moth holes in one or two of them but I hide them and they are still divine and timeless.”
Her daughter Cecile even wears some of the investment pieces from time to time, adding weight to the old adage that while fashions come and go, style is forever.
Some of Celia’s favourite pieces include a “divine skirt” that Peter O’Brien gave her from his days on the catwalk in Paris.
“I have worn that. I have also reworn some of my John McNamara older pieces, and Caroline Mitchell, I am forever pulling pieces of hers out.” The exhibition will also feature two pieces by the late Katherine Keane, who was named Mid-West Designer of the Year and had two boutiques in the city centre, Taffeta and Miss Muff.
Thanks again to her mother, Kathleen, Celia has in her possession hoards of old photos and paper cuttings chronicling her 50 year-career “and they will be on display in some way as well”.
Considering that her career has spanned half a century, there must have been the odd fashion faux pas along the way?
“The hair,” she laughs, “oh the hair in some of the pictures! I have naturally curly hair and I used to let it go curly and at times it just looks like a mop on the top of my head!”