THE high heels have been kicked off â€“ for now â€“ but model agent Celia Holman Lee is convinced that next yearâ€™s International Student Awards will attract even more entries and attention from across Europe.
Celia, the driving force behind Limerickâ€™s International Fashion Festival, said of last weekâ€™s festival and inaugural awards: â€œWe now have something very strong and visionary to sell to the world now.â€ Some 18 colleges from across Ireland, Britian and Europe entered the awards, for the chance to win a â‚¬10,000 bursary and move to New York to begin a three-month internship with fashion designer Don Oâ€™Neill.
Staged in the spectacular setting of the former Franciscan church on Henry Street, Celia said the venue vowed all the entrants, some of whom has travelled as far afield from Albania, Lithuania, Poland and Portugal.
â€œI said I wasnâ€™t going to do it unless we got one of the churches in the city. The people from Kingston College in London walked in and just went â€˜Wow!â€™ We have had great feedback from everyone about the whole night,â€ she told the Limerick Leader.
â€œWe hope to make it an even bigger week next year, and hope to be a part of City of Culture,â€ she added.
On the runway, there were futuristic designs, gravity-defying shoes and jaw-dropping creations, but the winner of the Limerick International Student Fashion Award was an Irish-inspired design by a Manchester student who wanted to recognise her Irish heritage.
Caroline Mulhern, 24, from the University of Salford, said receiving the award was â€œlike winning the lottery.â€
â€œIâ€™m very, very excited and very happy. I didnâ€™t expect to win at all. I actually had to ask the girl beside me did I really win. I was just completely shocked,â€ said Caroline. Her parents are both from Mayo, but she was brought up in Manchester.
â€œI canâ€™t believe Iâ€™ll be moving to New York. Recently, Iâ€™ve been looked at his [Don Oâ€™Neillâ€™s] work a lot, so Iâ€™m very excited about working with him.
Her two winning creations were part of her final collection for her degree at the University of Salford.
â€œThey took a long time, there was a lot of patterns and a lot of hard work. The inspiration was based on the wren boys and the straw boys, and having Irish parents I wanted to have something that was personal to me. I wanted to create something that would distort the body and disguise the wearer,â€ she explained.
Mr Oâ€™Neill, who was chair of the judging panel, alongside fashion writer Constance Harris, presenter Leanne Moore and John Redmond of Brown Thomas, said the clothes were â€œtruly extraordinaryâ€ and he was â€œhugely impressedâ€ by the talent of the students.
â€œCompetitions like this arenâ€™t always about winning. Itâ€™s great to win but the important thing is competing. I entered many competitions in my time as a young student.
â€œI remember one competition I entered in London about 30 years ago, and the young man who won was Philip Treacy. I was probably 445th on the list, but I didnâ€™t give up.
â€œAll of you did something extraordinary and you need to keep going because the passion I saw here, the ideas, the execution were truly extraordinary,â€ he said.
A native of Ballyheigue, Co Kerry, and now based in Brooklyn, he outlined from the outset that the internship at Theia Couture, of which he is creative director, wonâ€™t be as entirely glamorous as it may seem.
â€œI put out 14 collections a year. Basically, every month, there is a new collection and then I have two bridal collections on top of that. Itâ€™s non-stop.â€
Prior to the event, he visited Catherine McCormackâ€™s boutique in Adare, which is the largest stockist of his label, Theia, in Ireland.
Catherine, who was the first person to bring his label to Ireland, said he always â€œcalls in to says hi when heâ€™s homeâ€ and is hugely popular with her customers.
â€œWe have already dressed several of our clients for Royal Ascot and the Curragh next year in his designs, because they are so timeless and elegant. Heâ€™s not a slave to trends, but produces really beautiful, feminine clothes with great fabrics that flatter the figure,â€ she enthused.
Among the sponsors of the week were the Brown Thomas Group, Adare Manor and Therapie clinic.