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, has received a bursary of €10,000 and will shortly be flying to New York, where she will begin her three-month internship with fashion designer Don O’Neill, who has designed dresses for Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift, among many others.
“I can’t explain it. It feels like winning the lottery,” she told the Limerick Leader. “I’m very, very excited and very happy. I didn’t expect to win at all. I actually had to ask the girl beside me did I really win. I was just completely shocked,” said Caroline, whose parents are both from Mayo.
“I can’t believe I’ll be moving to New York. Recently, I’ve been looked at his [Don O’Neill’s] work a lot, so I’m very excited about working with him.
Her two winning creations - which beat off designs from students as far afield as Albania, Lithuania, Poland and Portugal - were part of her final collection for her degree at the University of Salford. “They 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,” she explained.
Mr O’Neill, who was chair of the judging panel, said the clothes were “truly extraordinary” and he was “hugely impressed” by the talent of the exhibiting students from 18 colleges across Ireland, Britain and Europe.
“Competitions like this aren’t always about winning. It’s great to win but the important thing is competing. I entered many competitions in my time as a young student. I 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 didn’t give up. All of you did something extraordinary and you need to keep going because the passion I saw here, the ideas, the execution were truly extraordinary,” 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, won’t be as entirely glamorous as it may seem.
“I 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. It’s non-stop.”
The week-long fashion festival in Limerick was the brainchild of model agent Celia Holman Lee.
The winning designs are now on display in Brown Thomas in Limerick.
The fashion show will be featured in Nationwide on RTE1 this Monday night at 7pm.