Walking into the converted coach house studio of Alison Roe’s period home, it is evident that this milliner draws inspiration from her surroundings. Living – and working – on a beef farm just outside Knock village in Co Tipperary, Alison is surrounded by nature and laughs when she tells Irish Country Living that she often sees pheasants on the avenue and wonders if they know she uses their feathers for her headpieces. Hats of tweed, velvet and fur decorate the display tables of her snug studio, including one brown felt hat that has the tail feathers of a pheasant stretching into the air.
“I like them natural with the natural colour and the natural shape. They are just spectacular, especially the tail feathers – they are so long and elegant,” she enthuses.
With racing season here, Alison is busier than usual, making hats in her studio and attending the races herself.
A style partner with Leopardstown for its Champions Weekend winter racing festivals and married to Peter Roe, the manager of Fairyhouse Racecourse, Alison is immersed in the equine world.
In fact, it is because she goes racing that she started to make her own headpieces.
“I loved it and then I did a few courses just to get the basics. Then, I suppose, people started asking me to make them things and the business just was born organically and unexpectedly,” she explains.
With ladies such as Sky News presenter Rachel Wyse and Tipperary Rose Fiona O’Sullivan wearing her hats, Alison is getting a name for herself.
In January she opened up a hat hire shop in the upstairs area of the coach house.
“It’s very popular because it is nice to get something made but if you have a couple of weddings or a number of different events in the one year you don’t particularly want to wear the same headpiece to each,” she admits.
The pieces that Alison makes for the hire shop are what she describes as freestyle.
“I find I lie awake in bed now and I can’t sleep because I have ideas flooding into my head. I always work on several pieces at a given time and I always find that coming away from one and going to another you can look back on the first one and do something better,” she says.
Having trained as a solicitor and worked in the profession for a number of years, Alison decided to take a break when her youngest daughter, Charlotte, became ill at nine months.
“I stayed at home with her and the happy outcome of that was that I was a stay-at-home mum and got to spend so much time with the children.
“I got to do the homework with them and realised, as I saw them growing before my eyes, that these are such a few short years that I could have missed out on, only for that rude awakening,” she confides.
Charlotte is a happy and healthy seven-year-old and wants to learn to sew, as she sees her mum teaching her older siblings Isabella (10) and Robert (12) too.
“Recently it occurred to me that I had fallen into that trap of not showing my 12-year-old boy how to sew. I am determined that he will not start secondary school and not know how to sew on a button – if that is all I can do,” she laughs.
Alison loves what she does, saying millinery “is a happy business to be in. As a solicitor people would come to you with problems and even though you might chat a little bit, it was always in a stressful situation for them.”
And though law runs in her family, Alison discovered after she had started up her business that her great grandmother had trained as a milliner.
“She was in Kilkenny and they had a department store, Burkes of Kilkenny, and they would have done tailoring. I presume she trained as a milliner to oversee the millinery end of things,” Alison says
“That would have been back in the day when every lady wore a hat and gloves to match every occasion.”
Alison describes her style as classical and elegant, having a love for the vintage hat shapes that Audrey Hepburn wore. She believes that Kate Middleton brought millinery back into style again.
“I think that fashions come and go. Kate Middleton certainly made millinery quite fashionable again and I think a certain kind of millinery – maybe the smaller, more easy to wear pieces,” she says.
Making hats for weddings and racing events, Alison urges people to come as early as possible to have options if they want to get something made rather than hiring. It takes six weeks to complete a hat as Alison may have to source colours and fabric for your outfit.
To arrange an appointment with Alison, call 086 232 0601, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.