Crowning glory for Cork designer

A young woman from Commons Road in Cork city has seen her business soar, after a leading blogger wore one of her crowns to one of the world’s most famous festivals, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Crowning glory for Cork designer
Erica Fox from RetroFlame at Coachella, wearing a creation by Aileen Fitzpatrick from the Commons Road in Cork.

A CORK designer’s business has gone global overnight after one of her crowns was worn by a leading blogger at the achingly style conscious Coachella festival in California.

Aileen Fitzpatrick, from the Commons Road, is a make-up-artist who also designs intricate shell crowns.

And after New York-based blogger Erika Fox, originally from Kerry, (known as Retro Flame), who has 145,000 Instagram followers alone, wore one to the music festival, her orders have gone through the roof.

The 28-year-old’s interest in crown-making only started when she was looking for a theme for her sister’s hen party last year.

“I wanted to create something special and unique for each guest.

“I decided on the theme of boho-chic and stumbled upon mermaid crowns online and absolutely fell in love with the concept. I made 20 crowns (one for every person in attendance) which took me weeks. But each guest went home happy and advised me that I should consider selling my crowns online.

BY HER SIDE: Aileen, left, with sister Catherine Kelly and cousin Megan.
BY HER SIDE: Aileen, left, with sister Catherine Kelly and cousin Megan.

“I started playing around with materials and treated it like a hobby for months, giving some to friends, and I eventually opened up an Etsy store earlier this year. I honestly didn’t dream anything would come of it, but then along came Coachella which ended up changing my life!”

It was Aileen’s sister, Catherine, who manages her social media and orders, who randomly contacted Erika and her sister Kaelin, from Kerry, but living in New York, to see if they might wear the crowns.

“Having been a fan of Retro Flame for years, I couldn’t believe it when Erika said she would love to wear one of my crowns and requested one for her sister, Kaelin too.

“Of course, when you gift any well known person with one of your creations, they are under no obligation to promote your work or to share it with their followers so, in truth, we didn’t want to get our hopes up until we knew for sure that the ladies of Retro Flame had received their crowns and were pleased with them.

“I genuinely didn’t think they would like them. I felt a bit embarrassed and afraid my crowns would not be good enough for the gorgeous Fox sisters, and especially for an event as big as Coachella.

Erica Fox from RetroFlame wearing the crown.
Erica Fox from RetroFlame wearing the crown.

“But I cannot tell you how ecstatic we were when Erika posted a photo of the crown and tagged my Cayla Couture Instagram business page in the post. My heart stopped and my phone was buzzing off the hook all night.

“Erika and Kaelin could not have been any kinder or more supportive. They didn’t need to share our business to the extent that they did but I hope they know how much they changed my life by doing so. It’s all about sisters supporting sisters and Irish business women supporting each other at the end of the day.”

Kaelin Fox wearing one of Aileen's crowns at Coachella.
Kaelin Fox wearing one of Aileen's crowns at Coachella.

Since then, orders for Cayla Couture (derived from Catherine, and her own nickname ‘Aila’) have gone through the roof from all over Ireland, Britain, America, New Zealand and Australia.

“We are booked up with orders up until August. It was all a bit overwhelming if I’m being honest and I couldn’t have done it without my sister, Catherine.

“We are like chalk and cheese but are still best friends! You’d never meet a more opposite pair but we are as close as sisters can be. She is my rock.

“She oversees the Instagram page and takes all of the orders while I spend every free hour I have making crowns, as each crown can take up to a week to make.”

Kaelin Fox wearing the 'mermaid' inspired crown at Coachella.
Kaelin Fox wearing the 'mermaid' inspired crown at Coachella.

As well as her business, and working on the MAC counter at the airport, Aileen is also getting married in June, to her American fiancé Joe Chiechi.

“I won’t be wearing a crown the day of the wedding as it won’t suit the setting, but I will be wearing one to the day-after function,” she says.

“But I have made all the bridal bouquets, church flowers and buttonholes for the day. I was advised by everyone I know not to take on more than that for the day. I take on the responsibility of the crafting/decorating/baking for every other event so I am taking this one to be pampered myself!”

Aileen has been blown away by the reaction to her designs and is booked out for orders until August.
Aileen has been blown away by the reaction to her designs and is booked out for orders until August.

Aileen, who previously worked as Head Make-up Artist at The Nightmare Realm, is from a creative family.

“My dad has always been a fantastic photographer and has recently taken up leather crafting, my mother’s side of the family are heavily influenced by music and my granda has painted his whole life!”

An enormous amount of work goes into each crown.

“The shells that need perfect symmetry I purchase, whereas the more ‘interesting’ or unusual shells I collect. I handcraft the headband to begin with, paint the shells and then begin putting the crown together slowly but surely.

EXCITING TIMES AHEAD: Aileen Fitzpatrick is due to wed in June, to Joe Chiechi
EXCITING TIMES AHEAD: Aileen Fitzpatrick is due to wed in June, to Joe Chiechi

“It really is time-consuming to get every shell perfectly symmetrical and to add in all the detailing, but I love doing it, so much that I just put on some music and spend a few hours at a time working on the crown until my hand cramps and I know I’ve done enough for one day!”

They come in three sizes; slim, standard and embellished, and start at €38 and go up to €62.

“I have an Etsy Store, Cayla Couture, where you can purchase your crown along with contacting us through our Instagram page if you would like a bespoke crown. I am hoping to expand the products once I get a chance to come back down to earth from the Coachella madness!

“My ultimate ambition is to honestly just keep doing what I love and hopefully be able to make a living from it.

“With my connections in the States I hope to expand the business worldwide and have mermaid queens all over the world, but at the moment I am just ecstatic to see that people actually like my crowns and want to wear them in public.”

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