€10,000 prize for Cork woman who took up fashion design later in life

A Cork woman who took up a fashion design course in recent years has won a €10,000 prize, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
€10,000 prize for Cork woman who took up fashion design later in life

Pictured is Rosemary O’Connor (Mallow, Co.Cork). winner of the 2022 Longines Designer Award (alongside model Sarah Kennedy wearing Rosemary’s design and Longines Designer Award Judge Courtney Smith).

WHEN Rosemary O’Connor couldn’t find an age-appropriate A-line summer dress in shops, or someone to make one for her at what she thought was a reasonable price, she took matters into her own hands – she learned how to do it herself.

She embarked on a three-year course at the prestigious Mallow College of Design and Tailoring, and has just won the 2022 Longines Designer Award.

The award was recently announced as part of Longines Irish Champions Weekend, one of Ireland’s greatest racing events, which took place at Leopardstown and The Curragh.

Sewing was always in Rosemary’s DNA. Originally from Dublin, her grandmother sewed, and she remembers turning the wheel for her sewing machine as she worked.

Her mother June also had her own business designing and selling children’s clothes.

“As a young mother of four, she imported fabric from Germany to make kids’ clothes and I remember modelling them for her when we were young, and going to Dandelion market in Dublin to sell them with her,” said Rosemary.

It was only three years ago – following her unsuccessful shopping trip for a summer dress – that she felt motivated to go near a sewing machine herself.

“Everything I saw in shops was either too low cut and not age-appropriate or dead frumpy! I said to myself that it wasn’t rocket science, and with one of the best design colleges on my own doorstep, I signed up!”

That was in 2018, and the mother-of-three relished every minute of the diploma in Fashion Design course.

“It was a three year part-time course – two nights a week in person in 2019, on zoom in 2020 and I switched to one day a week in 2021.

Sarah Kennedy wearing the winning outfit that was designed by Rosemary O’Connor (Mallow, Co.Cork) who won the 2022 Longines Designer Award.  Picture: Conor Healy / Picture It Photography
Sarah Kennedy wearing the winning outfit that was designed by Rosemary O’Connor (Mallow, Co.Cork) who won the 2022 Longines Designer Award.  Picture: Conor Healy / Picture It Photography

“It is a very intense course which combines sewing skills and techniques with pattern drafting skills and also incorporates many modules on the history of fashion, research on trends, designers and the classics,” she said.

A keen horsewoman, it was fitting that Rosemary won the award at the top racing event.

She met her husband Maurice through horse events and they live in Dromohane, where they breed horses, and keep some young horses and Connemaras. She competes at amateur show jumping events and is a member of North Cork Riding Club.

Her winning design was one of 50 entrants into the competition.

The judges commented on the tailoring and level of intricate details featured as part of Rosemary’s two-piece outfit and matching headpiece. Her creation was inspired by a trip to the Feria in Seville, a major Spanish cultural tradition just after Easter.

“It is almost like the National Ploughing Championships where each family/organisation/ group create their own Canesta - a marquee village of sorts and celebrate for the week. This week also is the official opening of the bull-fighting season.

“We were lucky enough to get tickets for a fight that involved Lia Vincens - a female matador that fights on horse back. It was such a demonstration of equestrian art and skill.

“At a later stage, I went back to the Place Des Torres museum within which there are a couple of rooms dedicated to the Matadors costumes known in Spanish as the ‘Suit of Lights’ - beautiful couture garments hand embellished with rhinestones silver and gold embroidery. It was these garments that inspired my winning creation which was intended to define contemporary race day elegance.”

As part of the overall prize, Rosemary received a €10,000 prize package – a Longines Time piece, and a €1,000 cash prize.

Rosemary dedicated her win to her mum, who sadly passed away in November.

“We were very close. I used her as a sort of ‘guinea pig’ for many of my outfits when I was starting out. She was fascinated by the course and would have been very proud of me,” said Rosemary.

Her three daughters, Mary-Clare an art teacher in the UK; Mairead, a physiotherapist in the Bon Secours in Cork; and Aideen, a vet in London, have also recently taken an interest in sewing, motivated by their mum.

“The girls have picked up sewing machines and Aideen especially has been adapting things she’s picked up in second hand stores,” said the proud mum and granny of three.

She thinks it’s a great life skill to have: “It’s wonderful to be able to upcycle or adapt pieces, especially as we shift away from fast fashion, and cheap clothes that will only end up in landfill?”

Having graduated with a diploma, Rosemary has since returned to Mallow College, where she’s full of praise for founder Mary Cashman and tutors Jess Lucas and Sue Pearse to further upskill.

What’s next for her?

“Watch this space! Anything is possible! At the moment, fashion design is a hobby but I am full of ideas so you never know where they might bring me. And to anyone thinking of giving a course in the college a go, I’d wholeheartedly encourage it,” she said.

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