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Beauty really has no age limit, says Maureen Martin

By Stephanie Bell

Maureen Martin, who is in her 60s, says older women in Northern Ireland are looking better than ever. Here, she reveals the secrets of the modern style icons who prove that...

Older women in Northern Ireland could teach their counterparts in London a thing or two about how to look good, according to local fashion guru Maureen Martin. There can be few people better qualified to give an informed opinion on our sense of style than the lovely Maureen who has been at the forefront of local fashion for more than four decades.

The first ever winner of the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Fashion at our inaugural awards in 2007, the very elegant Belfast grandmother is a respected pioneer of the local fashion scene.

After modelling as a teen, Maureen set up what became Northern Ireland's biggest model agency, Stages, with Brian Massey back in the 1970s.

Despite the turbulence of the time, the province had a thriving fashion scene, with regular weekly catwalk shows, with Maureen and Brian styling and choreographing for all the big names. Today she is as busy as ever organising top style events across Ireland through her successful agency, Maureen Martin Models.

She has worked around the world and was particularly in demand in London, where she was a regular on top TV programme The Clothes Show and worked with icons like the late Alexander McQueen, who died in 2010.

She has an individual sense of style, that has always been contemporary but with her own edgy twist, and which she herself lightheartedly describes as "a bit off the rails".

With her classic ash-blonde shoulder-length hair, smooth complexion and vibrant dress sense she is a superb icon for women of a certain age.

"With so many good skin products now and advances in the beauty industry older women are looking after themselves more and are looking better than ever," she says.

"I think women are more liberated now in the sense that they don't just grow old and expect to sit at home looking after their grandchildren, that's all changed and it's nice to see.

"I would travel to London quite a bit with work and to attend events and older women in Northern Ireland are right up there when it comes to fashion.

"In fact, we are far better dressed than women of the same age in the capital. We really do make an effort here."

When choosing her own wardrobe, Maureen loves mixing high street with designer labels and an advantage of the travel which comes with her job is being able to pick up unusual pieces which suit her individual sense of style.

Designer love

She loves the fashion in Cos in Dublin and her favourite designers include Alexander McQueen, Elie Saab and Simone Rocha, John Rocha's daughter.

"Simone Rocha is a great girl and has her head screwed on in that her designs can be worn by women of all ages," says Maureen. "She is very talented, just like her dad."

Maureen says her love of clothes was instilled in her as a child by her late mum Ellen, who was a seamstress.

She grew up as an only child in Belfast, with a love of music, clothes and interior design. Indeed, she loved interiors so much she qualified as an interior designer and indulges this passion with private commissions alongside running her model agency.

"Mum made most of my clothes," she recalls. "She made these lovely net dresses, like princess dresses, and she really did her best. I had lovely clothes which were different from what everyone else had. That gave me an early love for fashion.

"I also loved music and interiors so I was probably always destined to do something arty."

Maureen was a pupil at Methodist College, Belfast, and a talented piano player in her teens. She had considered becoming a music teacher but fate intervened when she was 16 and a local hairdresser asked if she would model for him. This led to her being photographed by one of the world's biggest fashion and portrait photographers.

"I always had great hair," says Maureen. "My hairdresser asked me to model for competitions, and as he was taking part in international competitions that gave me the opportunity to be involved in shoots in London, where I was photographed by a young David Bailey.

"I was too young to understand at the time what it meant and it was only later I realised who he was and how important it was to have been photographed by him."

She married her husband Robin, now a retired civil servant, when she was just 18 and together they have three girls, Karen, Tanya and Suzan, and seven grandchildren. Settling into married life she put her career on hold, returning to modelling in her late 20s when she joined the Stella Goddard School of Modelling. She remembers the training in catwalk deportment and photographic modelling as having been "very thorough" but it paid off as she soon became one of Northern Ireland's top models.

In the 1970s she teamed up with Brian Massey and together they launched Stages.

"We were doing all the big shows - the Ideal Home exhibition, the Smirnoff Fashion Awards, we worked for Fruit of the Loom and Marks & Spencer and were regulars on the BBC Clothes Show. The fashion scene in Northern Ireland in the 1970s was much bigger than it is now. We were doing two to three shows a week back then and we were all over the place, it was very vibrant. I did all the stage styling and Brian did the choreography."

When Brian decided to make a permanent move to London in the 1990s, Stages closed down and Maureen opened her own agency, which has been going strong ever since. She represents models not just locally but in Dublin, the rest of the UK and internationally. Her heart today, however, is in encouraging young fashion design talent in Northern Ireland. She organises competitions for them and using her contacts in the industry brings top international fashion designers to Northern Ireland for lectures.

A perfect fit for this passion was a new partnership some years ago with internationally-renowned local pianist Barry Douglas to run fashion shows for graduate designers at the annual Clandeboye Music Festival in Bangor.

Clandeboye Music Festival

"Clandeboye has been amazing," she says. "We work with all the young designer graduates from the University of Ulster and Belfast Met; it's a great thing for the young people because the young musicians who Barry mentors get to meet the young fashion designers. They are a great support to each other.

"I think young designers need a lot of encouragement and I would have brought designers like Alexander McQueen - who were once young designers themselves - over for lectures to show the young people what can happen if you are dedicated to what you do."

Maureen's agency is also kept busy with the Wedding Journal International fashion shows across Ireland where she works as backstage director, managing and supplying the team as well as styling the shows. She has just completed the wedding show in Dublin and is working on this week's big event in Belfast.

She has many career highlights which include working alongside the likes of Alexander McQueen, Isabella Blow and Roland Mouret to name but a few, and also cites winning the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year Award in Fashion as one of her most special moments.

Fittingly, this year Maureen is delighted to be organising the fashion show at our annual awards ceremony in the Ramada Hotel.

"It was brilliant to win the award, and especially at the very first event," she says. "I had no idea I had even been nominated and it was a great honour. I really appreciated the stories of the other women in the room and, compared to what some of them had achieved, I felt so humbled to be picking up an award. It's wonderful how well established the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year Awards has become and good to see it is one of Northern Ireland's major award events. I think it is great for all the local women nominated to have the outstanding work they do recognised.

"I went to the second awards night but haven't been able to go back so I'm really looking forward to being part of it this year again.

"I'm delighted to be approached to do the fashion show and I'm looking forward to producing a very exciting event with a wonderful selection of outfits from The Outlet, Banbridge, which sponsors the awards. It's right up my street and it will be lovely to be part of it again, it's a very special night out."

While she has given many young models a start over the years, Maureen says the industry has changed since she first took to the catwalk as a young woman more than 30 years ago. Despite the fact that back then models could be any height, but now need to tower at five feet eight inches for women and six feet for men, Maureen feels the biggest change is in attitudes.

"I think training back when I started was more professional," she says. "We respected our agent because if we didn't go by the rules then we didn't get the jobs. I find young people now have a different attitude and it's hard to gain the same respect which we had for our employers; to be honest, I find this hard to tolerate at times."

She adds: "It's almost as if for some of them it's like they feel they are doing us a favour!"

How to enter our awards ...

  • The Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year Awards, in association with The OUTLET, Banbridge, is now recognised as the biggest celebration of women in Northern Ireland. Once again our annual awards extravaganza will culminate with a gala dinner at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Shaw's Bridge, Belfast, which will be staged on Thursday, March 19
  • For each category, the nominee should have been in her line of work for at least 12 months and have shown particular success, a demonstrable measure of achievement, how she inspired others around her, and how she has demonstrated passion, drive and energy in what she does
  • The closing date for nominations is noon on Thursday, February 19, 2015. If you know someone who deserves recognition, then get nominating now in one of the categories below:

1. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Education

2. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Voluntary Sector

3. Belfast Telegraph Sportswoman of the Year

4. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Health Sector

5. Belfast Telegraph Mum of the Year

6. Belfast Telegraph Inspirational Woman of the Year

7. Belfast Telegraph Businesswoman of the Year

8. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Hair, Beauty and Fashion

9. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Arts

10. Overall Woman of the Year, sponsored by The OUTLET

  • To nominate someone you know, tell us in 500 words or less why you think they deserve to win an award. State clearly what award you are entering them for and include a daytime telephone for yourself. Entries can be submitted in three ways: online at www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/woty, by email to womanoftheyear@belfasttelegraph.co.uk or by post to Woman of the Year, Features Department, Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1EB

Her favourite style icons ...

We asked Maureen to share with us some of her favourite fashion icons for older women today - and top of Maureen's list is the ever graceful Hollywood star Dame Helen Mirren, who will be 70 in July.

"She is a true style icon," she says. "She dresses with class and style, adding her own edge to fashion. People like Helen make you unafraid of growing older."

Another favourite is the English editor-in-chief of American Vogue, Anna Wintour OBE. With her trademark pageboy haircut and oversized Chanel sunglasses, Anna, now 65, is an important figure in the fashion world where she's widely praised for her eye for fashion trends and - much like Maureen does on a local level - is renowned for her support for younger designers.

"She is stylish, sophisticated and elegant," says Maureen.

She also admires Italian actress and model Isabella Rossellini, who was the original face of Lancome. Now 62, Maureen says of the star: "Her signature look is wonderful - she has fabulous skin and short dark hair which looks amazing with her signature red lipstick."

Finally, Maureen adores flamboyant English fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood (73). "She is among the most influential designers in history and I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of working with her on a few occasions," she says. "She is outrageously flamboyant. Her clothes, as she says herself, allow women to express themselves and project their personalities."

Her top style tips ...

Maureen‘s top tips on how older women can keep the years at bay.

1 Look after your skin by drinking lots of water, cleansing and moisturising morning and night. Try to use a good moisturiser. After cleansing every morning I use Clarins Double Serum and then moisturise with Clarins Extra Firming Day Cream and Extra Firming Perfecting Eye Serum. At night I cleanse again and apply Clarins Extra Firming Night Cream and eye serum

2 Always remove your make-up at the end of the day. I would never go to bed without doing this

3 Keep foundation to a minimum — too much foundation is ageing. I use Lancome Foundation which is light and gives a natural coverage

4 Eat a healthy well balanced diet, exercise; invest in good underwear and a good hair cut. I walk a lot, enjoy gardening which also gets me out into the fresh air and I do Pilates

5 Be confident with your look and don’t be afraid to mix high street with designer labels. You are never too old for fashion

6 Always make sure you take time out from your busy schedule to be a woman. Maintain your hair and nails and treat yourself to beauty salon visits when you can. I like to travel and as an interior designer I’d go to a lot of exhibitions in London and Paris. I always find when I take this time away from my busy lifestyle I come back inspired

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