Belfast Telegraph

Clever, confident and cutting edge... the real women from all walks of life who show us true meaning of style

By Stephanie Bell

Today we present the 10 stunning local women who have been selected as Style Icons to front this week's exciting Northern Ireland fashion showcase Directory 15. The team behind Directory 15 decided that with the mass use of Photoshop now among celebrities, natural beauty and style is hard to come by.

So they came up with the idea of celebrating real women who ooze style.

Portraits of their top 10 are being used to celebrate this year's theme 'Who's your style hero?'

They include artists, medical specialists, stylists and designers, DJs, radio and TV presenters – a mix of talented women who capture the essence of the real style to be found in towns and villages across Northern Ireland.

Model and Directory 15 founder Nuala Meenehan says: "Some of the most respected women in Northern Ireland are headlining this year's Directory 15 campaign.

"Style is completely different from fashion. We wanted to celebrate women who have made their mark in Northern Ireland and to demonstrate that beauty is not the preserve of the young or the thin – beauty and style shine inside and out. Directory 15 is all about celebrating who you are and who you can be."

1. Claire Wilson

Sitting in a Belfast restaurant recently, clinical specialist Claire Wilson was stunned to see a bus pull up outside with her very glamorous Style Icon image staring back at her.

It was just one of a series of pleasant surprises for the 39-year-old since getting a call out of the blue to say she had been chosen as one of the Style Icons to front this year's campaign. Claire loves fashion but would never have dreamt that she could be regarded as someone who encapsulates style in a way that a top event like Directory 15 would want to celebrate.

It was her hairdresser, Paul Stafford, who admired her unique sense of style and, unknown to Claire, entered her for the competition to find Northern Ireland's most stylish women.

She says: "I feel so flattered I was chosen. I would not think of myself in those terms but I was delighted and the whole experience has been very interesting.

"I love style and I love fashion and my favourite part of the year is when the new seasons come in and I can go out and pick my clothes and just deciding what I will be wearing that season.

"I had no idea that Paul had put my photo in for the competition and it was such a surprise as it was not something I would ever have thought of doing myself."

Claire, who lives in Belfast, works as a clinical specialist in upper limb and lower limb amputee rehabilitation, assessing and treating children and adults and is the only occupational therapist in Northern Ireland who works to train upper limb amputees in use of their prosthetics.

Speaking about her Style Icon status, she says: "It was very strange to see my picture on the side of a bus when I was sitting in a restaurant recently. That was quite a shock."

2. Cindy McKendry

Cindy McKendry (43) works in retail fashion management for Miss Selfridge in Coleraine. Married to Stephen with one son, Callum (18), she is also an area trainer and coach for the company across Ireland.

Under her management, the Coleraine store has picked up Boutique of the Year twice in a national competition.

She says: "I felt extremely excited and very honoured to be chosen as a Directory 15 Style Icon especially as the other ladies were totally gorgeous. It was a lovely experience to even be considered to be part of the Style Icon group.

Her idea of style? "Style in my opinion is an individual's personal window to the world. Fashion says 'me too', style says 'only me' so therefore is very different from following trends. Style is a very personal thing. It's always great to identify what you love and feel truly comfortable wearing, and then style will come naturally if you build on that. My personal style is a little edgy but mixed with classic. I will maybe pop in a nod to a trend but choose one piece rather than a whole look."

3. Linzi Rooney

Linzi Rooney (29) lives in Belfast with her little girl Macie May (2). She loves and lives for everything creative. After starting out as a photographer, Linzi decided to change her career path and retrain as a silversmith in 2011.

She is now a director of Studio Souk, an open plan retail studio space in the city centre for young and emerging artists/designers/makers. From here she also runs her own silversmith company Elephant Juice, where every unique piece is made from vintage silver cutlery

She says: "I was very excited and honoured to be asked to be a Style Icon."

Her interpretation of style: "Style is very different to the current fashion trend, which I don't follow. Style is a reflection of your personality. To be comfortable and confident in whatever you choose to wear, whether it is a vintage dress, designer shoes or a coat you bought in Dunnes 10 years ago. If you love it, wear it."

4. DJ Venus

DJ Venus (aka Catherine McDonnell) from Coleraine is one of Belfast's best- known female DJs. She has been DJing as well as organising events for 10 years.

Also known as Venus-Rollergirl, she has held club residencies and played a variety of festivals all over Ireland, Berlin and Liverpool. Venus (34) who is engaged to Salah Boukottaya, an engineer from Portrush, is a resident DJ for Love Music Hate Racism and a guest at the Floating Speakeasy monthly Electro Swing club night at The Red Barn Art Gallery

She says: "I felt surprised and flattered to be asked to be a Style Icon. It's nice to know people appreciate my individual kick ass style"

Her interpretation of style? "Style is individual. It should express who you are and reflect your personality, not follow the fashion industry seasons. My style is alternative and expresses who I am."

5. Carolyn Stewart

Carolyn Stewart, originally from north Belfast, is one of Northern Ireland's most popular radio presenters and club DJs. The uber-cool Carolyn started her DJ career in Belfast's very first disco bar back in 1985 and just three years later won Northern Ireland DJ of the Year.

Carolyn left Cool FM in 2005 to join U105 where she presents the lunchtime show and Saturday Night House Party from 6-10pm.

Surprised but thrilled to be nominated as a Directory 15 Style Icon, she says: "I was really chuffed to be involved in the shoot. It was great craic working with everyone."

Her interpretation of style? "I believe in keeping it simple and fun. That's the way I've always been and it seems to work for me."

6. Jacqui Berkeley

As a TV producer Jacqui Berkeley has moved in the glamorous circles of local media for 35 years where she is well known for her unique sense of style.

The 58-year-old, who is a granny to one-year-old Arthur and has four grown-up children, has a passion for fashion and loves clothes so much that when asked to bring her favourite outfit to the Directory 15 photo shoot, she packed a suitcase. "I couldn't decide as there are so many things I love so I packed a whole case and they ended up picking a jumper which I have never worn," she laughs.

Jacqui is married to David Thompson (59), a risk consultant, and they have four children, Jessica (30) a doctor, John (28) who is in marketing, James (25) and engineer and William (21) a student. She is a highly respected television producer with 35 years experience in the media in presentation, production and post production roles. She has also lectured in factual research and documentary making at Belfast Metropolitan College.

Currently executive producer of UTV's The Magazine Show, Jacqui follows fashion but has also perfected her own sense of style over the years. She says: "I have a small frame which is very straight up and down so I know that pleats and things that gather in the middle don't suit me.

"I love structured shapes and I love blue. That's one thing being on TV teaches you. It's like a great mirror and when you see yourself on screen you soon learn what doesn't look right and what works."

7. Emma-Louise Johnston

Emma-Louise Johnston (36) is a mum, broadcaster, journalist and voice over artist. She is also a popular host at many events including Miss Northern Ireland, sport, travel and music evenings and photographic exhibitions. She's also covered London Fashion Week and the Elle style awards, as well as guest speaking to youth groups. She lives in Maghera with her businessman husband Jonathan Crawford (37) and their two children, Emily (3) and JJ (1).

Of being named a Style Icon she says: "I was amazed and delighted to be considered worthy of such an honour. I certainly never think of myself as any kind of style guru.

"What is style? Hard to really define but for me style is how you dress, wear your hair, make-up and also how you do things and live your life. It's knowing what looks best on you and most importantly feeling right in an outfit.

"It's crazy for me anyway to try to get away with what lots of people would think of as being in style. Being in style and being stylish are two different things."

8. Nuala Meenehan

Founder of Directory 15, Nuala Meenehan is one of the best- known names in fashion and media here with a modelling career which has spanned 30 years.

Nuala (48) has featured in major advertising campaigns, magazine covers and catwalk shows across the country.

She has also worked within the advertising industry for over 25 years and is incoming chair of Publicity Association Northern Ireland.

Married to Tony Axon, a media director, she is still a regular at catwalk shows and a popular photographic model.

She says: "I was absolutely thrilled to be involved in the Directory 15 Style Icon shoot – what an absolute honour to be included in a line-up which includes some of the most respected and beautiful women in Northern Ireland."

Her interpretation of style? "Everyone has their own interpretation of style and that's what makes us unique.

"I believe true style is as much about who we are on the inside as what we wear on the outside – it's about knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."

9. Franca Robinson

Franca Robinson specialises in dressing mothers of the brides and grooms in one of Belfast's longest running independent boutiques, Jourdan on the Lisburn Road.

Franca (48), who is married to Mark (49), a businessman, loves transforming customers by dressing them to suit their body shape.

On being chosen as a Style Icon, she says: "I was flattered and a bit surprised as I've always just dressed for myself so to be recognised for it is quite amazing."

Her interpretation of style: "As the late Joan Rivers said 'Style is like herpes' – either you have it or you don't. Money certainly doesn't buy it. Style is about confidence, knowing what suits you and never having to apologise for what you are wearing and most importantly having fun with fashion."

10. Carrie Neely

Independent art consultant Carrie Neely has run Carrie Neely Contemporary Art since 2009.

Carrie (39) grew her stable of artists to hundreds and started to exhibit local artists throughout the city and to sell art locally and internationally.

A finalist for the last two years in Belfast Telegraph's Woman of the Year Awards in the Arts category, she is also a guest speaker at many events, has lectured in schools and colleges and is extremely passionate about the future of the arts and artists in Northern Ireland.

Married to Dr Rob Grundy (39), a research scientist, she has three children, Jaxon (7), Marley (5) and Nainsi (3). She says: "I feel that you can buy fashion, but you can't buy style. Style is about individuality, about not caring what everyone else is wearing, but dressing how you feel.

"Style is being able to add a vintage belt to a Primark dress and wearing it with a pair of Converse, or going into a second hand shop with £20 and coming out looking a million dollars because you have chosen something that just suits you. Style is about feeling good in your own bones as well as your clothes."

What to see at directory 15 this week

  • Wednesday, 7pm: Paul Stafford 'Salon Secrets' with guest boutique Harrison. The Ivory Restaurant, Victoria Square, Belfast. Ticket £12
  • Thursday, 7pm – Merchant & Maker Collective, 20 Donegall Place, Belfast. Cosmopolitan Chic with Decoderm makeup artist Judy Wong and Evelin Brandt, Lisburn Road, Belfast. Ticket £12
  • Friday, 7pm – Riddel Hall, Stranmillis, local Style Heroes with designer Una Rodden, stylists Jamie Russell and Cindy McKendry and presenting Directory 15 style hero competition winners. Ticket £15
  • For further info: facebook.com/directory15, tickets on sale through the Belfast Welcome Centre or visit-belfast.com

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