Belfast Telegraph

Putting on the style to help needy children

Ahead of a Save the Children charity show this Saturday, Larne fashion designer Geraldine Connon tells Jane Hardy about her career and marriage to a younger man

Charity fashion events have become a common occurance in the glitzy, extravagant fashion world where diary dates such Fashion for Relief, a catwalk show in aid of Haiti attracted huge A-list support last year.

And now, producing an irresistible mix of glamour and charity in Northern Ireland, hairdresser Shane Bennett and acclaimed local fashion designer Geraldine Connon have organised a star-studded event at Hillsborough Castle on September 24, in aid of the Save the Children Fund Emergency Appeal.

Geraldine Connon who has been in the design business for 26 years radiates an infectious enthusiasm for fashion.

She describes her work as “showstopping, beautiful clothes made of the best, most luxurious cloth and well cut”.

Her collection includes high drama dresses and suits making it no surprise that Geraldine cites Lady Gaga as one of her style heroines: “She’s outstanding and not outlandish, although her meat outfit wasn’t for me,” she says. However her own choice of style is a tad more conservative.

When we speak, Geraldine — who trained at the University of Ulster’s Art College — is wearing a casual outfit of chocolate brown leggings, a jersey striped top that is “stylish and comfortable” and a piece that she describes as underwear that is designed to be shown.

What’s interesting is that despite Geraldine’s creativity and experimental colour palette in her designs her personal taste is much more subdued: “I

love neutrals, I’m really a no colour person,” she says.

In a quarter of century at the cutting edge of fashion in Ulster and London, Geraldine has been “obsessed” with her career. Designers are workaholics and at one point she made the decision that she needed to give up her job lecturing in fashion at the University of Ulster to concentrate on her design career.

Indirectly, her job led Geraldine to a meeting with a Portuguese sculptor who is now her husband.

As she recalls, with a smile: “My husband Miguel Nedes is a sculptor, a good soul and very creative. He came to my business a few years ago to do some work. I needed a wardrobe made for my clients, to store clothes.”

Geraldine had a specific design in mind and told Miguel she wanted a wardrobe in the style of a carriage on the Orient Express.

“I said, do you know what I mean? and he said, ‘Yes, I do’.” And that led to another ‘Yes, I do’ nearly two years ago when the couple got married at Belfast City Hall on December 13 2009, followed by a private reception at their home in Larne.

There is an age gap — Miguel is some 12 years younger than Geraldine — but she doesn’t like the term toyboy. “No, I wouldn’t be that foolish. It’s just that I wasn’t ready for marriage until then.”

What we’ll be seeing at the Hillsborough Save the Children catwalk show will be a range of clothes to suit different occasions and all sizes.

Geraldine says her work with private clients has given her an insight into what women over a size 8 want.

She adds: “The Hillsborough show gives Shane and I the opportunity to show what we’ve been doing in London for 10 years, but there will also be 15 new autumn outfits and an Ascot collection with hats designed by Maureen Paterson.”

The money raised on tickets sold will be matched by the Northern Ireland Government to raise a decent sum.

Why did Geraldine and Shane select Save the Children’s Emergency Appeal, which is helping children affected by the severe drought in Africa?

She explains: “I have no kids but my five nieces and nephew give me so much pleasure that I wanted to do something for children.

“Shane and I raised £10,000 for Children in Need six years ago, and when I saw the pictures of children in the recent African disaster, it struck my heart and I had to act.”

The other half of the team is celebrity hairdresser Shane Bennett (37), who runs a top salon in Hillsborough.

He says: “You’ll see some very dramatic hair in the show, like a coiffured OTT black and white wig with a huge white gown, slightly Cruella de Vil.

“But overall, the look is fairly natural, with some people wearing their hair down like Kate Middleton. For ‘dos under hats, we’ve added interest with curls.”

Although the fashion seasons roll round with surprising consensus among designers — autumn 2011 seems to be mainly about retro, including 70s flares, natural shades with a red injection — Geraldine’s a little different when it comes to her own designs. She adds: “There are trend researchers who look at everything from films to fabric. But I’m not influenced by other shops. I aim to provide my clients with clothes that reflect their personality and are the right shape for their figures.”

Geraldine believes in really good clothes for real people and some of her well known clients like interior designer Ruth Wilson, Judith Smyth and Geraldine Mulvenna are taking to the catwalk in the manner of the Dove beauty campaign while other clients have loaned cocktail dresses and gowns. This is one fashion show you won’t want to miss, and it’s in a very good cause.

For tickets or information Tel: 028 9043 1123 or email www.savethechildren.org.uk

Win fashion and a makeover for someone special

This is your chance to win two Hillsborough Save the Children Fashion Show tickets and other stylish goodies for the most deserving woman in your life.

  • Now is the time to nominate a woman you know — maybe your mum, sister or good friend — who has been through a tough experience and could do with cheering up.
  • She will win two £40 tickets to the fashion show on September 24 at Hillsborough Castle, plus a couture one-off worth over £500 designed by Geraldine Connon and a makeover at the exclusive Shane Bennett (left) hair salon in Hillsborough.
  • Just answer this question: where did Geraldine Connon train? Email your answer, marked Hillsborough comp, with your contact details and the name and contact for the woman you’re nominating by midnight on September 22, 2011 to shanebennett@shanebennettsalon.com. Usual IN&M rules apply.

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