Pat Jourdan-Scott: The Belfast style queen still on trend
As the search for our Woman of the Year continues, a past winner says she has an exciting new venture for fashion lovers, writes Stephanie Bell
Dedicated followers of fashion can look forward with some excitement to this summer thanks to one of our best known style icons Pat Jourdan-Scott.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows the tireless and dedicated boutique owner and style consultant that she is currently busy creating what she promises will be a groundbreaking new service for local fashionistas.
Pat's new venture is a website for fashion lovers that will offer something so unique that she has had no choice but to keep the details under wraps until its launch this summer.
But her announcement is enough to cause a stir in the fashion world simply because it is Pat who is behind it.
Pat first broke the mould in fashion more than four decades ago when she opened her hip Sixties Belfast boutique La Babalu, whose crochet mini-dresses became an instant hit with celebrities and local fashionistas.
Credited with single-handedly pioneering the boutique culture in Northern Ireland, her keen eye for successfully predicting what the most fashion-conscious women will want to wear, season after season, has made her a legend in the industry.
Many visiting celebrities to the city over the years have taken time for a visit to Jourdan, where they know they will find something special, and Pat's ever-growing clientele now stretches not just across Ireland, but the UK and as far away as America and Canada.
Her contribution and success were recognised last year by the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year judges, who unanimously chose her as our Woman of the Year in Fashion.
It was an accolade which particularly delighted Pat because 40 years earlier, at a similar awards event in London, she was named Fashion's Best Newcomer.
"It was like I had come full circle after over 40 years and it was just lovely," she said. "To still be relevant in fashion after all these years is very flattering and I was deeply honoured and delighted to receive the Belfast Telegraph award."
Her life could have taken a very different course had it not been for a chance encounter in Royal Avenue with a model scout when she was 15 – or, as she fondly points out, 15 and a half.
She laughs as she recalls: "It's funny how that half year was so important then and how as the years go by you wouldn't dream of using it but I was 15 and a half – not just 15 – when I was approached in Royal Avenue by a woman who asked if I would be interested in a career in modelling.
"That changed my life. Up until then I planned to study law.
I passed my 11-plus and got a scholarship to college. I just thought law would be a very interesting career and I still do.
"I was offered £60 for three days modelling work, which was a lot of money at the time.
"You think it's always going to be like that, but with modelling you get jobs here and there and I was never able to budget. I usually found myself either very flush or very poor.
"I had an agent in Dublin and London, and it was an exciting few years. I got to travel abroad to Germany, Spain and Milan.
"I had always hated being tall and, suddenly, I was able to put being 5 foot 9 inches to good use and it was terrific."
She was only 21 when she decided there was more to life than having to watch every bite she ate and she gave up modelling to open her first boutique.
Her interest in business came from her late mum Maureen – who was also ahead of her time in that she ran her own thriving recruitment company in an era when it was unheard of for women to be company bosses.
Pat describes her mum as her role model.
The family lived in Belfast and Pat grew up one of three children in a single parent family. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and she is so fiercely protective of her age that she even refuses to say whether or not she is younger or older than her brother and sister.
"The last time I told anybody my age was when I was 21," she confesses. "Before that I pretended to be older than I was and ever since I have lied about my age."
Her sister Maureen works "in the arts" in Manchester and her brother Tony is also a pioneer in fashion in Belfast, having set up the first men's fashion boutique, Mark Anthony, in Church Lane – an area which became a very fashionable part of the city in the Seventies.
"Back then Church Lane became like the Carnaby Street of Belfast," says Pat. "At one stage it had eight boutiques and was very popular, especially on Saturdays where you would see all sorts of colourful people, many who were well-known at the time.
"The great thing about modelling is that you feel quite old at 21, it gives you so much confidence and that, along with the money I made from it, allowed me to open the boutique."
Pat moved to Queen's Arcade in the Eighties and renamed her shop Jourdan, although the company still trades under La Babalu Ltd.
She had moved towards special occasion wear, and the introduction of exciting costume jewellry to complement the labels proved a great success.
"Husbands told us that the quickest way to mend a row, or win favour, was to present their spouse with a black Jourdan jewellery bag!" she says.
Jourdan's reputation was spreading well beyond Belfast and Pat recalls her biggest ever sale back in the early days of trading at Queen's Arcade when an American airline owner visited the store with his wife to treat her for her 40th birthday.
"He was president of an airline in Seattle and was in the south of Ireland on business. He and his wife had heard of the shop and they both came in one day.
"She ended up buying 22 outfits, which was the biggest sale I ever had. We had a great time, and her husband said he had never been with her on a shopping trip before and he bought her everything she wanted.
"When they went back to Seattle all her friends couldn't believe that her new labels came from Belfast rather than Milan or Paris. She still comes back to the shop if they are in Ireland on business."
Her store has also attracted well-known names from the world of showbiz over the years, including Eurovision star Dana, Loose Women stalwart Jane McDonald, former Bond star Roger Moore (who bought an evening bag for his wife) and Sir Cliff Richard who, Pat recalls, once bought an outfit for then-girlfriend Sue Barker.
Jourdan had carved a very special niche with its beautiful occasion wear. When the Lisburn Road evolved to become Belfast's answer to Knightsbridge it was a natural fit for Jourdan, and Pat made the move to her present location at 733 Lisburn Road, a fabulous 4,000-square foot store.
"This has finally given us the space to imaginatively dress our customers for weddings, race meetings, awards ceremonies, proms, even royal weddings and the Oscars," she says.
"I never dreamed that I would still be in fashion all these years later. It's terrific, especially the end of fashion we are in, which is special occasion wear.
"It's wonderful helping people dress for important times in their lives, and it's very exciting to be part of that and dressing mothers of the brides and providing outfits that could be worn at weddings in castles in Italy, or beaches in the Caribbean, as well as marquees locally.
"It's very exciting that our clothes could be going halfway round the world, even though we don't move."
As thousands of other independent boutiques, and even huge High Street fashion chains, have fallen victim to the ups and downs of the economy over the past 40 years, Jourdan has continued to thrive.
To Pat the secret to her enduring success is simple: "You have to have passion and you've got to enjoy it to do it as long as I've done it."
Modestly there is no mention of her natural talent and feel for fashion. Not only has this guaranteed Jourdan is always bang on trend but Pat's instinct for accurately predicting what will be in season has seen her snapped up by two major fashion houses in London as a consultant.
"Like anything else it does grow with experience, and every season there is a thread of what is coming through for the next season. I love looking forward to collections," she explains. "Colour in particular is a big thing, deciding what that will be.
"The big colour for spring/summer 2014 is pink and that's the colour we decided on nine months ago and thank goodness that it is one of the big colours for the new season. You do need a little intuition and a lot of luck."
She also pays tribute to her team; most of who have been with her many years and who she says love the job as much as she does.
It brings to mind an unforgettable Pretty Woman-style encounter Pat had with a rude shop assistant when she was in her 20s, something which she said she has never forgotten, and which she shares with all of her staff.
"I went into a shop in the arcade in Belfast wearing a purple leather suit and wanting a floppy hat to go with it," she says.
"I tried on a number of hats and this horrendous woman turned to me and said 'Maybe madame could come back when she knows what she can afford'.
"I had been a model for six years at the time and I was wearing an expensive outfit and that woman wasn't in tune enough with young people to realise what it was worth; to me she lost out on so many levels, both as a professional and as a nice person.
"It was very good training and something I have never forgotten. It always surprised me how so many people in retail are not nice."
She is as enthusiastic as ever as she steers Jourdan and its beautiful new Lisburn Road boutique into its fifth decade and this year is focused on developing a new website which she promises will be unique.
"Obviously it's connected with fashion. What it will offer is not available here yet, and it will be very different," she says. "It's because it is a new idea that I cannot reveal any details until it is up and running, hopefully before the summer."
While she lives and breathes fashion, outside of work a single Pat enjoys spending time with friends.
"My big, happiest thing is meeting friends for dinner. I'm not terribly into keeping fit," she adds.
So what does our doyenne of fashion predict will be the hot looks for next season?
"Patterns and colour are the big thing for Spring/Summer 2014," she says. "There will be a lot of florals, including on clothes like biker jackets which you normally wouldn't associate them with. That's the new trendy look.
"Natural colours are in and especially pinks, but dusky pink, not sugar pink. That's the big colour for mothers of the bride and it ties in nicely with the colours for bridesmaids dresses this year."