'I love making people look and feel good... there is nothing more rewarding than that'
From dressing the stars of Game of Thrones to becoming a personal stylist, fashion has always played a big part in the life of Katherin Farries, as she tells Linda Stewart
Katherin Farries has fashion running in her bloodstream. Despite a demanding job as personal stylist at Belfast's Victoria Square shopping centre, she admits fashion still manages to infiltrate her time at home.
For example, inspired by Melania Trump's stunning blue Ralph Lauren inauguration outfit, the 28-year-old even found herself painstakingly sketching and painting a similar look based on a blue dress from Coast and a jacket from House of Fraser.
"I love drawing fashion things," she admits.
While it took a while for Katherin to figure out exactly what she wanted to be in life, the style bug was there from the start.
"My first word was 'look' and my second was 'platypus' - for some reason my granny used to say it to me all the time!" she says.
"Mum said I used to watch TV as soon as I could talk. I would point at the TV and say 'look at the clothes'. She said I wanted to dress the people on TV and felt frustrated when they didn't look right. It's always been there, even when I didn't know it was.
"You can learn styling, but it's a bit like being an artist - it comes from a natural place and then you expand on it."
Katherin was born and raised in Oxfordshire, but after meeting her partner Michael Kearney (31) she settled in Northern Ireland where she has worked as a costumier on TV drama Game of Thrones and the film Dracula Untold before launching into her current role as a style guru.
"I'm from a small village called Adderbury - lots of fields out in the countryside and the nearest shop is three miles away," she says.
"Mum said when I was really young, I thought I was the mum. There were four children, then a gap and then the other three. I think the three younger ones were quite cheeky and mischievous and I used to tell them off all the time - I was mummy hen."
That still hasn't changed - Katherin admits that in the wake of her younger sister's 18th birthday celebrations this month, she was going through her Facebook posts to make sure she wasn't doing anything she shouldn't.
Katherin's dad owned a collectibles shop in Oxford's famous Covered Market and she gained early commercial experience by working there, as well as at her grandfather's pet shop in Bicester.
"It was helping with deliveries, working in the shop. You were kind of extra hands to help," she says.
Katherin was dyslexic and struggled at school. She failed her GCSE Maths three times, but kept retaking the exams because she was determined to study at university - and she passed in the end.
"Because I enjoyed the more arty subjects at school, I applied to do a BTEC in Art and Design and that included graphic design, jewellery making, pottery - I was really bad at pottery," she says.
"I knew I was artistic, but I didn't really know what in."
She considered jewellery-making as she had a relative who made jewellery, but that didn't work out.
"I wasn't any good at making it, but I was very good at putting it together. I thought I wanted to design clothes, but I knew I wasn't very good at the maths side of it - you need that for all the measurements."
Katherin went on to study at Northampton University, the only university in the UK to offer a degree in Fashion Footwear and Design, and discovered an aptitude for working with leather.
"I also worked part-time in DKNY and people shopping there would say to me that they could never find the right shoes to go with the outfit. So I was interested in designing shoes as well as the comfort of the shoes."
After completing her course, Katherin went to Australia to visit her uncle who owned a hostel - and that initial three-week holiday ended up lasting a year.
It was in the hostel's hallway that she had a fateful encounter with a Northern Irish man who would end up playing a significant role in her life.
"He was on the way out of the hostel and my uncle offered him a job. And I had made the decision to extend my visit to three months on the same day - and we crossed paths in the hallway of the hostel," Katherin says.
"When I saw Michael, I wasn't looking for a relationship. I was looking forward to seeing the country and spending time with my uncle.
"Anyway, he was 6 foot 5 with a shaved head, which is something that I'd never gone for before. He had very blue eyes and when I spoke to him he had the most amazing Northern Irish accent. I didn't understand half of what he said but I went for it anyway."
Katherin ended up staying in Australia for a year and began picking up freelance work as a stylist, including in independent shops.
As she and Michael returned to the UK via Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, they made a deal.
"Basically what happened was when we were going back home, we agreed that whoever gets the first job, we would settle wherever that was. And I then I was offered two jobs, one in England and one in Northern Ireland - so that's where we ended up."
The couple's first home in Belfast was a 16th floor apartment in the Obel Tower. Katherin says that after years of growing up in a rural area, she really revelled in big city living.
"It was an amazing view and the city centre was a great place for living and playing as well. I was floor manager at White Stuff in Cornmarket and really wanted to style people. I loved having lots of staff and the buzz of Belfast being such a busy place. I felt all grown up and modern, living in the city," she says.
And then another fateful encounter took place - this time with a bus. Belfast had been chosen as the base for filming Dracula Untold, the vampire origin story featuring The Hobbit star Luke Evans.
"I heard it was going to be filming here and one day I saw a production van with Dracula Untold on the side.
"I jumped in front of the van and refused to move until the driver gave me an email address for the production company so I could ask for work. I sold myself to that bus driver!" Katherin says. Katherin got a job working on the production for seven months, making leather outfits for all the extras, including coats, jackets, trousers, shoes, boots and even leather cuffs.
She worked on shoes for the lead actress Sarah Gadon, and boots worn by Luke Evans, but the costumiers weren't encouraged to engage the stars in conversation.
"You don't approach them - you respect that you are there to do a job and you are not there to badger them," she says.
"But the best thing about that job was that when I moved to Northern Ireland, it was a new experience for me. I wanted to carry on feeling like it was a travelling experience. Working on Dracula Untold, I got to go to parts of Northern Ireland that not even my other half has seen."
Once that film work ended, Katherin got more work on the HBO fantasy Game of Thrones, which had by now been filming in Northern Ireland for several seasons.
Some of the workers who had been there from the start were now ready to take a break and that opened up opportunities for new faces.
"I was working on the drapery - some of the big curtains. That included distressing some of the fabrics to make them look old and worn. I would also have been sewing and repairing the green curtains which are used for green-screen effects," Katherin says.
"On one occasion I was working on curtains on the floor of the Throne Room - they were being used as a backdrop. I kept looking over at the Iron Throne and thinking 'this is surreal'. It's freezing in there!"
In between, Katherin worked as a costumier on numerous shorter films, as well as Steven Fingleton's BAFTA-nominated sci fi thriller The Survivalist, starring Martin McCann. "It was interesting, because it was about breaking the costumes down to make them look worn and sweaty and wet. You had to put stains and sweat patches on a shirt, but there would be eight identical shirts and you would have to put identical sweat patches and stains on all eight," Katherin says.
"We were also making the vanity pouches for the male actors to wear in nude scenes!"
When the film work dried up, Katherin was doing merchandising for Joules in Belfast when she spotted the advertisement to recruit a personal stylist for Victoria Square.
"I really wanted the job. It's about what I love to do - dressing people and making people feel good about themselves," she says.
"I saw it and thought 'That is my job. That is for me'."
Katherin says the job is extremely diverse — everything from helping customers pick out the style and colours that suit them to styling models for autumn/winter and spring/summer looks and holding viewings where customers can preview the key trends for the upcoming season.
It also involves holding fashion shows in other venues to showcase the breadth of style available in Victoria Square, from the affordable up to the designer.
Katherin describes Victoria Square as a stunning place to work and shop and she loves being able to deliver styling appointments in the centre’s styling suite — with the unique selling point of being able to use fashion from all the stores.
“I love making people look and feel good — it gives me a joyful feeling to make people feel confident and happy in themselves,” she says.
“House of Fraser in Belfast has so many more diverse brands than the one near me at home — and it’s close to everything. You walk in and you feel that every make-up counter has its own theme.
“It’s all in such a close spectrum — it’s really easy to get from one shop to the next and it’s not all samey, samey. I can style a child a couple of months old all the way up to a 90-year-old. We’ve got it all covered and it’s such a beautiful building — to have that all under one roof.”
Katherin can’t give away the identities of her clients, but says there are a few TV presenters and politicians among their number, as well as brides and grooms, and business people who want to put together the right look before giving an important presentation.
She says she’s found that politicians fret over all the same style issues that plague the rest of us.
“I think everybody is secretly nervous, but a lot of people don’t show it. I enable people to feel good about what they look like and to identify what their best feature is. They are human like the rest of us,” she says.
“We all do have our own inner voice that judges us, that voice that says you look fat today or you look spotty today — but you wouldn’t be friends with a person that said things like that. So shut her up and tell her to sit in the corner. Don’t listen to your inner insecurities.
“It doesn’t matter who we are or how successful we are — we all have it.”
The service isn’t just for rich and successful people either. Not only does Katherin look at what colour suits your skin tone and what style will suit your body shape, but she will consider affordability, sizing, whether you need to be able to machine wash everything or don’t mind shelling out for dry clean only.
She’s even made a convert of Geri Halliwell, whom she presented with a business card when she encountered her in England recently.
“I told what we do here and she said ‘I really wish we had that here’. She is very busy now with the new baby, but she said she would be in touch in February or March,” Katherin says.
There is a slightly different challenge for TV presenters who have to be mindful of how the camera will distort the clothes they wear.
Katherin said she recently had a TV presenter client who was trying to figure out how to adapt her look to a change in the technology, including the tone of the green screen.
“A red dress could come out looking orange, for example, or patterns can be tricky for cameras. The way the camera picks up a pattern can look bad against the background. It takes constant research and you’re learning every day,” she says.
“Even if you’re an apple shape, or a pear shape, or a tube shape, it can change the way the camera picks it up.”
Katherin says it’s a challenging job, no matter who your client is, as you always have to be on full power.
“When you’re meeting someone for the first time, there’s always the challenge of what they like and whether I get it. You have to listen and be on the ball all the time. You have to be excited about each appointment and everything that’s thrown at you.”
Katherin says she loves doing the photoshoots of seasonal trends for Victoria Square’s advertising campaigns.
“These are always really exciting and an opportunity to showcase the best the centre has to offer,” she says.
She says people in Northern Ireland have a definite sense of style and like to dress up. They tend to buy specific clothes for casual wear and different clothes for more dressed up occasions.
“People really like to dress for occasions. Most people have things that would be for different things on a daily basis — I would see that a lot.
“Style here is definitely very specific to lifestyle, whereas in London it would just be for the sake of it — they wear things to be seen.
“People here do that but they like it to be appropriate for spring or winter. People here really like clothes for a certain time of the year — they feel confident knowing the colour they are wearing is on trend, even if it’s a scarf or a bag.”
Katherin says she has fallen in love with Northern Ireland and her parents are even considering buying a house here as they find it so friendly.
Her partner Michael now works in management in the Better chain of leisure centres, but was in marketing for a while — which led to one amusing coincidence.
The couple were driving along the dual carriageway one day when they spotted a Victoria Square billboard showing off the latest styles next to a Better Leisure Centre billboard with people swimming. “We both shouted at the same time ‘I made it look better’!” Katherin says.
“People say to me ‘You must love your job’. It’s the only job in Northern Ireland in that area and I’m really proud to say I work for Victoria Square. It’s the dream job. It’s very hard work but rewarding.
“I come home feeling that I’ve made somebody look good. They feel good and there is nothing more rewarding than that. That is my euphoria.”
How to be stylish easily
● Invest in key pieces that will never date — a Mac, great leather court shoes, a great handbag etc.
● Ted Baker sell scarves in an array of beautiful colours and these are an easy way to jazz up the crossover from the winter jumpers to spring blooms.
● Mango has some really affordable white dresses and two piece sets so you don’t have to be scared of ruining an expensive white item.
● Warehouse is covering the sleeve trend this season with slits and frills at affordable prices.
● Topshop has some great boxy tailored coordinated suits in a bright and even neon 80s style.
● L.K. Bennett is covering the yellow trend this season with canary hues perfect for spring weddings & race days.