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10 reasons why we love Fashionweek

To celebrate the tenth birthday of the Belfast style extravaganza, 10 of those who take part tell Joanne Sweeney their highlights so far

West Coast Cooler Fashionweek is back and is celebrating its tenth year. And as the event kicks off tonight with the opening of a brand new designer, Goddess and Swift Atelier, in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, it has come a long way since its more humble beginnings in 2005.

Spring/summer looks from the high street is the theme tomorrow, and will see the return of The Outlet, Banbridge; CastleCourt, Benetton, Marks & Spencer, George at Asda, Next and others.

Fashionweek director, Cathy Martin, says: "When I created Fashionweek at my kitchen table in 2004/2005, I could only have dreamed that it would become the much-celebrated and anticipated event that it is today.

"And it's been a pleasure to watch it – and all those who have been involved, including designers, models and many other creatives – evolve and flourish over the years."

While the main catwalk shows for designers, designer boutiques and the high street stores will take place at the Ulster Museum, both the Charity Challenge and Paddy McGurgan's Make Up Show will be held in Stormont's iconic Great Hall on Friday.

The event has become a firm fixture for fashion retailers and new up-and-coming designers, but more than that – it has launched the careers of some of Northern Ireland's brightest models, stylists and designers.

Here, we talk to 10 of the movers and shakers behind Fashionweek to find out their stand-out memories of the event and how their lives have been changed since taking part.


Belfast Fashionweek director Cathy Martin (41) is the powerhouse behind this successful landmark annual event. The mother-of-one tells of her highs and lows along the way. She says:

"The best moment for me was probably doing the catwalk show in the underground car park of the Victoria Square Centre. It was just so cool and edgy."

"One of the more challenging moments was having to launch BFW in January 2012, when I had just had my little girl Valentina (left), who was born two months prematurely.

"I literally had to feed her in hospital before the launch, do that and then go back to feed her again just after."

Model Lauryrn Greer (18) from Portglenone, Co Antrim, started off her international career with Fashionweek. Since her debut at the age of 16, she has walked in London and Paris Fashion Weeks and credits the Belfast event for changing her life. She says:

"This is my fourth season with Belfast Fashionweek. My first season actually started off my modelling career, as I had only just been accepted with the Morgan agency in Dublin when Cathy Martin booked me.

"It was great to get such a big show under my belt. It gave me the experience and the confidence to go on to other international shows.

"It really came at an important time for me in my life, as I was feeling a bit down as I'd had a few problems at school, with people being really nasty. Afterwards, I felt fantastic. Once I started working, it completely changed me and things have just been great ever since."


Northern Ireland model Connor Schelling-Tisza (23), who's hoping one day to emulate Jamie Dornan and move into acting, credits Fashionweek for his big break. He says:

"This event in 2012, when I was 21, was really my springboard into modelling. I also walked in the autumn/winter show in 2013.

"I'm in London at the moment and I've just spent six weeks in Milan.

"After my first catwalk, I did a Remus Uomo campaign and worked for Versace Jeans and Fendi in Milan.

"I really enjoy the atmosphere working in fashion shows, especially in Belfast, as it's more of a fun scene. The crowd get really excited and scream, as the women love to see the guys."


Designer, Larissa Watson, will kick off this year's fashion week with a studio launch of Goddess and Swift tonight in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. The mother-of-four designs classic clothes using her own specially designed textiles. She says:

"The whole week is kicking off with our launch at 5.30pm tonight and then we are showing later in the Ulster Museum, so tonight is the big highlight for me obviously.

"And apart from this, it was when I launched my own label Goddess and Swift at the autumn/winter show in 2013.

"I think it's really important for us to have an outlet that our customers then can come and see our collection or get something designed for them."


Milliner and jewellery designer, Grainne Maher (39), started off working behind the stage at Belfast Fashionweek – now she's staging her own show. The mother-of-three young children lives in the Ravenhill area of Belfast. She says:

"I've shown a millinery collection over the last 10 or 11 seasons, latterly a jewellery collection as well. I've never missed a season, as it's become an integral part of my fashion calendar.

"I actually started off working as a backstage manager as I was working with Michelle McTiernan then who started off the event with Cathy when it first started back in the day. It's been a very positive experience throughout for me.

"I've loved how the venues have kept changing, which keeps it really fresh for us all."


Fashion stylist and events manager, Sean Loughran (21), from north Belfast, started off working on Fashionweek and now lives and works between Paris, Milan and New York. He says:

"I got my break by working as a PR assistant with Cathy Martin PR. I was still at school at the time and was working on PR events, as well as Cathy's talent and model agency, where I worked with celebrities, as well as helping out with both season show's in 2012.

"I now work in PR and events, but I also assist stylists as well now, so I'm doing a bit of everything in the fashion industry."


Photographer, Khara Pringle, has shot every ad campaign for Fashionweek since it started. The 41-year-old lives with her partner Bradley Quinn and 19-month-old daughter Aryia in Newtownards, Co Down. She says:

"I particularly loved the shot that we did of the girl and the guy in the underground car park of Victoria Square. It was just a really creative shot, everything went really well and the girls had to borrow ropes from Belfast Harbour Commissioners, which was fun. It just worked.

"One of the other shoots that I loved was one we did of model June Nabney, where we poured water over her. It was really fun, even though it was the tackiest thing to do to her.

"Cathy's brilliant to work with. We have moved on together; she has a child now just a few months older than mine, and we have all become good friends as well over those years."


Fashionweek photographer, Brendan Gallagher (35), has captured more than 33,000 catwalk images over the years. He lives in west Belfast with his wife and four-year-old daughter Abigail. He says:

"Fashionweek has been amazing for me and it was all down to be blagging a front row seat at one of the Debenham's shows.

"I was working in sales in Debenhams and was just getting into photography. I actually bought a ticket to go to one of the shows and then a few nights later, got in free by saying I was photographer.

"I took some shots, showed them to Cathy, who thought they were really good, and that was it really.

"It started off my photography career now and I'm virtually full-time working on fashion and PR photography.

"Even now, Fashionweek is the anchor of my work, it seems that it starts off with the spring/summer show and then only tails off at the autumn/winter show."


Hairdresser, Andrew Mulvenna, and his team will be responsible for all the styling at this year's event, and his 15-strong team also does fashion shows in London. The 43-year-old lives in Belfast and runs a city centre salon. He says:

"The first full show in 2012, which showed our full season where we were invited to look after the whole of Fashionweek, is my stand-out memory as, while we had been involved in previous shows for years, it was the first time that we got the chance to do a complete show.

"It was great and the exposure that it gave us was fantastic.

"This season we will be using some fashion chalks to add another dimension to the hair".


Make-up artist, Paddy McGurgan, has become synonymous with BFW. The 33-year-old Belfast man tells us how a snow storm once nearly put his lights out. He says:

"The incident that stands out, maybe for all the wrong reasons, was last year at the Ulster Museum when we had the really bad snowfalls and the electric went out on us.

"I had to rely on applying make-up using the torchlight of my iPhone; I'm so glad that I had downloaded that app, though.

"My own big highlight will be my own creative make-up show, Birds of Paradise, on Friday night.

"It's an early morning call for us and the 10 models from 9am to 7pm that night."

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