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'Young designers can add new strings to their bow'

Joanne Sweeney meets the young fashion pace-setters bringing a touch of catwalk glamour to this year's Clandeboye festival

High fashion and classical music might seem like odd bedfellows at first glance, but there is sure to be plenty of harmony between the two when this year's Clandeboye Festival kicks off next week.

The very best of our young musical talent and fashion designers will come together in a stunning fashion show as part of the festival, which runs from next Monday to Saturday in the stunning surroundings of the Clandeboye Estate just outside Bangor.

Music from Barry Douglas' Camerata Ireland orchestra will blend in with a fashion showcase from 26 of our top young designers, finishing with a bridal dress finale next Tuesday.

The young designers will be joined by two established successful designers, Una Rodden from Belfast, who launched a diverse new spring/summer collection earlier this year, and Jessica Brandt, who has recently been working as a costume designer in the film industry.

Bangor woman Maureen Martin is the producer of the show, which is now in its third year. The former catwalk model – and mother of three grown-up daughters, Karen, Tanya and Susan, and grandmother to seven grandchildren – runs her own successful modelling agency.

She has been a stalwart of the Northern Ireland fashion industry for the last 40 years and is just as excited as ever about her latest show.

"I have a real passion from showcasing new talent in designers from the fashion colleges and for models, and I used to run the Smirnoff Fashion Awards with Brian Massey years ago," she says.

"I aim to give our young designers of the future a window, as the talent in Northern Ireland is absolutely amazing.

"It's amazing to experience the combination of beautiful classical music with the designs. We could never have imagined that our young designers could have blended as well with the young musicians of the future and their music.

"They play in the centre of the marquee as the models catwalk around them, it's really something special."

We talk to three of the up and coming designers about their favourite pieces.

'I want to reflect my own personality in my designs'

Deimante Vuitton is originally from Lithuania and recently showed her first design collection. The 23-year-old gave birth to her first child, Oliver, three weeks ago. She and her husband Mantis have been living and working in Belfast for the past four years. She says:

I will be showing three of my favourite pieces from my new collection at the fashion show. They are from my first collection which I showed for the first time a month ago at Coco restaurant in Belfast.

Flowers have been my inspiration as a designer and I have used them on all my pieces, which of course makes it seem very natural and feminine.

My collection is all about sophisticated but wearable clothes which are also very glamourous pieces. All my pieces – they are all dresses – are very flattering and feminine as I think it's important for a woman to feel like a woman. As a designer I want to design pieces that I would want to have in my own wardrobe, so that's very important to me to reflect my own personality as a woman in all that I design.

This gold dress (above) is made for those special moments in a woman's life like an engagement or wedding party, something where she needs to feel and look absolutely wonderful. I think it's so important for a woman to feel confident and sexy so this is for one of those occasions.

It's made from a stretch sheer mesh material and adorned with handmade crystal organza flowers. All the flowers are made by myself and show my love for nature.

All of my designs come with headpieces that I also handmade myself to give a very romantic, feminine feel."

'My wedding dress is for a modern bride'

Gordon Donaldson (21) from Newcastle, Co Down, is one of the graduate designers taking part in the show. He's just received a BA Hons in Fashion Management from Belfast Metropolitan College and will be showing his graduate designs as well as his bridal wear. He says:

The pieces I am showing are from my graduate collection. The green and floral outfit (above right) is one of my newer pieces for my final year submission. I went on a trip to London and got the fabric in one of the fabric shops in Goldhawk Road.

The fabrics weren't necessarily very expensive but they were original, particularly the floral print. I had never seen anything like that over here. I was really drawn to the floral print as I thought it would really suit a long column design as the fabric was so bold and so I used it in a long skirt with a mermaid shape and a small pleated train at the back.

The green silk blend kimono top really sets it off.

This wedding dress is my take for a young, modern bride. It has a sweetheart bodice made from ivory taffeta with an Italian hand-beaded lace overlay and a boxed pleat peplum. It has a full tulle skirt with a miniskirt underneath that could be easily adapted for the bride to wear without the tulle skirt if she wanted to.

I also designed and made the headpiece which I think would retail at about £150. I make all my headpieces and I really enjoy that aspect of it. This piece is made up from a large piece of sinamay fabric mounted on an silver Alice band, covered with corduroy ivory lace and mini ivory feathers."

'The Irish coast has been a really big inspiration for me'

Grainne McKee (25) is currently working in the costume department of hit show Game of Thrones and has just graduated from the University of Ulster in Textile Arts and Design fashion. The Cookstown woman now lives in Belfast and will be showing four outfits at the fashion show. She says:

This is my second year showing as I was a finalist in last year's Young Designer of the Year competition and it really helped to bring me to the attention of a lot of important people from the Belfast fashion scene.

The main inspiration for this piece was from the west coast of Ireland, looking at the stereotypical Irish fisherman. I also wanted to do something different and contemporary with natural textiles such as wool, cotton and linen. Often when you see linen being used it can be in a rather old, fuddy duddy way and I wanted to use it in a completely different manner.

This particular piece is a long swing dress with a coat over the top. The dress is made of a wool crepe with sleeves made with a mesh linen mix. The coat is made of boucle wool and I screen-printed the lining of the coat in an oversized orange check to bring it up to date and to give it some hanger appeal.

The detailing of the orange zips – they open so you can put the coat on over your head – and the screening print colour is inspired by the orange buoys of the fishing boats that I saw at Kilkeel harbour while out doing some more research.

I'm happy working on Game of Thrones and think I'd be happy to continue working in costumes as it's just so creative. I'm also hoping to do my own collection for Belfast Fashion Week."


The Clandeboye Festival of Music runs from next Monday to Saturday, and features a packed programme of recitals, concerts and special events. Highlights include the Fashion Show next Tuesday, the Barry Douglas recital on Wednesday and the Young Musicians Showcase on Thursday. For full details and booking information, visit or

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