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'I wanted to work in fashion but no shops would take me on, so in a moment of madness I just went for it myself'

Building up the hugely successful clothing store Rosie’s Closet is the result of hard graft and long hours against the odds for boss Rosie Farrell

By Stephanie Bell

It is a name which has become synonymous with style and glamour not just here in Northern Ireland but across the UK and the whole of Ireland. All the best dressed ladies have made Rosie's Closet - opened by a mum-of-three who couldn't get a job in fashion retail - their go-to shop for special occasions.

The family-run boutique, which will dress this year's Miss Northern Ireland for Miss World, has carved a niche in the competitive fashion world because of its wonderful personal service and vast range of show-stopping dresses carefully sourced from all over the world.

Google the name and it won't be the brands of these stunning party numbers that are popping up on Gumtree and eBay but the proud boast from the seller that it is a Rosie's Closet gown.

The boutique in Co Down has turned picking a party dress into an occasion in itself with an approach similar to that of wedding dress shops.

You don't simply browse the rails and try on a few dresses hoping to find something fabulous.

Instead, Rosie Farrell books her clients in for a personal appointment and will spend three or four hours on average helping each woman to choose a dress that will not only make them look fabulous but also feel fabulous.

It's a unique approach which has put fashion-loving Rosie on the map, with regular clients flying in from England and Scotland when they need a dress for a special occasion.

As the summer approaches and the season for horse racing, summer weddings, college formals and school proms gets under way, for all ages all roads lead to Newry.

Rosie herself says: "It is not just a shop, it is a destination."

What makes the soaraway success of her bespoke boutique even more amazing is the fact that Rosie knocked on the doors of numerous fashion shops asking for work only to be turned away because she had no experience.

With her can-do attitude she decided to go it alone and has proved a natural, watching Rosie's Closet just keep growing since she first opened it just six years ago.

The boutique is a family concern with Rosie (51) and her 22-year-old daughter Kirsty working there full-time while her younger daughter Chelsie (19), who is studying for a degree in business and Spanish, works there part-time.

Husband Michael Farrell also takes care of the store work and mum Mary McNuff is known to all customers for her warm and welcoming tea-making. The only member of the family not involved is son Shane (28), who works as a mechanic.

Rosie's daughters are natural young fashionistas too, who model all the new dresses for the shop's instagram, Facebook and other social media outlets.

Kirsty featured in a True North documentary on the Down Royal races three years ago when she picked up the top prize for fashion on Ladies Day.

Rosie describes opening the shop as "a moment of madness" and says that things could have been so different if another local shop had decided to give her a chance.

Explaining how she had long craved a career in fashion, she says: "I have always loved going to big events. I love everything to do with fashion - fashion shows, magazines ... I just love clothes.

"I decided it would be nice to work in fashion retail. I had no experience whatsoever but I went to a lot of shops and just asked for work. However, no one would take me on because I had no experience.

"I even offered to work for free if they would just give me a chance and let me do a few hours to show them I could do it, but no one was prepared to do that.

"In the end I just thought 'Okay, I will do it myself'. It was a moment of madness but I went for it," she recalls.

Despite her determination, she freely admits establishing the shop has taken a great deal of graft and time: "It hasn't been easy and a lot of hard work goes into it, for example in making sure that we buy the right stock. Certainly, you learn a great deal as you go along.

"At the start, you buy everything you would like to wear yourself, but you soon realise not everybody loves what you do and no two people are the same."

All Rosie's gowns are full-length and are carefully chosen from all over the world. She has an incredible 2,800 dresses in stock, ranging in size from 4 to 24.

Most of the dresses are priced between £200 and £600, with a small selection at around £1,000.

Clients will make an appointment and spend on average three hours with Rosie, whose aim is to help them find what she calls "the X factor".

With so many fabulous gowns to choose from, Rosie has developed a tried and tested process of elimination to help her clients make the right choice.

For her, it is all about a woman's body shape and, based on what she believes will be most flattering for that customer, she whittles the choice down to five dresses to try on - and then brings the choice down to the top three.

"Because the dresses are all so gorgeous it can be very hard to choose one," Rosie explains. "But when the client says they feel fabulous we know 'Okay, this is it'. It is not about buying a dress that is most fashionable but about choosing one that suits your shape. And we always aim to get a woman the best dress for the money they want to spend."

Unsurprisingly, Rosie's experiences have seen her draw up some style rules of her own. For example, she always advises clients "to have the right underwear on to set off the dress".

Interestingly, too, stilettos are not an automatic choice - "I tell clients to wear shoes they are comfortable in, not necessarily high heels," she says.

And not having a fixed idea about what dress you might eventually decide upon is a good idea too. "Always go shopping with an open mind. Don't say 'I don't suit that'. You might think you don't suit it but if it is the right shape and colour you could be surprised.

"The dress has to suit the body shape, so what might suit me won't suit you," she advises.

Rosie prides herself on having a dress to make women of any shape or size look fabulous, which is why she stocks such a vast range.

To show off the many styles, she staged a very special modelling event at the beginning of April.

People of all sizes were invited to apply with their best friend to spend an evening modelling Rosie's dresses.

In total, Rosie invited 50 pairs of friends and provided a hairdresser and make-up artist, with the photographs appearing on her social media sites.

She says: "I wanted people from size 4 to 24 and I was inundated. I had over 1,000 girls apply from all over Ireland and the 50 we chose got to bring their best friend and together try on beautiful dresses and get their hair done. We had so much fun.

"The atmosphere was amazing and we set up a WhatsApp group for everyone. The girls were chatting as if they had known each other all their lives.

"Real friendships were made that night between ladies from all parts of the country.

"I wanted all sizes to show that you don't have to be a size 10 to look beautiful. They were all beautiful."

Rosie's devotion to dressing women and making them look beautiful has seen her reputation spread through word of mouth right across the UK, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Entire families including mums, daughters and aunts show up at any one time and all leave happy with a dress they know makes them look sensational.

Rosie says: "We have the biggest selection of dresses of any shop in the UK and we also have exclusive labels that you can't buy anywhere else.

"We are dressing Miss Northern Ireland this year for Miss World in China and we are really excited about that. It is a real chance to showcase our beautiful dresses on the world stage.

"Every event a dress is bought for is important to us and every girl who goes to her school prom is representing our shop.

"We cater for all the special occasions - weddings, the races, charity balls, school proms, Holy Communions and confirmations and we have the reputation for having the best choice.

"We have clients who come from everywhere, from Cork to Donegal, all over Northern Ireland, the UK and the Isle of Man."

Given the choice of dresses, a typical visit to Rosie's Closet can last a considerable amount of time. "Clients don't come here for 10 minutes, they will spend four hours on average," says its proud owner.

Rosie's two daughters, her mum and husband all enjoy helping make the shop a success.

Rosie says: "There is no need to encourage my girls when it comes to modelling dresses for social media, they just love their style.

"Every dress that comes through the door is modelled by them and they have to always be ready with their tan on and their hair and make-up done.

"We try every dress on to get an idea of the cut and fit. We will try it out on different skin tones, hair colours and age groups.

"We do long hours and it's a family run business and we are usually all working four nights a week."

Her 84-year-old mum, Mary McNuff, has also become a big part of Rosie's Closet and the personal relaxed service her clients have come to expect. Mary volunteers to make tea and biscuits for everyone who visits the shop.

Rosie says: "Mum is the hidden gem of Rosie's Closet. She runs a free tea shop and offers coffee and biscuits and refreshments to everyone who comes in through the door.

"She is one of our biggest assets and has a great knowledge of football and sports.

"She has great craic with everyone. People tell me that mum is the reason there is a such a good, fun atmosphere in the shop."

This summer Rosie says the best dressed women will be stepping out in beautiful yellows and soft pinks. Having said that, she doesn't believe in being a slave to fashion as she says every woman should choose clothes according to what suits them.

She adds: "Style is not about what is in fashion, it's about understanding what suits you. Just because something is in fashion doesn't mean you will look fashionable wearing it. Every woman should wear what makes them feel fabulous, regardless of whether it is the latest trend."

Belfast Telegraph

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