Soon to celebrate its 20th catwalk season, Belfast Fashion Week (BFW) has gone from strength to strength in the past decade. Ciaran Mullan chats to Ulster University graduates, Chloe Dougan and Julia Sokele, who were talented enough to have their collections featured.
Compared to Paris, New York and Milan, Belfast may seem an unlikely place to have a strong fashion following and community. However, Belfast is in fact the first UK city (apart from London of course) to have its own Fashion Week.
Now in its 11th year, the week-long spectacle has gone from strength to strength. Since its inception in 2004, there have been 19 weeks of catwalk shows, taking place in March and October each year. The March shows preview style and trends for the Autumn/Winter season, while the October events showcase future Spring/Summer looks. There has been an array of themes, locations and quirky events to set apart BFW from other events around the UK. In October 2013, the event took place in the historic setting of the Ulster Museum. The new clothing creations were modelled amongst the impressive ancient artefacts of the museum.
BFW March 2015
So what about this year’s event? Proceedings kicked off on 19 March in BFW’s new home at 11a Bruce Street. The Thursday, Friday and Saturday were devoted to catwalk shows, ranging from high-street style to an evening of designer boutiques and local designers. The week culminated in an event at SHU restaurant, with a dinner evening and a more intimate show. The team of experts from behind the scenes came forward to give style tips and answer fashion dilemmas. Make-up maestro, Paddy McGurgan, was also on hand to discuss skincare and make-up, while Brenda Shankey from BFW’s hair partner, Jason Shankey Hairdressing, shared hair care secrets.
Blacks, nudes and striking reds were the bold colour choices of Ulster University graduate, Chloe Dougan, exhibiting for the second time at BFW. Her range contained a quirky and personal take on materials like leather, fur and embellished lace. The 23-year-old Textile Art, Design and Fashion graduate is currently artist in residence at Ulster University.
“Ulster University provide me with studio space and equipment to perfect my work.”
Her time is spent meticulously working on her clothing range, whilst also acting as a mentor to current fashion students.
She comments: “Ulster University provide me with studio space and equipment to perfect my work. This is hugely useful and beneficial to me as a designer and maker. I am also there to offer advice or guidance to students currently doing the course which is a really positive aspect of it”.
Chloe also speaks of the ‘unusual’ and ‘exciting’ venues that Belfast has to offer for these showcases. For her final year show, she exhibited pieces in T13 Skate Park in Titanic Quarter, which she describes as ‘ideal’ for a contemporary take on the fashion show platform.
We also spoke to Julia Sokele, another Ulster graduate from Textile Art, Design and Fashion, who presented her work at BFW’s October 2014 event. Julia’s decision to pursue a career in fashion stemmed from her mother who has worked in the industry for many years. Her collection, in contrast to Chloe’s, opted for a softer colour palette of bright whites and creams.
Julia’s Spring/Summer 2015 range is notably different to her Spring/Summer 2014 collection, seemingly a conscious decision. “I wanted to move away from the blacks and reds featured in the 2014 range and just focus entirely on the bare whites and creams and think more about structure. My style is consciously minimalistic and simple. I’m not a fan of garish patterns. Instead of getting lost in a pattern design my focus is aimed at creating timeless, well-fitted pieces, which at the same time are also new and forward thinking.”
Her range has definitely fulfilled this description – Julia’s work has been featured in publications such as Northern Woman Magazine and Ulster Tatler, as well as local blogs, Ireland AM and local and international press.
Nurturing local talent
BFW has become a staple in the Northern Ireland events calendar further cementing NI as a contemporary place to live and work. It not only provides a window for local designers to unveil their work, but also supports and nurtures local talent. The legacy of the event is felt throughout the year, not just during the two, week-long events in March and October.
“They gave me creative freedom to produce the work which I envisioned.”
Ulster University provides courses in Fashion and Textiles, Public Relations, Advertising and other creative disciplines which contribute to the success of BFW and the local fashion industry as a whole.
When asked about her time at Ulster, Julia says that the course helped “fulfil her creative vision”. She speaks highly of the lecturers, “They gave me creative freedom to produce work which I envisioned”.
Any aspiring designer or creative visionary can emulate the success of Chloe and Julia, provided they are as hardworking, determined and talented as these two young women.
(Image Credit: Stephen Potter)
(Image Credit: Khara Pringle Photographic)
(Image Credit: Norwood Photography)