In conversation with West Coast Cooler Belfast FASHIONWEEK Director Cathy Martin.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In just two days time, the lights will dim within the iconic Ulster Museum, the music will blast, and the first of West Coast Cooler Belfast FASHIONWEEK models will sashay down the über glamorous catwalk of their new home...........girls FASHIONWEEK is back!!!!

As the countdown to the Spring/Summer'13 shows nears it's end, FASHIONWEEK Director Cathy Martin very kindly took a few moments out of her incredibly busy schedule to chat about what to expect from this season's FASHIONWEEK, her passion for nurturing the talent's of Northern Ireland's fashion creatives and reflect upon what has made FASHIONWEEK so special as it enters it's fifteenth season!

FASHIONWEEK Director Cathy Martin being interviewed for BFWTV by Katie Larmour at the SS'13 Launch.

There has been much anticipation for this season's FASHIONWEEK as it debuts in its new home, the Ulster Museum. What impact do you feel the venue has made on the FASHIONWEEK experience for attendees?

It’s a very chic venue and an iconic building so it’s really great to be there. We did a beautiful MaxMara show in the atrium in October and everyone loved the venue, so we thought we’d bring all of FASHIONWEEK here for a nice change.
The one thing which has impacted audience members with this move is the fact that our capacity is smaller, so less people will see each show unfortunately… We also had to increase ticket price slightly to help pay towards costs and I worried about that, especially as we had a couple of initial online groans, but we sold out again anyway - which proves that people will pay for quality when it comes to a nice event – and I’m delighted  that so many have done that, particularly given the current climate. To be honest I could sell Friday and Saturday night’s shows twice over, but I’m just going to enjoy them once each this season and look at next season when it comes.

Whilst FASHIONWEEK favourites such as the Independent Boutiques, NI Designers and High Street shows have returned, this season we have a new face in the form of George at Asda, what do you think they have brought to the mix?

Lots of people are value shopping at the moment, and George offers some really great looks at affordable prices. In fact George is bucking the trend for retail growth and seeing winning sales figures across all its Northern Irish stores. This is down to a great team and also to the product on offer and how it is marketed.
In the industry, George has a reputation for embracing and nurturing some of the very best of British and Irish design talent – as sponsors of Graduate Fashion Week they handpick graduate designers straight out of the top colleges, to work alongside George's team of in-house designers to adapt their collections for the high street and day to day life. The ranges to date have been a huge hit with George customers of all ages and have flown off the shelves within minutes of going on sale. So although the fabric might be slightly different or less luxurious on individual garments compared to a designer piece, the look is not compromised.

A sneak peek at some of the key trends from this season's FASHIONWEEK Launch at the iconic Ulster Museum.

FASHIONWEEK is now in its fifteenth season and continues to be hugely successful, it's certainly the highlight of my fashion calendar, and has been for many years. What would you say is its enduring magic?

I think it’s because we bring great fashion to the mainstream. I aim to offer a bit of fashion theatre, not just your average run-of-the-mill show; and that means investing in really great models, fantastic photography, stylists, hairdressers etc.

There are amazing creative talents in Northern Ireland, and I like to nurture them. I know I have my favourites and find it hard to move away from them sometimes, but who knows, we may do some wonderful things for our tenth anniversary next year.  I just wish that I had enough money to invite people to take part as there are some fantastic stores and designers out there in our small world whose work I’d love to showcase.

Looking back over the past fifteen seasons what has been your personal FASHIONWEEK highlight?

My very first FASHIONWEEK in 2004-5 was filmed by MTV and that was pretty cool for me starting out, but there have been so many exciting moments since too.
I really loved the car park show in Victoria Square in Autumn 2010. Anyone and everyone who saw it was wowed. Plus the catwalk was so long and wide and everyone in the audience had a great view, it’s a shame they aren’t  taking part this year. The City Hall dome dress I commissioned with Lizzie Agnew in 2009 was a pretty iconic moment too. I also loved the creativity and complete bonkers-ness of some of the hair shows over the years – the Alice in Wonderland one by Michael Quinn and Paddy McGurgan in Spring 2010 was great – and Paul Stafford did a very Alexander McQueen looking one in City Hall in 2009 – it was really ethereal and so very cool.
Front pages of the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph, News Letter and Daily Mirror still wow me to this day plus I get such a buzz when the media take an interest in someone or something from  the shows. The models, designers and crew we’ve set on the path to stardom – or just been lucky enough  to use as their stars were in the ascendant - have given me some great, motherly pride moments. I remember with tenderness seeing Jude Nabney’s first BFW campaign, Grainne Maher’s first show, Naoise Tan’s first wobbly walk – and even Siva from The Wanted having his first kiss with his now girlfriend (a former dresser and now amazing shoe designer) backstage at our 2008 shows.

As a regular attendee of FASHIONWEEK over the years, I can't get over the sheer level of talent we now have in our local designers, and FASHIONWEEK continues to be the perfect platform for them to showcase their talents! What are your opinions on our current crop of NI designers?

A few years ago we only really had Michelle O’Doherty and her assistant – a young Donegal lady called Una Rodden. Fast forward ten years and Una leads a pack of creatively masterful talents. I love her own in-house protégé Katie Wilson as well as Shauna Fay, Ruedi Maguire, Grainne Maher, Rachel McKnight, Susan Black, Sean Henri Van der Simon and so many more. I would love to own a studio and boutique to showcase and sell all their products, as well as host a show featuring all their ‘best of’ moments, but failing that, I think our local buyers and retailers should support them as much as possible and sell their wares.
People assume that fashion is a bitchy industry, but it’s not at all in my experience. Bring creatives together and there may be fire at times, but the results are always amazing if everyone works hard! I have found a lot of respect in the industry and I love giving help and advice where I can. I do hate time wasters and ‘takers’ though.

As a stylish working woman, you always manage to keep one step ahead in the style stakes, which of this season's trends have you been adopting into your wardrobe?

I am going back to co-presenting the shows alongside Katie Larmour who does our BFWTV as our popular choice Zoe Salmon is not available, so I have to think about what I’m wearing instead of grabbing something backstage at the last minute. I love the whole head to toe white look and have some fun looks up my sleeve for the shows. I am planning on wearing a skort for the first time in my life - at 40, who’d have thought!? Ruedi has also made me a fun dress from his collection too; it’s an adaption of one he showed last season for this spring and I can’t wait to wear it as it has a nice cartoon shape! That’s two out of three nights sorted and still Style Sunday to plan for as well, but who knows what might turn up at the shows and end up in my wardrobe!

As for day to day, I always wear a kind of uniform of skinny jeans, silk blouses and interesting blazers as well as my array of boots. I’ll be rocking some more florals and metallics where I can for night time, as well as digging out my old white stilettos for a whizz.

Certainly as an audience member i've enjoyed watching the evolution of FASHIONWEEK over the years and as it enters it's fifteenth season I'm extremely excited to see what Cathy and her FASHIONWEEK team have up their sleeves! Again I must thank Cathy for taking the time to do this interview and I hope you've enjoyed reading about the highlights of FASHIONWEEK's gone by, as well as getting a sneak peek of what to expect from this week's shows!

While Friday and Saturday's shows have sold out, there are still some tickets available for Thursday's opening show, George at Asda available form the Belfast Welcome Centre Box Office 028 90246609 or online via the links on

Hope to see you all there, and for anyone who can't make the shows don't forget to check out my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for all my latest FASHIONWEEK biz direct from the FROW, as well as my blog post round ups from the shows!

All photographs taken by Stephen Potter.

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  1. Another fab blog! Can't wait for BFW. Looking forward to the new venue also. I have my FROW ticket for Designer/Boutique night. Gina x

    1. Really glad you enjoyed reading it Gina! Was great to get Cathy's perspective's on FASHIONWEEK & I hope you enjoyed the shows as much as I did! Louise x