It is fair to say that Northern Ireland does not have the international reputation for glamour enjoyed by the likes of Paris, Milan or New York, but that does not mean that we lack a knowledge of, and love for, all things fashion.
As Belfast cements its position as a European destination, so it's retail infrastructure has evolved to include some of the most prestigious outlets in the world. A wealth of exciting young designers, make up artists, hair stylists and label owners who are competing for business on a global stage. And then there are the fashion festivals that take place annually in Belfast and Derry.
Belfast Fashion Week this year takes place mainly in the chic Belfast Fashion Week headquarters on Belfast's Bruce Street, running over four days from March 19-22.
The event showcases the newest spring and summer trends as designed by Northern Irish, as well as international, designers, with more dramatic designs unveiled each night. Events will include a charity dinner, a modeling competition and, of course, an array of catwalk shows, which Culture Northern Ireland will be there to film.
Belfast Fashion Week founder, Cathy Martin, has no patience for anyone who thinks that Northern Ireland's fashion identity is more geared towards guddies than Gucci. 'I love our style,' Martin asserts. 'For the most part, people really make an effort and wear it well. In Northern Ireland, we spend more per capita [on fashion] than anywhere else in the UK.'
Sara O’Neill is one Northern Irish designer whose work will be showcased during Belfast Fashion Week. O'Neill is also a vocal champion of Northern Irish style.
'Like any city, Belfast has a lot of different styles,' O'Neill comments, 'but because it is such a small city all those styles tend to mingle together in one big melting pot, which you don’t necessarily get so much in larger cities like London, where different style tribes stick to certain areas.'
There is no denying that Northern Irish designers are having their moment in 2015. Amongst those also taking part in Belfast Fashion Week are millinerGráinne Maher, who recently launched an all new website and series of designs with funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland' and rising star Chloe Dougan, named as one of Culture Northern Ireland's 'Artists to Watch 2015'.
O'Neill is an illustrator-turned-designer who creates prints inspired by Irish mythology, from The Children of Lir to The Salmon of Knowledge. (The main image above shows a piece from her latest Children of Lir series.) She also works to reference Northern Ireland's long history of textile production, printing her designs on silk and linen.
In stark contrast to O'Neill's soft and ethereal look, Dougan's dresses are all about drama, with rich hues, heavy lace and plunging necklines common features. Maher, meanwhile, is a couture milliner who creates flamboyant hats these days marked with zingy neons, plumage and sharp cuts.
Cathy Martin, however, is the fulcrum around which all things Belfast Fashion Week spins. A well-known voice on local radio, Martin began her career working in PR for some of the biggest names in the business, and has since developed a passion for discovering and nurturing Northern Irish creative talent.
When looking for an outfit for your next night out, Martin observes, it can be tempting to stick to the same tried and tested high street stores. But thinking outside of the box can bring its own rewards – authenticity, originality, the satisfaction of supporting and promoting local designers.
Then there are the models who bring the carefully-chosen Fashion Week designs to life. Again, here Martin is keen to give a platform to emerging talent.
Belfast Fashion Week 2015 kicks off on Thursday, March 19 with be a modeling competition to find faces for the catwalk. 'Healthy bodies, height and a classic look with strong facial bone structure and a good mouth' are key criteria for what Martin's model scouts will be looking for.
Friday evening's catwalk show is dedicated to exhibiting the wares of Northern Irish designers, whilst Saturday will be the turn of the high street chains to hit the runway.'
Fashion fans should prepare for an array of zingy colour with a palette of citrus bursts,' says Martin, ever on trend and in the know, 'especially bright yellows and lime greens jumping to the fore.
'An eclectic mix of vintage prints and fabrics inspired by fashions of the 1970s will also abound, with full flared trouser silhouettes and belted in waists everywhere. For evening, feminine ballerina shapes and fabrics give a delicate alternative to the bolder stripes, prints and colours for day wear.'
Finally, Sunday will see a charity lunch in aid of Mencap, where fashion lovers will be able to pick up tips on make up and more whilst tucking in to lunch.
For those looking to expand their fashion horizons and support local creative talent, Belfast Fashion Week is a must-see event, undoubtedly the highlight of the Northern Irish fashoin calendar.
Belfast Fashion Week runs from March 19-22. To view the schedule or book tickets, visit the Belfast Fashion Week website.
By Siobhan Fenton