Platform Belfast: Fashion, Fierce, Fabulous

Fashion, visual arts and music mix at Northern Ireland's newest DIY fashion show

The world of the tilt ‘n’ flick, heel to toe, prêt-a-porter fashion show is a fickle, heartless and avaricious environment, yet for a callow young designer, it can be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Take Anna-Marie Henderson, for example, a talented up-and-coming Northern Irish designer who had the opportunity of submitting her work to a high profile Belfast show (the name of which she would not divulge) not that long ago.

'They lost my designs!' she recalls, incredulous. 'Not only that, they then bumped me for a London designer. One of the organisers told me that this person had come in last minute and therefore I was off the show.'

It was this comical, careless and utterly callous treatment at the hands of the regional branch of the self-appointed 'beautiful people' that planted a seed in Henderson’s head and with it, that unexpected opportunity of a lifetime.

'I was thinking, if I want to see a London designer, I’ll go to London. But I want to see local talent being showcased here, in Northern Ireland, accompanied by local bands and local artists – a serious celebration of Northern Irish creativity. Not every young designer can afford the huge fees to even have a chance of showing at Belfast Fashion Week, for example.'

And so the concept of Platform Belfast was born. A dynamic multi-media, multi-coloured swap shop and community of creative individuals who put on shows that incorporate fashion, design, art, live music, make-up artistry, photography and the odd hat or two. Drawing more from east coast cool than West Coast Cooler, Platform has taken on a life of its own since it began with a test photo-shoot in Henderson’s parents' garage.

'I got to thinking: why can’t I do this myself? Get a group of people together – photographers, designers, make-up artists and models and work together as a collective? I was wondering what the catch was and why it hadn’t been done before.'

It turns out that the timing for this perfect storm was accurate to the second. Artists and designers leapt at the chance to work together and the first Platform fashion event took place during summer of 2011 in the Black Box venue in Belfast.

'The theme of our first show was 50s vintage fashion and the response was amazing,' beams Henderson. 'Talented people wanted to get involved and loads of people came to see the show. It really made us realise that we had something that people were genuinely excited about. It took on a life of its own and now we’ve got real momentum and a brilliant range of artists involved.

'We have people like the photographer Michael Kerr, who has been with us from the beginning, and hairdresser Bill Harris. He offered to do the hair for the last show and let us use his salon all day Saturday. It’s all about connections and supporting each other and all sharing in the recognition,' she emphasises.

In a slight nod to the spirited DIY punk ethos behind Platform, the second show (which took place in early November 2011 in MediaZoo Studios) had a new wave post-punk flavour to it. Huge backcombed hair, tartan togs and evocative and appropriate soundtracking from Sons of Robert Mitchum, Uber Glitterati and No Matter set up an evening that was as fun as it was fashion fabulous.

What impressed most of all about that event was that even though the show was undoubtedly a serious business – with designers, make-up and hair artists milling around, putting last minute touches to sartorial creations while models patiently waited to pout and stride out of the traps – the atmosphere was less than rarefied.

Platform Belfast

Punters at the bring-your-own drink event ranged wonderfully from proud parent to hipster, from fashionista to fashion-vacuum. It was a creative and convivial environment in which people didn’t feel the need to check out what the person next to them was wearing. Unless their flies happened to be open (and it wasn’t a deliberate design feature).

Platform is another thrilling demonstration of the genuinely alternative and self-driven cultural ventures that seem to be spontaneously germinating in Belfast these days, incubated away from the spotlight of glossy local media.

Henderson adds: 'I do this for the love of it. I’m not interested in celebrity. I was a seamstress for Rhianna when she came over and she was really unpleasant. I’m more interested in dressing normal women. Making Platform accessible to everybody as an artist or spectator is really important.

'Nobody involved is doing it for the money. While it would be nice to make money, of course, it’s first and foremost about our dedication to our creative vision and to support one another. If one designer or model gets special mention or picked up, we’re all really excited by that.'

Henderson insists that Platform is not a one-woman show, however. She namechecks many of her collaborators like the excellent, uncategorisable Scream Blue Murmur (another arm of the loose Platform collective) and designers with a vision beyond providing Pamela Ballantine with sympathetic lame spanx.

'Even doing this interview it might seem that it’s all driven by me, but it is really a collective of many great people. A creative explosion,' Henderson asserts. 'I want designers to be able to come and show their work at Platform and for them to achieve success. We’re becoming this huge thing now, where artists and bands approach us to take part.

'We have designers with Platform who have managed to show at Belfast Fashion Week and other designers existing in menial day jobs at the moment – like rentokill or Dominos! They all share a huge creative talent and a frustration at the lack of access.'

Henderson and the Platform team already have ideas for future shows and other (for now) hush hush Platform projects. 'I have a few ideas I would like to develop,' says Henderson, 'but right now, I’m really happy with the momentum we’ve got.

'I want people to come and see for themselves what we do. It’s great to get 2,000 people liking your stuff on Facebook, but we want them to come and get involved and see Platform for themselves. Seeing it firsthand will explain it better than I ever could!'

Visit the Platform Belfast website below for more information. Photographs courtesy of Michael Kerr.