Couture on the Coast

First ever fashion extravaganza at Barry's Amusements planned to restore the glitz and glamour of Portrush past

There are a number of things that come to mind when we think of Portrush; breathtaking beaches, world-famous golf courses and fond memories of family days out. But after a heyday of decades past, many might argue the seaside town has fallen somewhat out of style.

That may be about to change this autumn, with a first ever fashion extravaganza planned to restore a certain degree of glitz and glamour back to perhaps its most beloved attraction.

Cindy McKendry, manager of Miss Selfridge in Coleraine, is pulling together a wealth of creative talent from across Northern Ireland for Cirque, which will take place at Barry’s Amusements, Portrush on September 1. Hot on the heels of last year’s successful Symphonic show at the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, Cirque promises to deliver a fashion feast for the senses.

As a not-for-profit event, all proceeds will go towards three chosen charities - the Samaritans, Women’s Aid and the NI Cancer Fund for Children. Attendees can subsequently expect an evening stacked with style, as up to 10 top designers showcase their new autumn/winter collections.

'We’ll have Shauna Fay, who designed a dress for this year's BAFTAs, as well as Grainne Maher – an award-winning designer from Belfast,' says McKendry. 'Milliner Marie-Claire Ferguson will be showing, along with Nor Lisa, Portrush’s Sara O’Neill, and Claire Garvey from Dublin.

'Gordon Donaldson is also coming, and the fabulous designer Eamonn McGill – who recently designed for the Golden Globes - will showcase his collection. Jewellery designer, Melanie Bond, is also involved and each designer will show about 10 outfits from their new collections.'

A truly collaborative creative project, all of this fabulous couture fashion will be paraded by professional models from Belfast agency, CMPR. Make-up, meanwhile, will be done by Rosie Pritchard, who has worked on Game of Thrones, plus Rosemary Wright, Tiffany Faulkner, Julia Clements and Leanne Godfrey - who has worked on London Fashion Week.

Symphonic Main.jpg

Design worn at Symphonic at Crumlin Road Gaol in 2015

'We have top Northern Ireland hairdressers and make-up artists who will be creating the looks for the show, as well as top photographers coming to shoot it as well' says McKendry. 'We’re trying to create a real fashion adventure for people and attract fashionistas from all over the country.

'I think it’s the first time designers like this will be showcasing their fashion in Portrush, and on the North Coast. We’ll have a marquee supplied by eventco, which will be the changing area for the models, and we’ll hopefully transform the area into a Big Top, with fire-eaters, hula-hoopers and jugglers. There are a lot of fashionable North Coast ladies, so we’re bringing couture designers to their doorstep.'

Cirque guests will enjoy canapes upon arrival, including macaroons and other sweet treats from Dora’s Tea Room, along with a glass of bubbles of course, and Bushmills whiskey cocktails. A full couture fashion show will then follow, compered by former BBC broadcasters and the North Coast's own Alan Simpson and Sarah Travers. 

High street fashion will also get a look-in, while all of the featured designers will be in attendance. The charities will have a space at the show too.

'It will definitely create a bit of a buzz in the local area,' adds McKendry. 'A lot of local firms are also coming on as sponsors, although we still have room available for others to get involved.'

As for the all-important after-party, this will be hosted by Ramore Restaurants, where food will be provided at their popular Gin Bar. Although admitting that logistically, it will be tough to organise, McKendry is confident the creative talent involved will collaborate to great effect.

Symphonic new

Designs by Gráinne Maher, Shauna Fay, Gordon Donaldson and Marie-Claire Ferguson at Symphonic

'Our set design is going to be delivered by Kerry Dunn,' she says. 'Kerry is known all over Northern Ireland, having worked for UTV in the past, and people will also know her as director of the highly successful Portrush Music Society shows. I’m delighted to have her vast knowledge and experience on board. Electric Alphabet is also providing our light-up signage, and LSFX Productions will be doing sound and lighting.'

Artwork for the show will come courtesy of Derry-born and now London-based artist, Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden – recently commissioned to create artwork for new eaterie, Melba at The Savoy. Her triptych of drawings, dubbed The Legend of Melba, was the first bespoke body of work a woman had ever produced for the famous hotel.

Coleraine branding company, Zing have been elected to create the banners and invitations, and award-winning photographer Catherine MacKenzie is responsible for promotional images. Derry designer Joseph Carlin will also be adding his creative input, while there are 'some fantastic media partners' lending added support.

'I hadn’t planned to do another show so quickly after Symphonic last year,' says McKendry of the first fashion show ever held at former Belfast prison-turned-visitor attraction. 'But Causeway Coast and Glens councillor, Stephanie Quigley, was there and asked if I’d do another one. She asked what location we would like and I said Barry’s would be amazing, as I like to do shows in unusual places.

'The amount of people who came from Coleraine to see the show last year was just astounding. I was overwhelmed by the support. We're hoping the Belfast fashion crowd will now follow us back to the North Coast.'

In the lead-up to the September show, a Facebook page has been keeping followers posted with the latest updates, and plans to share photos taking a nostalgic look at fashion trends through the ages.

Showgirl by Dawn Coulter Cruttenden

Showgirl by Dawn Coulter Cruttenden, commissioned by Cirque Fashion Show

'Everyone used to come to Barry’s to parade their fashion in the '50s and '60s. It’s just an iconic place and has a special place in people’s hearts. Also, there’s nowhere nicer than Portrush in September, so guests can enjoy a full night of couture fashion along the seafront.'

With the popular Air Waves Portrush – aka the Northern Ireland International Airshow –taking place in town just after the show, it’s the perfect opportunity to make a weekend of it, she adds.

'The whole purpose of Cirque is to showcase the absolute breadth of talent that we have on our doorstep. It’s going to be everything you’d expect of a London show - but in Portrush.'

As a prelude to Cirque, an exhibition will also take place at the Arcadia during the month of August, charting the evolution of fashion and music through the decades. Some local artwork will also feature, while the history of the Arcadia and Barry’s will be woven into the installation, allowing visitors to enjoy a trip down memory lane as they peruse old photos and various memorabilia.

Members of the public are now being encouraged to get in touch if they have any memories or old photographs they’d like to share, for possible use in the exhibition. What particular song/musician defined the era you grew up in? What were you wearing at the time? Were you treading the boards at the Arcadia dance hall in the 1950s? Were you a Teddy Boy, a Mod, a New Romantic…? Did you go to see the Stranglers play in Portrush? Were you at that sell-out Darts concert at the Arcadia? All anecdotes are welcome and can be emailed (with any photos) to:

Cirque takes place at Barry’s Amusements, Portrush on September 1. Tickets are £25 and include supper. The fashion/music exhibition will run throughout August at the Arcadia, with free entry.