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13-year-old joins models at Belfast Fashion Week launch

A 13-YEAR-OLD schoolgirl from Co Down was among 20 of Ireland's top models who helped launch Belfast Fashion Week, despite concerns she is too young to take to the catwalk.

Darcy Brittain-Dissont modelled several of the hottest trends for the upcoming Autumn Winter season, which were showcased at the show's launch in Life Church on Bruce Street.

Crowds packed into the city centre venue where they saw the Hillsborough teenager model ahead of her catwalk debut at Fashion Week in October.

It comes just weeks after criticism that the schoolgirl, who attends Friends School in Lisburn, is not old enough to enter the world of adult modelling.

13-year-old joins models at Belfast Fashion Week launch

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The 13-year-old was unveiled by CMPR managing director Cathy Martin on her Facebook page, along with a series of professionally-shot photographs in which the child posed suggestively in denim hot pants in a children's play park.

Children's charities expressed disquiet with Barnardo's NI commenting that it "supports... guidelines that models should be at least sixteen".

Ms Martin defended her decision earlier this month and said all potential models "are interviewed with parents or guardians - to assess their personality and maturity for the job".

"We found (her) to be a responsible and mature 13-year-old who wants to model, and has chosen to do so with her parents' consent," she said.

Darcy's mum Brenda also spoke publicly of her support and stressed her daughter's education was also vitally important.

To mark the twentieth season, 20 models hit the stage yesterday for the launch of the West Coast Cooler Fashionweek, which returns from October 15 to 18.

Some of Ireland's top models showcased the new Autumn/Winter 2015 styles - giving fashionistas a taste of what to expect at the show itself, including suede, bright colours and fringe detailing.

Local designers and independent boutiques will showcase their ranges as well as international high street brands.

Speaking at the launch, Ms Martin said: "In terms of trends for this season, fashion fans should prepare for a stunning palette of winter brights, particularly oranges and pinks, and these will be used a lot in modern, graphic prints as well as in bold, block colours.

"It’s also time to rummage through your Grandma’s wardrobe for inspiration, as tweeds and prints akin to chintzy interior fabrics abound.

"In terms of fabrics and textures, winter often brings more interesting tactile looks, and this season suede and luxurious velvet are celebrated as well as a bit of fluff and fur."

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How an all-accepting attitude can help the fashion world lead the way

It is fashion’s duty, to paraphrase Nina Simone, to reflect the times in which we live. There’s no doubt that’s true.

But sometimes, rather than simply hold up a mirror to society, the fashion industry is actually responsible for reshaping that reality. One way it does this is by breaking taboos and bringing marginalised ideas into the mainstream. Take, for example, the current visibility of transgender people, and discussion of transgender issues that is occupying general discourse. Yes, that’s a development reflected in the fashion world with unprecedented casting of transgender models. But that we’ve even got to this point is thanks in part to the pioneering work of visionary creatives.

Aesthetically, the blurring of the traditional lines between genders, and explorations of androgyny, are recurring themes in fashion and they’re rife on the catwalks once again. Gucci is currently putting a gender-neutral ethos, and to some extent cross-dressing, in the spotlight. New designer Alessandro Michele is dressing male models in womenswear, and vice versa. Since their unspoken strategy is that sex sells, letting him sell this ideal of sex is as revolutionary as his designs.

Meanwhile, the Agender project at Selfridges explored the gender gap earlier this year, selling clothing without labelling it as men’s or women’s in response to customers shopping across the gender divide. “We wanted it to be provocative – challenging ourselves, as well as engaging with conversations around the gender tipping-point,” says Linda Hewson, Selfridges creative director. It seems that, right now, and more than ever before, people are delving deeper into unisex aesthetics.

Lea T, a transgender model and muse to Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, has been much in demand since the designer gave her her big break in 2010, when he cast her in his campaign in order to help fund her gender-affirming surgery. She then went on to lock lips with Kate Moss on the cover of Love magazine in spring 2011. So far, so ground-breaking.

But T’s most recent role has been arguably the most important . This year – as the face, and locks, of Redken hair colour – she became the first transgender model to front a campaign for a global beauty brand. Beauty campaigns are coveted by models because they are lucrative; and they’re lucrative because someone who spends their time surrounded by spread sheets thinks that they model they choose will help add another digit to the bottom line.

So, while it’s great to see transgender models on the catwalks or in style magazines, this could be dismissed as headline-grabbing. But when someone puts their money where their mouth is, and decides that this idea of beauty is the one they want to sell to women around the world, it validates their community in a very high profile way.

And with T’s beauty brand debut being followed closely by that of fellow transgender model Andreja Pejic, whose campaign for Make Up For Ever launched last month, we have further proof of the appetite for diverse depictions of beauty.

Before her transition earlier this year, the Serbian-born, Australian-raised model (then called Andrej) appeared on the catwalks of both men’s and women’s designers thanks to an androgynous aesthetic. Now the casting of transgender models is becoming almost routine. In this year’s spring/summer shows, models such as Juliana Huxtable and Hari Nef (a vocal advocate for trans visibility and rights) appeared in New York and Pejic made her post-transition debut in London. But just as important is the trickle-down effect, which brings catwalk ideas to brands that are more accessible.

Swedish label & Other Stories is building a reputation for exploring diversity in its fashion campaigns, and the latest is something of a landmark – created as it was by a team of transgender models and creatives. “The fashion world is embracing transgender models and we think that’s great. But we couldn’t help but ask ourselves how the traditional fashion gaze can change if we keep the same normative crew behind the camera,” explains Sara Hildén Bengtson, creative director of the brand.

It’s an important step in the right direction, believes Nef, who stars in the campaign alongside Valentijn de Hingh. “I was thrilled that I got to shoot next to Valentijn because we are such different body types,” she says.

“I think it’s important that people see there is not only one way to look trans, or one way for trans people to be beautiful. While an all-trans team on a campaign is what we need now, I would love to see a more casual and sustained employment of transgender fashion artists – models, photographers, stylists, make-up artists. There should be a mix.”

Caitlyn Jenner has been embraced by the fashion world (Getty)

Caitlyn Jenner has been embraced by the fashion world (Source: mint green bridesmaid dresses)

The campaign was shot in the brand’s Stockholm atelier by Amos Mac, the co-founder of trans male quarterly magazine Original Plumbing, who had wanted to photograph Nef for some time. “I can’t tell if this beautiful campaign is a step towards diversity in the industry because it is so pointedly trans, and I don’t know if that means it will inspire the higher-ups in the fashion industry to diversify who we see on magazine covers or who gets the jobs. What matters to me is, for even one young trans person to see this campaign, filled with the work of visible trans adults, and realise that their experience matters.”

Nef herself believes that, while we may currently be celebrating a chosen few, that’s too few altogether. However, she is keen to point out that the lives of most trans people are a world away from the glamorous existence of an in-demand model: “Increased trans visibility has coincided with an increase in violence against trans folk – especially trans women, and trans women of colour. Representations of trans people in the media can work to demystify and de-stigmatise the trans experience, but they can also work in the opposite direction.

“Trans issues will only stay in the limelight for so long, but the struggle for trans rights will outlast it by decades. So brands and artists that want to engage with the trans experience need to be thinking about why they are attracted to this issue in the first place. If it’s just about being trendy, then the work will just feel trendy.”

Or in the words of Caitlyn Jenner, who has been embraced by the fashion world since making her debut: “I’m not doing this to be interesting... I’m doing this to live.”

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Meet Acler, the Cool New Label By Cameo’s Former Designer

By now you’ve almost certainly heard about Cameo, the cool fashion label heralding from Australia that bridges the gap between runway trends and your budget. However you might not know Kathryn Forth, the head designer who took Cameo from a fledgling Aussie fashion label to an international hit.

Forth has a knack for interpreting runway trends into modern, flattering clothes that a fashion girl with a modest budget can wear on almost any occasion—or, when it comes to the more casual looks in Cameo collections, any non-occasion. Now, she’s left Cameo to channel her energy into a project of her own: She’s partnered withJulia Ritorto, the former head designer of Cameo’s sister label, Finders Keepers, and together the pair have released Acler, a hip new label based in Sydney but stocked online and at retailers worldwide.

The debut collection has just started to hit stores (yes, it’s available in the U.S.) and offers what Kathryn describes as “feminine draping and androgynous tailoring.” Unlike Cameo however, Acler isn’t exactly a budget brand—the line starts at $200 for simple dresses and tops and caps at around $700 for more detailed pieces. (Still less than your favorite runway brands, which is a plus.)

Read on to find our more about how Kathryn and Julia’s new label came to be, and check out some key pieces from the collection.

Acler label

Photo: Acler

What made you leave Cameo and Finders Keepers to start your own label?

Julia: I’d taken Finders Keepers from be being fairly unknown in the Australian market to international success in a few short years. I felt like my work was done and I knew I was ready for a new challenge.

Kathryn: I wanted to work with Julia of course! We had always loved working side by side on different projects but always wanted to create something together.

I heard it takes 12 months to create each piece—why so long?

Julia: We really wanted Acler to rebel against two-dimensional cookie-cutter design. So much of the fashion that is out there at the moment is following the high- street formula. Really price pointed, churned out quickly, disposable. We wanted to pull our brand away from the chaos, we give ourselves a six month design window allowing us to redraft and redrape along the way. Each design has the time to take on its own form naturally, and we have the ability to focus on finishing and attention to detail.

Kathryn: A really tactile design process is also important to us. Jules and I try as much as possible to step away from the computer and do everything by hand, including hand sketching designs, hand draping ourselves, and hand drawn artwork. It is really easy for a design to look flat or disjointed if you are conceptualising it on the screen. Of course a big part of a tactile design process is picking amazing fabrication, and that is absolutely paramount to the Acler product. Our debut collection for Spring Summer 2016 has some beautiful fabric sourced internationally, like Italian embossing, textured Korean acetate blends, and soft washed silks.

What were some of the biggest challenges leaving your jobs to launch your own business?

Julia: I think you can never be prepared for what’s needed when starting your own business. I do feel like it would be a breeze to just design again [for Finders Keepers] without the business side of things, but I love the challenge of being thrown in the deep end. It’s daunting and so incredibly rewarding.

Kathryn: Being all over every aspect of the business has been so exciting. We have been forced to learn so many new skills and have really surprised ourselves by how we have been able to adapt to so many roles.

Acler label

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Did anything surprise you about starting your own brand?

What has surprised us the most is that everything so far has gone to plan! Seriously, life never really does and we’ve hit all our milestones, and we are totally on track—to us, that is surprising!

Where can we buy the collection right now?

We’re stocked in some really beautiful retailers across Australia and the U.S. like Satine, Mimi Nola, Revolve, and Canvas. We’ve also been picked up by Australia’s biggest department store Myer, which is fantastic.

How often will you release new collections?

Four times a year with small capsules dropping in store every month. However, we are looking at introducing a new collection six times per year in the very near future

Where is Acler being manufactured?

We source our fabrics from all over the world, and have the advantage of having great relationships with our manufacturers in both China and Hong Kong. We work really closely together to bring both quality and and attention to detail to each and every piece. We’ve also started manufacturing in Australia.

What’s next for Acler?

We’d love to see growth into Asia and the U.K. We’d also love to crack the Northern European market, with Sweden and Denmark being high on the target list. We have had some successful collaborations with artists and stylist to date and feel it’s such an important part of evolving as a brand. We’d like to keep moving with this and potentially delve into other areas like footwear and accessories either on a collaborative level or as part of Acler’s collections.

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