Sunday 30 April 2017

Walking the walk in a Garden of Eden

Model behaviour: Orla Casey, left, and Laura Rumball
Model behaviour: Orla Casey, left, and Laura Rumball
Isabella O'Grady with her mother Paula O'Grady.
Emily Accardi
Robyn Lynam
Rebecca Buckley
Tara Mooney
Alan Ryan
Alex Byrne
Charlie O'Reilly
Emer Hyland

Constance Harris

I was a jaded fashion editor when I walked through the Radisson Blu St Helen's Hotel Stillorgan's doors last Sunday to see a fashion show organised by Down Syndrome Ireland.

Yet another show, and on a Sunday, I had sighed. When you've seen one catwalk show you have seen them all, I internally griped.

I could not have been more wrong. When I went into the Radisson's Pembroke suite, I was entering a Garden of Eden and one of the most enjoyable fashion shows I have ever been at.

I say Garden of Eden because having never been around people with Down Syndrome en masse before, I was struck by the atmosphere they create: one of fun, complete acceptance of people and all-loving force. Surely that was what the Garden was originally.

The atmosphere at the show was electric for the entire three hours it lasted, which is remarkable considering most fashion shows last between 15 to 30 minutes before people get bored. We still wanted more.

It was testimony to the great models, children and adults with Down Syndrome, and their fantastic performances - modeling and dancing.

MC Gar Haskins, brilliantly supported by DJ Graham Mulcahy, told us of the models' achievements; Orla Casey earned an A in Italian for her Junior Cert, Sile Maguire won several silver medals at the 1990 Special Olympics, Victoria Doherty works in TV3.

Never have I seen such besotted, proud parents, families and friends. There were tears of joy in many of the big, bold dads' eyes, their children showing off and doing brilliantly; I heard wives telling them off for being fools, but of course they were just deflecting from their own emotions.

Yes, it was an emotional show. But putting those aside, the models, men and women with Down Syndrome, made the show brilliant.

As were the outfits they all modeled. If these are what the clothes donated to Down Syndrome Ireland's stores are like, we should all be rushing there.

The show was the brainchild of Kathleen Fitzsimons, Down Syndrome Ireland's fundraising manager.

"Thirty dresses were donated in May," Kathleen told me at the show, "and when I saw them I thought - we have to do a fashion show. It would be a fantastic way to use the ability of people with Down Syndrome," she emphasises. "People don't realise people with Down Syndrome have huge ability - they are going to school and getting amazing results, they are working. They are brilliant."

Kathleen and everyone involved at Down Syndrome Ireland are forces of nature. The show was organised within weeks. The Radisson Hotel group wanted to support the organisation so they sponsored the venue in their beautiful St Helen's property. Arnotts personal shopper, Clara Halpin, did a fantastic job working with parents and models on the styling side, while Elizabeth Arden supplied the make-up and make-up artists.

"An event like this requires a massive amount of good-will to organise," Kathleen explains. "Without all our wonderful volunteers and the parents who are so dedicated, we wouldn't have been able to do any of this. We are so grateful always to all our sponsors and volunteers and the parents who really are magnificent."

After the show, when I said to Kathleen how impressive all the models were, both on the catwalk and in their private lives, she responded.

"Some of the parents came out to me after the show and said that they couldn't believe people with Down Syndrome can do all that and hold a job," Kathleen explains.

"It was very important that people see that the older ones do so well in life and in college or school or work. It is very important for the parents of the younger ones to see that, too, because they are at the beginning of it all."

Next time Down Syndrome Ireland organise a show, be there. No matter how tired, jaded, or a know-all you are. This is an event that should never be missed.

For Down Syndrome Ireland store information, see: www.downsyndrome.ie

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