For the youngsters starring in a glitzy charity fashion show this week, it's their first taste of the catwalk. Our reporter goes behind the scenes
It's Sunday afternoon in the Pembroke Suite of the Radisson Hotel in Stillorgan and show runner, Kathleen Fitzsimons, is putting her models through their paces in the final dress rehearsal for a fashion show taking place in the hotel next weekend.
There are a few dozen models, aged from two upwards, boys and girls, men and women. One of the youngest models is two-year-old Isabella O'Grady, who's gorgeous in a dusty pink dress. They're a good-natured bunch, listening attentively to Fitzsimons' instructions, and there's little evidence of diva-like behaviour, pouting or tantrums, although Fitzsimons is reprimanded by one model for getting her name wrong as she introduces her.
Oh, and all the models have Down Syndrome, which makes this a fashion show with a difference.
Fitzsimons is the fundraising manager of Down Syndrome Ireland, having joined the charity three years ago after 28 years working in the head office of Tesco Ireland. She got the idea for the show when the charity's shop in Kimmage received a donation of 30 dresses from two women who had been clearing out their wardrobes.
"Some of the dresses were fantastic," she says, "and I thought it would be a shame just to sell them in the shop when we could use them in a way that could raise both funds and awareness for Down Syndrome Ireland, and show off the abilities and talents of people with Down Syndrome."
So the idea of the fashion show was born.
Fitzsimons drafted in personal shopper, Clara Haskins, from Arnotts to help with the styling, and the Radisson offered the venue free of charge. On the day of the show, volunteer make-up artists from Arnotts and a barber from the Grafton Barbers will be on hand. There'll be a pop-up shop, manned by helpers sourced through Volunteer Ireland, and some of the outfits modelled in the show, as well as other clothes donated to the charity, will be available to purchase.
Fitzsimons is keeping costs to a minimum - "I don't like paying for anything," she says - and is hoping to raise money through ticket sales, the shop and a raffle with prizes that include a Tipperary Crystal chandelier and a weekend in Parknasilla.
In the meantime, though, there's a final run-through for the models.
Best friends Ben Purcell (21) from Dalkey, and Charlie O'Reilly (20) from Sandycove, are looking slick in suits. Usually, they say, they prefer sports gear - "the kind of clothes that you'd get in Lifestyle Sports" - but they're prepared to make an effort for the show.
Charlie got his sharp blue suit for his birthday, and has matching blue suede shoes. Ben's black suit was bought for his godfather's wedding, and he's borrowed a Mickey Mouse tie from his dad, Tony.
Charlie, who has spent part of the summer doing an acting course in Bray, has modelled before, and says that he's not nervous at all. "I'm awesome," he says.
For Ben, it's his first time modelling, and he admits he is "shaking a little". When it comes to their turn, both young men sashay down the catwalk with nonchalance, and execute a few nifty moves that look as if they may have taken some practice.
Clara Haskins' assistant, Niamh Ryder, is helping the models choose accessories to complement their outfits. There's a selection of bags, shoes and necklaces, but some of the models are worried that the handbags are hampering their moves on the catwalk.
Tara Mooney is 26 and from Santry in Dublin. She's wearing a long magenta dress with an embellished silver neckline that she first wore as a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding. "I love this dress," she says, looking super glamorous. She is an old hand at this modelling lark, having appeared in an A Wear show a few years ago.
Eoin Dowling is 15 and wearing his trademark spray-on skinny jeans, while Alex Byrne (13) from Malahide is in a blue plaid Superdry shirt over a T-shirt and skinny jeans. His red suede Puma runners are pretty cool, and he says that he's looking forward to modelling in front of an audience on Sunday. "My little brother, Danny, is going to be here."
Laura Rumball (18), from Dun Laoghaire, is wearing a multi-coloured Savida dress with a green sash that she chose from the Down Syndrome Ireland shop in the GPO Arcade. One of the volunteer dressmakers recruited by Fitzsimons altered the dress so that it fits perfectly.
Laura left school in June and is looking forward to starting college in Dun Laoghaire in September. Laura's face may be familiar as she is a poster girl for Special Olympics and a talented gymnast.
Her photo is on the cover of the phone directory. She says that she's not nervous at all, and sure enough, she struts down the catwalk oozing confidence. "I think," she says, "that it would be really fun to be a model. I'd like to do more of this."
Laura's friends Anneke Walsh (19) and Sarah Kate Breen (18) are also appearing in the show. Anneke's dress is black with a sparkly top, while Sarah Kate's is cobalt blue lace, purchased to wear at her 18th birthday party.
Sarah Kate's not sure about her heels though. "They are really sore," she says, although the pain doesn't stop her from putting on an impressive display of hair-swishing when it's her turn on the catwalk.
Anneke is in flat pumps, and looks more comfortable.
Lucy Corcoran (12) from Rathangan is in a white dress and sparkly runners. She will be going into 5th class when school starts again at the end of the month. "I like playing jokes at school, and with my friend, Nathan," she says. "I'm like my dad, he's really funny. But I'd prefer to be a model than go to school."
Victoria Doherty (37) is wearing a sophisticated cocktail dress in black and taupe. She works at TV3 three days a week and says that one of the best things about her job is getting her hair and make-up done regularly. Victoria appeared on Ireland AM last week to promote the fashion show and says that she's not nervous at all.
"I'm used to it," she says, "because of working at a television station."
Tickets for the fashion show on August 16 are sold out, but the pop-up shop in the Radisson St Helen's will be open from 5pm. For raffle tickets see downsyndrome ireland.ie.