A County Armagh mum has spoken of her pride after her two children and brother took part in Paris Fashion Week this month.
Her son Jackson (9) and daughter Hailey-Jane (10), both stormed the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week on the weekend of September 30 to October 1.
Also taking part was Paula’s brother Michael Knipe. Michael is 17-years-old and has Down’s Syndrome.
Paula, who works in Bluestone, has been designing her own clothes for six years with her kids sometimes modelling under her brand.
Paula says that it was videos on YouTube that initially drew her daughter to the glitz and the glam of the modelling life. They tried it out and from then “everything just took off” and Paula made contacts and her kids got signed up with a number of modelling agencies.
Before Paris, they’ve taken part in London Fashion Week and have been invited as far away as New York and Milan.
“My wee girl is really into fashion. She’s very artistic and loves drawing. She’s so good at it. She actually knows more about fashion and models than me, to be honest.
“My wee boy loves it too, but Hailey-Jane is all business!”
Paula adds that for Michael, taking part helps with the challenges of life with Down’s Syndrome.
She said: “Michael really, really enjoys it. The night before a show, he doesn’t sleep all night. He’s ready to rock and he puts his thumbs up. It’s just really amazing to see and really magical to be able to give him that.
“I think it helps them so much because when you have such a severe disability, there’s not so much for them to be able to get involved in. For him, he loves attention, so with so many people clapping for him he’s just all smiles and he wants to high-five everybody!”
Before COVID, Paula was designing her own clothes, taking part in the Switzerland Fashion Show and London Fashion Week with her own designs. She then met another designer who asked her if she would like the kids to walk for them in the Paris Fashion Show.
“So far, it was my favourite fashion show,” Paula said. “All the famous people were at it. We got to meet Anna Wintour, the Vogue Editor, and we got to meet Paris Hilton. They were all walking the same catwalk so it was really awesome.”
Paula says that Paris was one of their biggest shows yet, and one which they all “absolutely loved”.
“After this one, my wee boy keeps asking, ‘Mummy when are we doing the next one?’ I think it was just really surreal to be there and to get to the point to be invited to something like this.
“There’s thousands of people backstage getting dressed. There’s kids, there’s adults, there’s famous people, so you can imagine how chaotic it is.”
Paula adds that the shows have been huge confidence boosters for the kids and for Michael too.
“I was really proud of them because they handled it well and they enjoyed it. They were just really into it and couldn’t wait to get dressed. They’re very confident as well, because when they first did the walk a few years back, you could see how stressed out they were. Now, they just walk onto the stage, stop with the photographers and pose. They just love it.
“Even with my wee brother Michael, he doesn’t talk, but when he walks on the stage, he is all smiles. What I found really nice in Paris was that the whole room started clapping and he was just so happy… It was a really surreal experience.”
The future seems bright for Jackson, Hailey-Jane, Michael and, indeed, Paula, as they hope to be taking part in the Paris Fashion Show again next March, before heading to Milan in September.
Added Paula: “Hailey-Jane dreams of being a designer in the future. She has already created many drawings and ideas and they have so much fun with them. They’re always looking forward to the next shows and it’s always their choice which show they want to go to next. It’s all a hobby and fun for our whole family!”
Their next event is the CHABS Belfast Kids Fashion Show, which Paula has helped to organise. It’s a Cancel Cancer Africa charity event set to be held on November 20. Those wishing to take part can register here.