Alison Clarke, owner of ACA Models and wife of champion golfer Darren Clarke, is without doubt ‘the first lady’ of the beauty pageant and fashion industry in Northern Ireland.
Alison, who won Miss Northern Ireland 1982 as Alison Smyth and was runner up to Miss UK in the same year, started out as a model whilst working in the bank.
In 1990, she single handedly opened the now longest running modelling and promotion agency in Northern Ireland after starting organising the Miss Northern Ireland competition in 1987, changing the lives of thousands of young women.
Always beautifully styled and composed, Alison was the obvious first choice to kick start our new regular. weekly column - In My Style.
Describe your personal style
I would say I am quite classic style - I don’t follow seasonal trends, however, as I work in fashion and see many shows and shoots, I can get an insight into what’s coming in and out of fashion on a regular basis, therefore it gives me a chance to select what suits me, too. I have got to the stage in my life where I buy the same colours and styles that suit me. I don’t do trial and error any more - I can actually look at a piece of clothing and safely, more or less, buy it without trying it on. I wear a lot of black in the winter and I love neutral and nudes, whites and silvers in the summer. I have a sprinkling of colours, mainly blue, red and pink. I now steer away from certain colours, for instance brown, navy, green and burgundy are not usually on my colour palette.
Where do you find style inspiration?
Working in the fashion industry gives me the bonus of seeing what’s in style on all levels. At ACA Models we provide models for a lot of companies’ websites and look books, so I am able to see previews of what’s going to be on sale.
What is the best style advice you’ve ever received?
I’m not sure I have ever received any fashion advice actually. I think fashion is a personal statement of you as an individual and we can tell a lot about folk just from what they wear, what type of person they are. Working with fashion stylists over the years has probably given me ideas of how to combine different looks.
What is your favourite fashion trend at the moment?
I always think you can never be overdressed. I believe it’s best to be dressed up rather than underdressed. I go for classic stylish pieces, sharp dresses are always a good ‘go to’ because the look can be changed dramatically by footwear.
What’s the oldest item in your wardrobe?
The oldest item in my wardrobe has to be my granny’s mink coat, It was passed down to me and is a cosy little number in the frosty mornings. I also won a dress from Zandra Rhodes when I won Miss Northern Ireland back in 1982 - I still have it too, but haven’t tried it on in many years and I have the evening dress I was wearing when I won the actual contest, too - it was from La Babalu which was in Ann Street in Belfast.
And the most recent?
Most recent is a black tuxedo trouser suit.
What was your worst fashion mistake?
Shopping in sales and buying things I would never wear or thought I would slim into. Buying shoes in the sales half a size too small thinking I would stretch them. All of the aforementioned ended up in charity shops.
Is there a trend you like?
I did love the 80s style - that was when I was in my heyday - think Princess Diana, big shoulder pads and frills.
What shoes do you wear most often?
With dresses I always wear court shoes - no ankle straps. I wear boots in winter with leggings and trousers and I wear trainers with sportswear. And golf shoes when I am walking round following Darren in a competition, to make sure my feet stay dry and I don’t slip back down a hill!
What are your favorite local shops?
I love shopping in individual shops all over Northern Ireland. For the last few years I have been working a lot with Rosie’s Closet in Newry and they really are the biggest dress shop I have ever been in - they really do have a dress for any and every occasion, in every size and colour.
I also shop locally in Coleraine as I live in Portrush. Couples there is an amazing shop for smart casual combinations, great coats and one of my favourite brands - Joseph Ribkoff -I love it.
Then in my home born town Strabane, I would travel to Cilento where I love their Elisa Cavaletti brand amongst others. Lesley, the owner, is Darren’s cousin so I’m keeping it in the family, lol!
In Belfast it’s hard to beat Victoria Square Shopping Centre and Cruise - which is moving into House of Fraser under the Flannels brand very shortly. I cannot wait to see that as it’s something Northern Ireland doesn’t have - a whole floor dedicated to luxury items.
I do like to treat myself at times too, although being a farmer’s daughter, I am always on the lookout for a bargain or a good discount!