Ruth Campbell meets the no-nonsense fashion consultants who are urging women to try something new. But whatever you do, don’t compare Belinda and Gail to Trinny and Susannah. That’s not their style 

BELINDA Alexander and Gail Little are rapidly flicking through the rails of a stylish boutique in Harrogate, pulling out garments they like the look of, putting outfits together quickly and decisively.

The sought-after fashion consultants have just selected the perfect spring wedding outfit for a client, a petite, 60-year-old mother-of-thebride who lacked the confidence to choose something for herself.

“People do not want to look like the archetypal mother-of-the-bride, but some shops sell outfits that look more like grandmother-of-thebride,”

says Belinda.

This particular client looks simply stunning in the classic blue lace, knee-length dress Belinda and Gail select for her, with a cashmere throw covering the top of her arms. They teamed it with nude shoes. “Good legs,” says Belinda, encouragingly. She suggests a “hatinator”, to finish the outfit off. “It’s more than a fascinator, half a hat, almost like a Frisbee on a hairband,” she explains.

The soon-to-be mother-of-the-bride sets off, bags in hand, clearly pleased with her purchases.

Finding the right outfit for a high profile event like this can be many people’s idea of shopping hell, but she has clearly enjoyed a reasonably stress-free few hours.

Belinda, a former Vogue model, and Gail, a former model and radio presenter, clearly know what they are doing. And they don’t mess about.

They met more than 20 years ago while on the books of a modelling agency in Newcastle.

Belinda, one of the last catwalk models for the famous couturier Norman Hartnell, also worked in public relations for the groundbreaking Way In in-store Harrods boutique, and styled and sourced models for large-scale fashion shows all over Europe. She eventually ran her own successful modelling agency.

As well as modelling, Gail worked in newspapers and radio and was head of promotions and marketing at Radio Tees before the pair embarked on their new career together as personal shoppers and stylists.

Their North Yorkshire-based company, Fashion People, which also organises fashion show events, has hundreds of personal clients from all over the country on its books. The women also give fashion advice in stores such as Barkers, in Northallerton, and in Newcastle’s MetroCentre, where they are known as the Shopping Angels.

They realised they had a knack for this sort of work when other models and friends constantly asked them for help in putting outfits together. The difficult bit was working out how to turn their flair for fashion into a profitable business. They needn’t have worried: private clients are queuing up to pay around £50 an hour to have Belinda and Gail come and detox their wardrobes or accompany them on shopping trips.

Belinda and Gail, who also organise styling and make-up evenings for groups of friends or work colleagues, have often been referred to as the Trinny and Susannah of the North. It’s a comparison they wince at.

“We don’t shout at people or order them to dump their entire wardrobe. That’s not how we work,” says Belinda, wife of the bloodstock agent and producer of Derby winner Generous, Hamish Alexander.

Warm and friendly, they are not at all bossy and people often buy their services as a gift for a friend who needs a fashion boost. “Someone just bought me as a treat for her mother,” says Belinda.

“Most people just need a gentle nudge in the right direction,” says Gail. Many women feel intimidated in some of the more upmarket shops, where the assistants are all immaculate and size zeros, they note. “The last thing anybody needs is to feel uncomfortable. We help build people’s confidence about what they wear and make them feel good about themselves. That is the most rewarding part of our job.”

Some women worry that they are overweight or can’t afford expensive clothes, says Belinda. “It is not all about designer clothes and being a size eight,” she says. “Size doesn’t matter. Everybody can look good. It is not about your figure so much as finding a style that works for you, whether that’s sporty, boho, vintage or classic.

And we will look at whatever a particular budget allows.”

Most of their clients are in North Yorkshire, Tyneside and Teesside, but Belinda and Gail also travel to Edinburgh and London for private consultations.

People of all ages and backgrounds, from young mums to professional working women, come to them for help “To go shopping with a daughter or sister or best friend is the worst thing you can do,” says Belinda. “They always play it safe. We have a fresh approach and offer unbiased, impartial advice. We encourage women to try something new.”

A wardrobe detox, they say, is the perfect place to start. “It helps us understand how people live. Many women hold onto things they haven’t worn for years. They will say ‘But it was very expensive when I bought it’.

“We find so many Dallas and Dynasty-style jackets people hang onto. But they are never going to work any more. We help them let go – we are there as a catalyst.”

One of Belinda’s clients, racehorse trainer Ann Duffield, hired her for a wardrobe detox and a shopping trip in Newcastle. “Finding clothes I had forgotten I had and matching one item with others to produce outfits I didn’t know existed, was a real achievement… money saving too,” says Ann. “Buying the right clothes is not as easy as it sounds, especially for someone like me who has little interest in fashion but is bound to make some effort. Belinda was brilliant.”

“We try to empower our clients to take control of their wardrobes and have confidence in the choices they make,” says Belinda. “The important thing is, we don’t try to impose out own taste – the service is not about us, it’s about them and their lifestyle,” adds Gail.

Once they’ve sorted out today’s client, Belinda and Gail, both in their 50s, spend some time selecting and modelling outfits for themselves.

Belinda chooses a daring, bodyskimming animal print dress, not something many women over 40 would choose to try on. But she teams it with a belt and pair of anklelength black boots, to create a fashionable, edgy look. It suits her.

“We are not suggesting women in their forties and above dress like teenagers,” says Gail. “But they needn’t dress like old ladies either.

You can be middle-aged without being middle-of-the-road.”

  • T: 07747-111702