Sparkling Nadine Merabi is the queen of the catwalk
Claire Middleton talks to the former junior hockey star now making headlines in the fashion world
WHILE her former international team-mates have enjoyed their golden moment on the pitch, Nadine Merabi has been enjoying glittering moments on the catwalk.
An ex-England Under-21 striker, Merabi has ditched lycra for sequins and become an international fashion designer. From tackling the GB stars, she now dresses them.
And it all started, she says with a bin-bag and some scissors while on an Under-21 training weekend in Lilleshall.
“We were given a team bonding challenge, and told to make a dress from a black sack, some scissors and a bit of masking tape,” she says.
“Obviously most of the other girls did the minimum but I went for the full corset look and was pretty pleased with myself – and I guess that’s when I thought I might quite like doing this.”
It’s a long way from a bit of fun at Lilleshall to employing eight staff and sending frocks all over the world. But Merabi has acted on her quick wit, her rebellious nature and speed on her feet to become a respected designer in an extremely competitive world. Much as she did as a player, to be fair.
“Didsbury was my first club where Barbara Walsh, Kate’s mum, was coach,” she said. “She already had Kate and her sister Rachel in the car so she sort of took me under her wing because two or three hanging around made no difference.
“I then went to Bowdon Hightown, again with Kate and Rachel, and got involved with England Under-16, Under-18 and Under-21.”
She was good enough to make the Junior World Cup team in 2001, going to Argentina as vice-captain alongside Kate and fellow gold medallist Alex Danson.
So, her hockey credentials are impressive.
Academic life took her to Bath University where she studied sport development and coaching – quite why, she’s not sure now – and joined Clifton, while also playing for the university under Bobby Crutchley, now the England men’s coach.
“He was like a mentor to me and when I saw him recently he said he thought I had always wanted to do something more creative than play sport,” she says.
“I think people saw that in me before I saw it myself but I guess I was always a bit of a rebel, always getting in a bit of trouble.”
After university she returned to Manchester and also to Hightown, where she took her first steps in clothing design. She laughs.
“We got sponsored kit and I said if we were going to be sponsored we should look good, so Tempest let me design our playing outfits,” she said.
“Of course I printed ‘Bowdon’ on our bums – sex sells in hockey you know – and I enjoyed doing it.”
Her first conscious move into fashion came when she got fed up with being unable to find things to wear. Let’s face it, that’s something practically every woman feels most of the time, but we don’t all set about doing something about it.
She says: “I got frustrated and I thought: ‘It can’t be that hard to make a dress,’ so I bought a sewing machine and looked on YouTube to see how it worked.
“Then, about five years ago in December I hired a rail in a pop-up shop for £120 a week, made my first collection and found that by the end of the month all 20 of them had sold out. That was pretty amazing because I hadn’t mastered zips at that point so none of my dresses had any – they were all pull-on, stretchy things.
“That January, Brooke Vincent, one of the actresses in Coronation Street, called me out of the blue and wanted to wear one of my dresses to the National TV Awards. She was on the front page of lots of the papers and from then on it’s been mental.”
That chance call then led to another communication and another steep learning curve – this time from Selfridges, in London.
“They said they wanted to see some samples and could I come to head office. I put all my dresses – about 10 – in a bag and went in there,” she said. “They said they’d like 80 of this and 100 of that and when could I deliver them.
“I panicked and said three months. They said that was perfect. At that stage I didn’t even have paper patterns, I just cut them out freehand on my floor, and I had no idea about manufacturing. I had to get to grips with it all pretty quick.”
When we speak, she has just come out of a meeting with another Corrie actress, Catherine Tyldesley, and with the party season in full swing, life has been pretty full on.
The Great Britain women’s goldmedal success has enabled Merabi to catch up with her former teammates, dressing most of them for the Golden Hockey Ball at Tower Bridge earlier this month. You would also have spotted Merabi frocks on Sam Quek, when she left the celebrity jungle, while Georgie Twigg and Kate Richardson-Walsh sported them in front of the million watching the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.
The good news is that Merabi is not lost completely to sport for she has vowed to play summer hockey at Bowdon in 2017. For now, though, fashion is her priority.
“I have no regrets,” she says. “I loved hockey at the time but I was happy to put down my stick when I had the chance to be more creative.
“It’s been great seeing so many of the girls again and it’s been fabulous dressing them and feeling like I’m giving something back.”
Merabi has acted on her quick wit, her rebellious nature and speed on her feet to become a respected designer
Model player: Nadine Merabi’s designs are affordable, red-carpet glamour
Stylish: Nadine Merabi in 2008 playing for Bowdon
Big night out: Merabi, right, hangs out with the stars such as Hollyoaks actress Steph Davies
Glitzy: It started with a binbag and a pair of scissors