Pretty macarons in Bettys tearooms are the inspiration behind a new range of clothing to be unveiled at York’s first Fashion Week. MAXINE GORDON reports

Pictures by Frank Dwyer and Olivia Brabbs

WHEN York-based designer Antonia Aitken premieres her latest collection at Bettys in York for the launch of York Fashion Week on Monday she will have one eye on the cake stand.

That’s because Bettys macarons – those delicate, pastel-shaded mini meringues – were one of the key inspirations behind Yorkshire Dandy, the first collection from her new label, Antonia Houston Couture.

Antonia, who also runs fashion label Blossom & Belle from her studio at Nether Poppleton, has reverted to her maiden name for her new label, which will feature one-off, tailor-made pieces, in the finest Yorkshire wools and luxury silks.

The wool has been hand selected by Antonia from Marton Mills, a traditional Yorkshire textile mill in Wharfedale. “I visited them and when they showed me their samples, they made me think of Bettys cakes – and a plate of macarons!”

Violet and pistachio as well as pale pink and peacock blue all feature in the capsule collection. Lemon silk appears too, as a lining. “I took the fabric samples into Bettys and coincidentally they all matched their macarons,” said Antonia.

The styling is all very retro, with homage paid to stars of the silver screen. “Yorkshire Dandy is an androgynous look – there are palazzo pants, tweeds, waistcoats, frilled shirts with big bows. It’s all very Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn.”

There are some modern twists aimed at a younger audience too: teeny tailored shorts in a bright pistachio wool; a backless halter-neck top in off-white silk, and a strapless mini-dress in Yorkshire tweed with a matching belt.

One of the showpieces is a full-length tailored coat, in pistachio with violet detailing.

Antonia has also teamed up with local print makers Meiji designs, who have hand-dyed some of the silk to be used in the collection. One of the pieces is a beautiful dress, with devoré details, in a wash of violets and blues.

“The market is every age group,” says Antonia, who prides herself in making clothes to fit women real women.

“I want women to feel and look good in my clothes – and they come back again and again.”

In her spacious studio, clear boxes are stacked up in a corner, each containing the patterns for bespoke pieces made for her clients. It means should one want a new dress, Antonia has all she needs at hand to run something up for them.

It’s one way to guarantee that you’ll never turn up to a special occasion wearing the same dress as another woman, says Antonia, who is from Larne, in Northern Ireland, but has lived in York for the past 10 years with her husband Ian, and three children, Danny, 19, Lara, 17 and Tiana, 11.

Antonia launched Blossom & Belle five years ago – making wrap dresses for women who had just had a child and wanted something flattering and easy to wear for their post-pregnancy figure.

Designing to make women look their best remains Antonia’s guiding ethos today.

“One of my clients came to see me saying they were going on a diet. I said: ‘see how you feel after I’ve made you something'.

“Afterwards, she didn’t want to go on a diet. She has the most gorgeous hourglass figure and she looks beautiful.”

Antonia also makes wedding dresses and mother-of-the-bride outfits – and will continue doing so, but under the Antonia Houston Couture label.

Her muse and model is her eldest daughter Lara. But just as Antonia was beginning work on her Yorkshire Dandy collection, Lara faced a cancer scare. She found a lump in her neck, that needed to be removed – leaving a 15-inch scar. Happily, it was benign and the teenager has made a full recovery. She will be one of the models showcasing Antonia’s work at a fashion show in the Belmont Room, Bettys, St Helen’s Square, on Monday – which will kick off York’s first Fashion Week. The event is already sold out.

Antonia has also teamed up with other York creatives in two other events for Fashion Week.

On Friday morning, Antonia will be joined by York fabric designer Sophie Roberts of West Plum Studio, York, for the It’s A Wrap event at Pairings Wine Bar, Castlegate, from 9.30am-11.30am. On show will be some wrap dresses and children’s dresses made by Antonia and featuring Sophie’s striking geometric designs – all on organic fabric.

York make-up artist Sonia Schofield will be on hand too, offering free mini makeovers and answering any skincare and make-up questions.

Children and babies are welcome. The event is free of charge but space is limited so booking is essential.Booking is through Eventbrite, with details on the York Fashion Week website.

Later that Friday evening, from 6.30pm, Antonia will be collaborating with Rose & Flo milliners of York in an evening of couture hats, fashion, hair and beauty at Grays Court Hotel. Saks Hairdressing York and Estee Lauder beauty will also be taking part. Tickets cost £35, which includes Grays Court High Tea, a complimentary glass of prosecco and luxury gift bag worth £50. Again, tickets are available through Eventbrite, with details on the York Fashion Week website.

York Fashion Week runs from Monday to Sunday with a packed programme, including many events for children and families.

The full programme is available online at: and