This week on RTÉ we all watched Fearless, the documentary about Cork-born editor of Glamour magazine in New York, Samantha Barry. The film was co-produced by Debbie O’Donnell (also originally from Cork) of Seahorse Media in Dublin – we asked Debbie to tell us about her experience of filming and what it was really like behind the scenes.
How the shoot came about … “Our work paths had crossed a few times over the last year two years and I always found Samantha an engaging and interesting person with an inspiring story to tell. When Anna Wintour called her ‘fearless’, well, I felt then that her story must be told. The access took time; I met Samantha in New York a year and a half ago when I was there for New York Fashion Week and I discussed the documentary idea with her. She liked it so we went from there.”
My overall impression of working at the heart of fashion in New York? “It was everything I had expected and more. Not only is it a serious publishing house but it also has a very sophisticated content studio called Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE) where they create all the content for their various channels and titles. There were at least five to eight studios in operation at all times, each creating different series for different titles. It’s a seriously impressive set-up.”
Anna’s desk … “To start with, Anna’s office was divine. It has spectacular views of New York as it’s located on the 28th floor of the World Trade Centre. The room is littered with stylish photos of herself with various celebrities. It’s very neat and orderly, almost clinical, with her infamous dark desk but tempered with a subtle softness by beautiful fresh flowers. Every single thing had its place and was carefully managed to maintain an overall muted tone. There was no doubt that this was the office of someone with a strong interest in visual aesthetics. The most dramatic thing in the room was Anna herself, in a strikingly patterned dress. And even that seemed to match the vase that was placed on the desk behind her. She chose to sit in front of the desk to do the interview and she sat in her iconic steel paint-splattered chair. This very chair was the one that also featured in Vogue’s 73 Questions and The September Issue. It looks like a standard steel chair but it was designed by metalworker Xavier Pauchard for Tolix. I’m totally obsessed with it.”
On the fashion cupboard … “I was beside myself with excitement when I got to film the fashion cupboard! And it was exactly as I thought it would be. Rows upon rows of shoes and hats and endless rails of designer clothes. The rails consisted mainly of up-and-coming designers as it was the day of the CFDAs and various guests were being dressed by the Vogue stylists. As I’m a shoe lady, it was the rows of shoes that caught my eye; I was in heaven as every brand you could imagine was there and available in every size.”
How did you choose what to wear? “With great difficulty! What do you wear when you’re sitting in front of one of the most influential people in fashion? I opted for a sustainable beige jumpsuit from Zara, simple and classical with a houndstooth blazer from H&M over my shoulders. It was important for me to feel comfortable and confident in what I was wearing.”
How shooting had an impact on the fashion front … “As we were filming in November, the weather was cold. In fact it was snowing so keeping warm was a big factor in my wardrobe choices. The days were long so comfort was also key, and the longer I spent there working, the more understated my wardrobe became. The style in the Condé Nast office was understated and chic: no one wore heels or anything formal at all. Inspired by their casual style, I found myself buying a classic, crisp white shirt. When it came to the awards themselves, the fashion varied from full-length glam to more casual chic. Samantha and the magazine team championed American designers on the night. Jane Fonda wore a fabulous tailored black suit and Charlize Theron wore a spectacular strapless white gown. Feeling a little pressure, I wore a full-length Umit Kutluk skirt with an obi belt and my new fresh white shirt. It was perfect because as I was working, it was really important to feel comfortable.”
How being Irish helps Samantha in the job and sets her apart … “It absolutely is a factor in her success. The fact that she is true to both herself and her Irishness definitely helps her in her role as editor-in-chief. Her friends describe her as ‘quintessentially Cork’. She never pretends that she knows something that she doesn’t. For example, when she started with Glamour without industry experience, she didn’t know what a fashion ‘run though’ was so when the designers and stylists brought all these rails of clothes out, she asked how much each garment was which is unheard of in the American world of fashion as everyone is usually too cool to ask that question! The fact that she worked so hard in Ireland and abroad to get to where she is now makes her very grounded and relatable. I think also the fact that she has a global perspective makes a difference.”
What I most admired … “Samantha leads by example which I admire. People who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work themselves always make inspirational leaders. And the fact that she identifies with her vulnerability and isn’t afraid to cry in the office or with her team makes her an honest leader.”
My favourite moment … “It would have to be meeting and interviewing Anna Wintour. Getting the opportunity to meet her in person and understand how she leads Condé Nast was definitely a pinch-me moment. While we were filming at Condé Nast over two weeks, I saw her in the office on numerous occasions. Engaging with all the different departments within Glamour and seeing how they all come together was also a highlight. It’s a fascinating business.”
The aspects I’d have liked to explore further … “I’d love to understand more about the Condé Nast Entertainment Unit. It’s so far ahead of anything else I’ve seen in the UK and Ireland I would be interested to see exactly how it works and fits into plans for the future of Condé Nast.”
Hairy moments during the shoot … “Our interview with Anna wasn’t confirmed until well after we arrived in New York, so that was pretty hairy for both myself and my co-producer Steve McCormack. But we both firmly believed it would happen and we refused to think otherwise. A few days into filming in New York and luckily for us her interview was confirmed.”
Where to hang out in New York … “For fashion week I usually stay in the Meatpacking District of New York as it’s near where most of the big shows take place. My favourite haunts are the Standard High Line Hotel, and the Gansevoort Hotel where some scenes from Sex In the City were filmed. We spent a few nights at the Empire Hotel as it was alongside The Alice Tully Hall where the WOTYA were taking place. I’d recommend it.”
Fearless is available to watch now on RTÉ Player
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