As supermodel Erin O’Connor returns to the spotlight (she recently walked in Burberry’s SS23 show and has been inducted into Claridge’s Hall of Fame) we look back at an interview with the Irish model from ten years ago…
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ABIGAIL ZOE MARTIN
Erin O’Connor is an international supermodel, television personality and writer. She was born and brought up in England, but her father is from Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. O’Connor was discovered by a scout at The Clothes Show Live in Birmingham and since then has modelled for Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Prada and appeared on the pages of Vogue, W, Harper’s Bazaar and I-D, among others. She is one of the only living people to have appeared on a postage stamp, shot by Nick Knight, and was famously told by Angelica Huston, “You’ll never be pretty, but you’ll always be magnificent.”
*This article was first published in December 2013.
It’s what Erin O’Connor calls her Pretty Woman moment. When Karl Lagerfeld told her to go shopping and choose anything she wanted. She’s still incredulous as she tells me this; ergo she has a lot of Chanel in her wardrobe. Her latest acquisition is a pair of calf length, black patent boots with signature link chains – think Adam Ant meets chic biker. She tries them on in my presence and confides she’s not sure how they work or if they’ll fit. “My theory is it’s because I did so much ballet as a kid and my arches are so high.” Needless to say they fit perfectly and will no doubt be archived with the rest of her carefully curated designer wardrobe, spanning 20 years of modelling. She’s only 35 but already a veteran. Her favourite item? “A pair of gold Dries Van Noten cowboy boots. They sound mad but brighten up any look.”
She’s just landed from New York and confesses to being a tad jet-lagged, not that you’d know. Her skin is luminous with only a trace of tinted moisturiser. She’s wearing a black polo-neck sweater, a vintage skirt with an orange swirl and black boots, all accentuating her willowy frame – variously described as etiolated, Modigliani-esque and androgynous. Up close she has charisma and exudes intelligence.
She looks at the rack of Chanel Cruise 2014 she’s about to model and has already decided which is her favourite dress, confessing that the Flapper overtones of the collection is “her era”. Apparently, her sisters called her “Coco O’Connor” when she was growing up, such was her preference for Breton T-shirts. She evokes Madame Chanel’s poise and confidence as she lounges on a sofa in front of the Coromandel screen or at the imposing mantelpiece in one of the VIP suites – all part of Peter Marino’s fabulous redesign of Chanel’s flagship store in London’s Bond Street. Behind the scenes is an extensive Chanel Academy decorated with Karl Lagerfeld drawings, and archive photos which O’Connor muses would look great in her new house. She’s moved lock, stock and barrel from New York after six years in the Big Apple and is setting up home in Dulwich with her partner, where she’ll spend Christmas. She can’t believe, “it’s only nine minutes to central London by Tube”.
Remarkably down to earth and as if to prove her Irish roots, O’Connor goes into a broad “Norn Irish” accent. She comes back to Ireland at least four times a year – in May for the Auld Lammas Fair, August and October – on the ferry. She takes a cabin and wouldn’t miss the experience.
Tubes? Ferries? It’s not what you’d expect from a Super, who’s been anointed by Karl as “one of the best models in the world”. She’s currently a co-presenter with Naomi Campbell and Caroline Winberg on The Face – Sky Living’s reality model show. “It was filmed back in May and I’ve kept in contact with all my girls. My mum critiques every episode for me,” says O’Connor, gulping down a sandwich and swapping gossip with Kay Montano, celebrity make-up artist. Names such as Amber (Le Bon) L’Wren (Scott), Amanda (de Cadanet) and Idris (Elba) pepper their chat and O’Connor’s humour shines through. She’s a great mimic, especially of Australian accents and wants to know if Cate (Blanchett) of whom she is a huge fan, won the Glamour Woman of the Year award.
Erin O’Connor walking in Burberry’s SS23 show. Photograph via ImaxTree.
She reminisces about a shoot for US Vogue with Caroline Ribeiro and dancing to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive at Moschino’s show during Milan Fashion Week. There is much admiration of her engagement ring from Solange (Azagury Partridge) although she says little about her fiancé other than he is taller than her. That’s a bonus, given that she’s six feet tall. “Sadly I can’t wear Nicholas Kirkwood’s heels because if I did I wouldn’t clear the doorframe,” she says self-deprecatingly.
And then she gets to work – bringing the clothes to life in inimitable fashion. She tells me it was Richard Avedon who really taught her the tricks of the trade. “He was the first to embrace my height and profile and taught me how to move.” She glides from pose to pose effortlessly, with no histrionics.
Does she suffer from the ubiquitous Nothing to Wear syndrome? “All the time,” she says and, as if to prove a point, she starts fretting about an imminent television appearance. Montano suggests looking through some look books. However, O’Connor seems sold on the Chanel dress she’s just worn and I’m sure Karl will comply. She exits in full make-up and a smile.
Erin O’Connor on …
An Alternative Career
I would have liked to become a school music teacher. That or a slapstick comedian – I am an enthusiastic mimic, but only of those I love.
A model’s career has a finite shelf life and I choose to make the most of it while I can.
I have a lot of lovely stories about working with Jean-Paul Gaultier – he is possibly the nicest, funniest man I’ve ever met. An avid reader and cinema fanatic, he has indirectly educated and liberated me over the years.
Working with Naomi has always been a dream. She mentored me when I first began in the business and she is known for looking out for young British models. As a fellow mentor on The Face [on Sky Living] she is a force to be reckoned with. She has a razor-sharp memory and does not miss a trick. We share a common ground when it comes to striving to bring out the best in our models.
For me a good model is a girl with a unique and striking face, someone at whom you look twice but you’re not immediately sure why. It’s a cliché to say that this is an important attribute, but without it, you are literally a blank canvas. The idea of challenging the perception of existing beauty excites me.
How thin is too thin? When a person’s health is being compromised.
When I was a little girl I loved Pierrot. I also love Liza Minnelli in Cabaret, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Diana Vreeland, the instigator of all things brave and eccentric.
My advice for an aspiring model is to treat modelling as a business, not a lifestyle. Recognise and put into practice your personal boundaries – we are all different and sometimes other people can impose on you even if it is unintentional. Learn to self-preserve – it’s very liberating.
I maintain my physique by lifting weights three times a week – it’s an empowering, focused sport that requires strength and discipline. It’s strangely addictive! That and ballet, a lifelong passion.
I have considered plastic surgery, yes. When I was a teenager I wanted to reduce my nose and boost my bosom. It took me a few tough years to accept my body as it was, as it was intended to be in its original state. Ironically, the industry gave me confidence by celebrating the things I had considered to be my flaws.
In terms of ageing, I am completely unconcerned. Anything beyond those anxieties I managed to overcome as an adolescent seems redundant and pointless.
Taking Time Out
Walking, walking, walking … either in woods or by the coast and specifically in the UK. When you travel a lot, the most exciting thing of all is to explore home.
The Perfect Day
My perfect day is a snooze after reading the papers, a mooch around a vintage market, a glass of red and back to bed.
I do have regrets and I’m usually reminded of them when I’m a heartbeat away from making another one – it kind of keeps me on the straight and narrow!
I’m proud of achieving independence and working hard towards becoming self-sufficient. That and having my face appear on a postage stamp.
Images from top to bottom:
Black and white paillette and tulle dress. Camélia Brodé multi-strand white gold, pearl and diamond necklace; 1932 Soleil white gold and diamond ring; Camélia Ajouré white gold and diamond cuff. Two-tone leather pumps.
Black and white tulle and paillette dress. Nuit De Diamants white gold and black diamond earrings. Shoes as before. All Chanel.
Black and white crepe dress. Shoes as before.
Full look as before.
Styled by Imogen Loveday Brown. Make-up by Kay Montano. Hair by Noriko Takayama at Untitled Artists London.