Minnie Meets… Paul Costelloe

My appetite for insight and information in relation to the fashion industry is almost insatiable. When I was younger, I would sit around the dining room table and pester my parents and siblings with information about upcoming Irish designers, trends and the changing landscape of the fashion industry. It was obvious to everyone that I needed an outlet. Thus, I started this blog.

In those early days, I documented various red carpet appearances and trends which had filtered from the catwalk to the high street. I love to ask questions. Honestly, I do. Whether that’s sitting beside an elderly lady on the bus and chatting to them about the weather or interviewing one of my favourite fashion designers, I get a genuine buzz from hearing their personal anecdotes and insights.

Thus, when an opportunity arose for me to speak with the renowned fashion designer, Paul Costelloe, my excitement was immeasurable. We discussed the role of business conglomerates in the fashion industry, the importance of being yourself and our mutual love for being Irish. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of it!

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How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

Personally, I’m difficult. Professionally, I’m probably reasonable – in general – to work with. Tolerant too, I think. You’d probably have to ask those who work with me.    

Speaking of employees, how would you describe your team at Paul Costelloe HQ?

Well number one, I keep it very small. This is so I’m not under financial pressure. There’s no real point in paying out money when it’s not necessary. The secret in fashion is to keep your overheads low, so you don’t feel nervous. Most designers, we aren’t very good at finance, it can put you under tremendous stress and then you can’t create. It’s really important that you have peace of mind, particularly in relation to the financial aspect of the business.

When doing some research, I discovered that you once considered a career in book-keeping, but chose the domain of fashion design instead. However, when you look at brands and fashion houses, even the most youthful of designers, many of them have been bought out by global conglomerates such as LVMH. How important is it for young designers to have an aptitude for the monetary aspect of fashion?

I think it does help to have a certain financial approach to the industry but it can also be a negative too. You can be too cautious and being cautious can hinder creativity and almost heed it from fulfilling your design wishes. It’s the same with being taken over by a conglomerate; it can be both a positive and a negative. All of a sudden, you have to question – who owns the brand? And to some extent, do you lose your control as a designer? For me personally though, I don’t have any regrets in how I developed my brand and grew it independently. I may not be a superstar presenting on the Paris catwalk, I’m on the London schedule, but do you know what? For someone with very limited ability, I’ve been very lucky.  

In the early days of your design career, you trained in Italy, in Paris and in New York, what did you take from each of these locations?

I think Paris was the most influential on my career and design aesthetic. It was couture-orientated with great emphasis on tailoring and beautiful fabrics. Coming from Dublin, it gave me a taste for what fashion is and the ideology that I continue to believe in, even today. I was greatly inspired by Ungaro, Saint Laurent and even Pierre Cardin when he was at his best. All of these people were on the streets where I worked. My entry into fashion was very much based on that culture whereas other Irish designers who perhaps travelled to England, they were very much part of the sixties, revolutionary era where people like Vivienne Westwood rose to fame. However, my strength in design came from Paris and the skill of tailoring, it continues to be what I am talented at – I think it’s almost in a person’s DNA.

When you arrived back to Dublin in the late 1970’s, did you notice much change in the city?

It was a terrible time. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were really serious; there was a lot of unhappiness. I was very glad to come home, having worked in New York and Paris, I was relieved to be back on familiar territory but I ended up working in a factory in Northern Ireland. I also brought up seven children in that time.

Seven children? Wow, I’m the eldest of five children and I often feel that we live in each other’s’ pockets – it isn’t a bad thing but I can’t imagine what it is like being one of seven.

Well, I’m one of seven children and my wife is also one of seven children. It’s very destructive altogether! 

Wow. Family get-togethers must take quite a lot of planning!

Too much!

Back to fashion! I imagine that when you were first establishing your business in London, Dublin was a very different city in comparison to England’s capital but do you think that we have in any way caught up with our British counterparts, in terms of the fashion landscape?

I think we have a lot of talent here. I also think that we have a lot of talent leaving.

Do you think that’s because young designers see it as their only option?

I think unless we develop our fashion industry here, they’ll continue to feel that emigrating is their only option. However, I still believe that travelling is the best way to learn about fashion – particularly in cities like Paris, London, New York, Korea, Seoul, Japan, and Beijing – it’s a very exciting career but it’s essential that you have your own instinctive style, philosophy and belief in yourself. People say ‘Look at Miu Miu, look at Prada’. Yeah, that’s fine – they’re Italian, they have that workmanship – but we have to be our own person and that can be stressful because you can be nervous about what others may think of you but being yourself is great. It can cause a lot of trouble though…

I imagine that it takes a while to learn or to become comfortable with. Surely it’s not something that miraculously develops in first year at Central St Martins or NCAD etc.?

No, not at all. It develops through experience, working with good quality brands and gaining richness and an insight from that. Then you distill what’s most central to both you personally and professionally.  However, how many people begin their brand and are able to sustain it? Fashion is much like the pop world, they come, they go. I’m very fortunate to still be in it.

Speaking of ‘still in it’, a few years ago Drapers said that your sustainability was unquestionable but why do you think that Paul Costelloe the brand has had such extensive longevity so far?

I think it’s just because I hate being beaten. I’m quite competitive and I like sports. I hate losing, I’m not obsessed with winning but I hate to lose.

Within the fashion world, what does it mean to lose? Or what does it mean to win?

For me, winning is having a product that you are pleased with against the competition. It doesn’t matter if one dress is £10,000 and the other is £300. The question always is ‘Does it stand up against the competition?’

Who would you consider to be your competition, Paul?

Gosh, it’s getting less and less, in a way. Labels like Boss, Jaegar, Max Mara. I always look at Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Miu Miu and most of the international designers. In comparison, I don’t often look to British designers, I don’t like the quality of the products. However, sometimes I like Alexander McQueen – sometimes I don’t though.

Is that because of the change in creative director at Alexander McQueen?

In the beginning, it was very costume-orientated but I like to see designers such as Roberto Cavalli. I was cycling down Sloane Street in London last week and came across an impromptu photo-shoot happening in the middle of the road. The model was wearing a Roberto Cavalli shift dress – the simplest design imaginable – but she looked great.

Do you think with the rise of the internet, social media and blogging, we’re continuously searching for the most eccentric elements of fashion and disregarding the simplicity which was favoured in the past?

I think there is an element of that occurring. For example, with Jeremy Scott at Moschino but I believe there to be a huge appetite for clean-cut tailoring and simplicity in design of garments that will be part of a woman’s wardrobe for almost forever. A modern style icon for me is Charlene, Princess of Monaco. She has incredible elegance and taste.

Have we lost some of that elegance?

I don’t know, I think people are looking at labels such as Cos – not that I’m terribly mad about it – but it has succeeded because it’s simple and I think that’s probably a positive. I do think there is a return to understated glamour but that too will change. From my experience, women like change.

They’re as effervescent as the industry itself.

Effervescent – exactly!

As a designer, is there much change in the creative process when designing for your own brand for London Fashion Week to collaborating with a high-street chain such as Dunnes Stores?

It’s really quite different. For London Fashion Week, you just let the pen do the work and buy fabric at £40 a metre. For Dunnes, it’s much more commercial and I think that’s where I am reasonable to work with. I do want to make a living but I also want to make nice garments at a variety of price ranges. I’m sure I make mistakes and often do things wrong but c’est la vie.

Do you often consciously connect the two collections? Perhaps linking a fabric or silhouette from London Fashion Week in September to what arrives onto the rails of Dunnes in Mullingar and Ennis?

I don’t think that there is a great difference between the two collections. What I like to think is that what I do in Mullingar or Ennis, if treated carefully, is just as good as what you find in Brown Thomas. Price is not relevant but quality and design is essential. What I love is when I’m on a street in Dublin and an elderly lady approaches me and tells me that she loves my ‘stuff’. People who would never normally have walked up to me seven years ago – I now feel part of Ireland, something which I didn’t feel before my collaboration with Dunnes.

Would it tempt you to come back to us more permanently?

I think I’m more valuable to Ireland from my experiences outside of Ireland – I’m a little like Joyce in that fashion. It’s still a small country, one that’s experiencing change at a very rapid rate but I think I can give more to Ireland by being away.

You’ve had an incredible career, from dressing members of the royal family to having your face on a postage stamp but what has been your personal or professional highlight?

I don’t think that I will ever forget my first visit to Kensington Palace. It was at the time when Princess Diana was at her peak in popularity; she had been married perhaps three or four years. I was sitting in her lounge, I was with my assistant and I remember touching the couch that I was standing against. I remember having to almost pinch myself to realise that I was there and it was actually happening. Afterwards, the two of us went out to Hyde Park, we sat on a bench and digested that it actually happened and how thrilled we both were – which is an incredible emotion.

My final question for you Paul, you’ve had incredible moments – as we’ve just spoken about – but what remains on your bucket list for the next decade?

Very good question! I would like to paint more. Actually, I will be having a joint exhibition with three of my sons on September 19th in the Sol Gallery on Dawson Street but apart from that, I want to develop my catwalk shows. I would like to get more retailers not just looking at it but buying it and investing into it. I want to make them more than just a runway with some models, I want it to become an experience. 

Thank you so much to both Paul and Jordi for all of their assistance with this interview. To find out more about Paul Costelloe, you can follow the brand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Extraordinary Women: Moya Doherty

In the heart of Dublin’s city centre lies one of the most diverse streets. It is home to both the best sushi and coffee in the capital whilst simultaneously housing multiple charity shops and a drag queen who moonlights as a national treasure. Whilst each of these business may be keenly observed, nestled between miscellaneous hardware and tailoring outlets on the same street is the home of Riverdance.

A cultural phenomena that has inspired generations across the globe to appreciate the technicality and beauty that exists in Irish dance. Furthermore, it has ignited a palpable feeling of ‘home’ among our diaspora across the five continents.

It was a genuine honour to bask in the memories, advice and wisdom of Riverdance producer and co-founder, Moya Doherty.

EW Moya Doherty

How would you describe both personally and professionally?

Ooh. That’s very hard. I wouldn’t be the best judge of myself but the words that I would use would be the qualities that I admire in other people, that were given to me as a child growing up and I hope I still have them. They would be: being on time, working hard, treating people around you well and ensuring people are heard, not in a fanciful manner but one that is meaningful and true.

When you first began your career, you sought to be an actor but quite soon after you changed direction slightly to work within a production capacity. What brought about this change?

All of the things that I wanted to do and really loved required being front of camera or on stage and I just wasn’t comfortable with it. I loved acting and I still miss it but I haven’t got the make-up to handle the rejection that actors have to face all of the time along with the struggle that you are not in control of your own work, you’re constantly waiting on people to say ‘you have the right look’ etc., unless of course you set up your own acting company but that too is tough. I think again with television presenting, I loved it but as a woman, I hated all of the nonsense that went with it. What am I going to wear? What way will I style my hair? That’s all people commented on, so I gravitated to producing and working behind the camera.

I thought it was where you could manage your own idea and you were more, and I use the words ‘in control’ advisedly but you could guide your interests and the things that you could do with greater ease than if you were a presenter or an actor.

It’s interesting that you mention that notion of ‘image’, at the Women on Air conference earlier this year, TV3’s Ursula Halligan said that the two biggest hindrances for increasing the representation of women on air is childcare and image. Whilst many at the conference were in agreement with Ursula others felt that their image was important to them, it gave them confidence and the courage to be in front of the camera. What are your thoughts on this ‘debate’?

I think if you can just be you and be comfortable with that and if we were allowed to be that – I think the piece is that we’re not. I don’t really believe in building an image, I think that’s too false and things change, you get tired of a look, you grow, you age – I mean, we’re not static, we’re moving all of the time – it’s organic. I think it has to come from inside, from the soul, the heart and the intellect. I think if you can find the place where you’re happy with that, then everything else will fall in the right place. Unfortunately though, I think women try too hard and maybe we have to which is even more upsetting.

That notion of ‘being yourself’ reminds me of ‘Advanced Style’; a documentary of older ladies from New York, many of whom said that they only felt like themselves in their seventies and eighties as previously they felt conditioned by society on what to wear, what to think and how to be and in these later years felt so empowered to just be themselves.

Very much so and I imagine part of that is their age and the culture which they grew up in; a very different era to the one which you are growing up in and slightly different to the one which I was born into. However, I could absolutely say that I am only beginning to get closer to the ‘me’ that I am most comfortable with, now that I am in my fifties. It’s hard to believe that it has taken over half a century but it’s true.

Why do you think that is, Moya?

Confidence, I think women lack confidence. You go through so many phases; as a young woman, you’re in a meat market almost, you’re then into shaping your career, you’re a girlfriend, you’re a wife, you’re a mother, you’re a carer. It takes such a long time for you to just be you. I think that you’re trapped in a vortex, which is this female world, and no sooner are you almost finished your own maturation or that of your children, if you choose a maternal path, you find yourself caring for your own elderly parents and are sandwiched.

For me, this sense of feeling like myself was most definitely impacted upon by the passing of my own parents, even though they were wonderful people and didn’t stop me being me, you are always a child with your parents – regardless of what age you are and I think the lifting of that, in time when grief passed, gave me a sense of liberation.

On your initial migration from presenting to producing, did you find it a huge learning curve or was the transition an easy one?

I loved it. I was ‘home’. I think the parts that I like most about presenting are interviewing and if I was re-starting my career perhaps I would choose radio presenting as how you look is not relevant – unless of course they put those awful web cameras in the studio. However, interviewing is still extremely relevant within a producing capacity, I did a series called ‘Turning Point ‘ with Tish Barry years and years ago and I loved it. I love to follow a good interviewer, they ways in which they weave questions and in particular, how they listen. I think we have lost the art of listening which upsets me greatly but I found the adjustment somewhat tough.

I underwent a very intensive training course in RTÉ with Michael Healy at the helm. It was very demanding and Michael was pretty ruthless. I came out of the course not feeling too great about myself, I wasn’t even confident that I would be able to do the job at all. Then after a year or two, I felt really comfortable with it, I love it and have loved it for so many years but I would like a change.

If you could envision any change, what would you choose?

There are a number of things that I would really like to do. I would like to teach ‘the business’; elements of the industry which I have learned which could benefit others. Both of my parents were primary school teachers and it’s probably in the blood. Then in our last show ‘Heartbeat of Home’, I love working with young energy, I find it so empowering. I would like to be a yoga teacher too, believe it or not. When I’m an octogenarian, I want to sit on a beach in the lotus position, with my grey hair blowing in the wind. I would also like to write.

When I’m an octogenarian, I want to sit on a beach in the lotus position, with my grey hair blowing in the wind.

Is there any specific genre which you would like to write?

Em, fiction, short stories… Previously, I’ve done some journalistic work and reporting but I’m currently working on writing within a different capacity and am very much enjoying it. I love playing with words and story-telling.

In relation to teaching, is it lecturing you wish to pursue and would you prefer to do it at home or abroad?

It would most definitely be at home but it doesn’t have to be lecturing. Something which I love to do is speak to Transition Year students and whenever I am invited to a school, I go. I think it’s a really critical time for those students.

Not so long ago, I visited the pupils of Adamstown and some teachers seemed surprised that I actually came but my response was ‘well, you asked’. People sometimes don’t ask but it was a fantastic big community school with an eclectic mix of pupils, it was a wonderful opportunity for me, personally. The world that we are involved in, you too Sinéad, it spans a huge spectrum from producing, directing, writing, creating, lighting, sound, designing, costume, staging, production managers, runners, television presenting, radio, it’s vast and I’ve been really fortunate to have worked across it all. The students were just so genuinely curious about the variety of roles that could be a possibility for them, many of them previously had not even considered it as an option for them, for a variety of reasons.

I had a similar experience of that situation when I was teaching 5th class girls. In Geography we were studying the city of London and we researched designers such as Stella McCartney , Alexander McQueen and Burberry,  which meaningfully correlated to our art lessons. I brought in three mannequins and the children themselves constructed outfits using various fabrics and textures, inspired by those on the catwalks and in their wardrobes. The most interesting element of the lessons was the talking points and questions which arose afterwards. They couldn’t believe that fashion design or styling were genuine careers which they could gain entry to. It was extremely fulfilling for me, as their teacher that I could introduce to something new.

Absolutely and it’s so vast. Speaking to young people and hopefully offering them some insight into my career and experiences has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my role in recent years.

You have previously worked in London, the United States, Canada and of course, here at home but do you notice many differences in the professional landscapes between Ireland and abroad?

It is almost twenty five years since I worked in the UK, it was in the middle of the eighties and a very interesting time to be there. Margaret Thatcher was at the helm, the miners’ strike was on and the IRA were bombing Harrods, among other places. It was a very interesting time to be there. At the time, it was the best educational experience that I could have gained and even though the professional landscape of London today is very different, I would absolutely recommend that young people travel to and work in a different city. I just think that it opens up your mind and had I of not had that experience in London, I know that I wouldn’t have gained a place on RTÉ’s producer course and secondly, I don’t think Riverdance would have happened had I not of been away and been trying to find my own sense of Irishness, in a different landscape.

Ideas are curious things and they come from the strangest places. Everything that you do in life should be done to the best of your ability and you never know when you are going to use that skill in the future.

You mentioned Riverdance, can you recall what was going through your mind, or even your heart, when you came in contact with it, for the first time?

I was extremely fortunate to be in RTÉ at time and to be asked to produce this huge show – even though I didn’t really want to because I’m not a major fan of the Eurovision Song Contest –but I saw it as an opportunity for Ireland and felt strongly about employing Irish dance as a vehicle to illustrate our nationality. It all just fell together so beautifully but I never expected that phenomenal response to it and I think that it burst out at the same time that we as a people were finding our own identity. It was an iconic cultural moment, I suppose. It’s been an incredible journey but in some ways Sinéad, it has held me back.

Why would you say that, Moya?

I have been immersed in it and it’s a massive, big bubble and the question that is always asked is; ‘What will you do next?’ which is the reason why my next endeavour will be small, for example I might write a two-hander play, I might tend a small vegetable garden – something small and intimate, that’s what I crave having been on such a large-scale stage for so long.

We spoke briefly there about the projects that proceeded Riverdance, undoubtedly the critics would compare all future work to that of Riverdance but knowing that that would happen, did it ever influence which projects you became involved in?

I never really think about decisions in that way and I never thought about any direction of my career, at any point but I never managed myself in any specific way, I was always just driven by the creative desire to do or make something. The major project after Riverdance was The Pirate Queen, we got to work with some incredible talents – that experience was incredible but it didn’t work. I learned a huge amount from it, I think the music and the story could be re-worked and could find a different home, on a different stage, somewhere in the future.

Last year, it was extremely intense here in the run up to Heartbeat of Home, we knew what was being said out there ‘Oh, they’re mad!’ ‘What are they doing trying to top themselves?’ Actually, we’re not and that’s a very narrow view of creativity. We’re creating another piece of work that reflects us, twenty years on. It’s a new piece of work. Sometimes, we have a very narrow view here. The island of Ireland is a beautiful place, with exquisite horizons but we are all rattling around on a very small space and that can make us a little narrow.

Due to that comparison in the media, were you ever tempted to release a new piece of work anonymously?

I was and I might still do that. No matter what, people have perceptions of you, whether they’re right or wrong. We should never limit ourselves by perception or limit others my perceptions which we set for them. Sometimes, I just wish we were more open…

You’ve had an incredible career thus far and from this conversation alone, it appears that your next professional journey will be a more private one but what have been your career highlights to this point?

We work with an incredible team at Riverdance, we have been together for twenty years and we have had some brilliant experiences along the way. There have been beautiful moments, including the extraordinary opening of Riverdance in Radio City Music Hall in 1996. I think the other great moments were the opening of the Special Olympics, the Queen’s concert and of course, Michelle Obama’s visit to the Gaiety Theatre.

They’re the Riverdance highlights, then of course there are more intimate moments that have personal value. One day, I was feeling a little blue and I was out walking in Malahide, this man came over to us, it was at the height of the economic crash, a really awful period, he said to us ‘I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for Ireland with your music and your dance’. It’s really those beautiful and tender moments that mean an awful lot.

You also play a crucial role in evolving the arts in a more private way too, for example at the Abbey Theatre and the Irish Museum of Modern Art but how important is it for you to represent Ireland and the arts scene here on a continuous basis?

I am conflicted around it. I am not a great committee person – I find it tedious. I’m a bit of a Maverick, I want to cut through things and on a committee, that type of action just isn’t possible. I think what I can bring the most amount of value too, in terms of support, is mentoring. Being in a position to offer opinion, time and advice to some incredibly interesting businesses is a real privilege. It’s interesting, before you came into the office, I had a meeting with Junk Kouture – they are two fantastic Donegal people with a brilliant business idea and over the past year we have been fortunate enough to introduce them to people, to help them and guide them. They’re the kind of things that I love doing because I find it to be more rewarding and I can be of greater benefit than perhaps sitting on a committee.

This series of interviews arose from me questioning the women who have inspired me most, throughout my life. Who are the people whom you look to for inspiration?

There are many. Recently, I said to someone that I was in love with two septuagenarians. One was Seamus Heaney and the other was Leonard Cohan. I love poets, I love poetry, I adore the work of Carol Ann Duffy, I love the Irish women writers. A big style and career icon for me is Joan Bergin – I look at her and I think, I want to be her when I grow up. I quite like people who do things quietly, that they help and support people in a gentle way. I understand that we need those who are more outspoken to lead but I greatly admire those who offer support and encouragement in their own, more reserved way.

Thank you so much to both Moya and Paula for ensuring that this interview occurred. You can follow Moya on Twitter here.

Riverdance takes place in the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin until August 31st and whether you are a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, or not, there are few cultural activities which embody ‘being Irish’ more. You can purchase tickets here.

If you enjoyed this interview, you may wish to read the other #ExtraordinaryWomen interviewees. They’re rather brilliant, even if I do say so myself!

Are you for real?

My relationship with fashion is multifaceted. It’s primary use is for warmth and to offer privacy but I also employ clothes and accessories to exhibit my personality and emotions, as armour almost, to shield me from quotidian life but my very favourite element of investing in fashion? You’re buying into a dream.

That can be the intense and forlorn dream of Alexander McQueen’s early collections or the frivolous and comedic dream of Henry Holland. The latter is my preference, which may or may not explain why I have accumulated fifteen pairs of sunglasses that occupy most of the space on my face…

Purchasing interesting pieces from this fantasy domain can often be both unaffordable and outside of our geographic location. Until now.

Paper BagJumpFromPaper is the brain-child of Taiwanese graphic designers Chay Su and Rika Lin. The brand personifies the antiquated notion that life should not be taken too seriously and consistently endorse both the power and importance of imagination.

SpaceManTheir collection of bags and wallets for both men and women appear almost too animated to be real, but trust me – they are!

As of this month, JumpFromPaper is available in Ireland through the Lewis Gluckman Gallery in Co. Cork. Rest assured though, if the Rebel County is too much of a commute, you can order from the gallery via email and phone.

With the wallets retailing for €30 and the bags ranging from €70 – €150, I know exactly what I want for my birthday in September.

To contact the gallery email info@glucksman.org or give them a call on 021 490 1844.

Paper Bag2


Bears in Space

In 2012, I was sitting front row at the annual fashion show of Trinity College’s Fashion Society. I’ll never forget it but not because of the impeccable styling or the effortless gliding of the models down the catwalk but because of the two hosts; Jack Gleeson and Aaron Heffernan.

At the time, those names meant nothing to me. I was fairly certain that they didn’t really know much about fashion but they kept the audience enthralled with their quick wit and natural ability to point out the other’s flaws.

Today, Jack and Aaron are very accomplished actors in their own right but are also two of the founders of Collapsing Horse Theatre Company. Having been incredibly impressed by their production of ‘Monster/Clock’ two years ago, I was eagerly anticipating their return to the stage.

‘Bears in Space’ opens in the Project Arts Centre this evening for a limited run before migrating to Scotland for the theatre company’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival debut. To entice you further, I spoke with Cameron Maccauley about his very important role in the production.

Bears in SpaceCameron, this is your first time to work with Collapsing Horse Theatre Company but what is your official title for this production?

I suppose I would a performer and the composer. I’m acting in it but I’ve also written the music and simultaneously perform the keyboard and the guitar during the show.

That doesn’t sound like an easy feat. What has been the most challenging aspect of your role so far?

The cues have been a challenge to become familiar with. Previously, I’ve experience of both acting and playing music but doing the two at the same time is quite a tall order as you really have to think in two different spheres at the same time. It’s timing the cues exactly and maintaining the vigour, the humour and forward motion while being accurate on the instrument – that’s tricky!

As a newcomer to the Collapsing Horse Theatre Company, did any of your friends or family raise their eyebrows at the idea that you would be working on a puppet show?

Not really as I think the idea of a puppet show has transformed in the past couple of years. For example, Aaron (Heffernan – founding member of Collapsing Horse and puppeteer) takes his inspiration from Avenue Q and that show really dispels any archaic notions people may have of puppets or the art of puppetry. No doubt though that my neighbours back home may be slightly surprised by it but my friends and family are very much on board.

What do you expect the audience’s reactions to be from tonight’s preview of ‘Bears in Space’?

Our approach to this project was for us to create a very funny piece of theatre that is both aesthetically pleasing but one still which has an interesting storyline that wasn’t sacrificed in order to be funny. In terms of inspiration, we would be huge fans of The Mighty Boosh and Pyjama Man, who are all incredibly funny performers who incidentally, probably had their beginnings at Edinburgh as well.

With performances such as Monster/Clock and Human Child, the Dublin audience has almost grown up with Collapsing Horse Theatre Company but are you anyway anxious or concerned about your reception at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

To be honest with you, not particularly – I think the nature of the production’s inception has a huge part to play in that. We’re all mates and because we have worked so collaboratively, it doesn’t feel that high stakes. I don’t think that there’s any anxiety about how we wish this to be received, I think we’re quite earnestly doing a very good show, attempting to make the audience’s experience as funny and interesting as possible.

Going across to Edinburgh, with Scottish audiences being able to tie your colleague Jack Gleeson to such a huge project as HBO’s Game of Thrones, do you think audiences’ expectations will be higher for ‘Bears in Space’ because of that?

We really want this show to fail or succeed on its own merits – preferably succeed! I think it’s inevitable that people will tie Jack to Game of Thrones but he is also a brilliant comedic performer and I think that those audiences who may expect something of the ilk of Thrones will leave ‘Bears in Space’ very pleasantly surprised.

I have no doubt that they will. As it is just hours until the curtain goes up for the first time, what has been your highlight of the production thus far?

It sounds strange but it was that initial moment when everyone was back together in the same room again. From the moment that we got going really, it just felt like a healthy dynamic. We all laugh at similar things, we work really well together and let’s hope it bares fruit!

With only three Dublin performances, I couldn’t recommend a visit to the Project Arts Centre more! To find out more information about the show, just click here. Also, you should follow their inaugural Edinburgh journey through Twitter and Facebook. Tell them I said hello!

Extraordinary Women: Paloma Faith

The domain of celebrity culture can often be quite fickle, those whom you admire for their public persona can offer differ greatly in private. I was a little nervous about meeting Paloma Faith at Groove Festival – she has often been perceived as an outlandish character with a warm smile and an almost garish sense of humour.

Paloma exceeded my expectations instantaneously. She was articulate, honest, informed and unafraid to poke fun at herself – my favourite combination!

Paloma - Extraordinary WomenHow would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

Personally, I would say that I am funny and probably quite self-deprecating but those two things usually go hand-in-hand. I think that part of the artistic temperament is that naturally you never quite feel that you are good enough because if you don’t feel like that, then you would stop. So that’s what pushes you forward and it’s what pushes me forward, I go through all of these private moments where I often think that I’m not quite worthy. However, professionally I would say that I am super hard-working and quite controlling but not in a way that’s horrible for people, I just like to be involved, especially in the creative aspects and I always have an opinion about everyone’s work. I think quite a lot of the men on my team are a bit quite scared of me… (*looks suspiciously at the one man in the room*)

One of the criteria that I tell people when I interview them to work for me is ‘please don’t be scared of me because I’ll be able to tell and I won’t like it’… (*Paloma and I giggle girlishly*)

It’s in their eyes…


Paloma & Minnie

Prior to entering the music industry, you had quite a colourful employment background. From working as a magician’s assistant, a sales assistant in Agent Provocateur, training in ballet and studying a degree Theatrical Directing in Central St Martin’s, but what have you brought forward from those experiences to influence your current profession?

Well, I think the common denominator between everything that I have done is that I have always been observed and I’m very comfortable being watched. As well, with my dance training, as much as it wasn’t good for me psychologically, I would say it’s given me a very strong awareness of how I am on stage; what I look like, what shapes I’m making. I tend to work the stage naturally in a way that I think quite a lot of people learn as they go along through their career  but me, I’m jumping up and down on everything when I’m on stage and I think that training really helped with that.

In particular reference to your degree in the domain of theatre, did that instill in you a love for fashion and looking to clothing as costume?

Yes, definitely. Clothes give me confidence and I’ve always had that outlook about fashion. Even before this job, I dressed in a way that was somewhat outlandish almost to shroud my insecurities which I’m sure quite a lot of women could relay with. I remember when I was younger, a woman told me that I wore far too much black and since then, my wardrobe has been filled with bright colours.

Well, according to Dior’s couture collection at Paris Fashion Week, black is on-trend!

(*raises nose in the air haughtily*) I don’t follow fashion, I start it! (*guffaws obscenely!*)

I don’t know if you’ve seen the new film ‘Begin Again’ with Keira Knightley?

I haven’t yet, what’s it about?

Keira is a singer/songwriter and Mark Ruffalo is an A&R man from one of the biggest record companies. He is very aware of Kiera’s talent but her sense of style is naturally quite androgynous. One of the most interesting talking points of the film for me was Mark’s need to change Kiera’s appearance in order to ‘fit’ with the music industry. Have you ever felt pressure like that from the industry either when you were at the beginning of your career or today, after three albums?

Not really, I do think that the more you are surrounded by people who eat healthily and partake in physical activity, the more you grumble to yourself thinking ‘oh, maybe I should just do it’.  At the beginning of my career, I just really wasn’t interested and thought ‘yeah, whatever’. Back then, I thought that I was really healthy and in great shape but looking back on pictures, I wasn’t. Today, though, I have been influenced by those people in a way but I’m not fanatical about and I’ve never been told by anyone to dress like this or that and perhaps that storyline from the film is more typical in America than in Britain or Ireland.

I was in America recently and I was speaking with a girl who wants to work in the music industry and she felt that on this side of the world we don’t have a prescribed image of a musician or singer like they do in the US. I think she’s right, I think we’re more willing to celebrate diversity and we enjoy it when someone, who could be our next door neighbour, is incredible.

Very much so! We can’t go much further without mentioning you winning Best British Act at the O2 Silver Clef Awards. I know that it was announced in May that you would win but what thoughts were running through your mind when you accepted the award two weeks ago?

I think when you don’t win anything you kind of say ‘I don’t really give a shit’ and when you say that, you generally mean it but when you do win something, well it made me reflect on how much I had worked and it was the first music award that I had ever received. I worked it out and realised that it had taken me thirteen years to get it because it took me seven years to get a record deal and three albums later I’ve won an award. I think that’s why though I was overwhelmed when I accepted the award, I really didn’t expect to feel so emotional and I think I even said, whilst sobbing a little bit, “I’m so embarrassed because you all don’t think that this is a big deal but to me, it is!”

I think people always assume that because of my outward-projected confidence, I’m always alright and I think they were a little shocked to see that I really cared and that it had upset me that I hadn’t been acknowledged for my work.

You’ve spoken about it before, this notion that when something positive is happening in your life, cognitively you’re almost preparing yourself for something horrid to occur. I don’t for one second think that this thought process is unique to you but how do you manage this?

Em, I think that you have to be kind to yourself and that’s easier said than done. Self-acceptance is hugely important and I think people underestimate what they are capable of coping with. You know when you hear about other people’s lives? Your natural instinct is to think ‘how awful for him / her’ and ‘I’d never be able to cope with that’ but it’s important that we realise that life is about finding the balance between light and shade. I guess that’s why I called my album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’, this one is all about how I can’t really appreciate anything without experiencing what life would be like without it. I wanted to write an album that was celebratory but acknowledged those dark moments. That’s what I hope people hear when they listen to it.

Within the past twelve months, you’ve been an architect in constructing a platform for yourself as a British icon, particularly within the domains of music and fashion. From performing at Burberry’s flagship store opening in Shanghai to the brand’s spectacle at London Fashion Week, what were those experiences like?

The first Burberry performance in London was really nerve-wracking and I made a mistake and then had to apologise to Christopher (Bailey) afterwards. I had to go up to him and say “I’m really sorry that I ruined your whole show!” and he said that he didn’t even notice. Liar!

I would have blamed Cara Delevingne…

Well, she was walking towards me making ridiculous faces the whole way up the catwalk. Then in Shanghai I was a little bit more relaxed because I had done it once before.

With models flying overhead, that would have made me quite nervous.

I have got to know the models now and in particular Cara so she’s completely un-intimidating to me. I also knew that she needed a wee for the entire time that she was up there so that really took the edge off!

Unfortunately, we’re coming to the end of our time together but who would be the people whom you would admire most or even look up to?

The first person who jumps into my head is Malala Yousafzai, she’s a Muslim lady who took a bullet to allow young girls to have an education in Pakistan. Em, I find it very difficult in celebrity culture to see that people are celebrated in a much greater way, just because they are famous, rather those who are on the ground making changes. I mean this sounds nuts, but I am obsessed with the National Health Service – the work that nurses, doctors and people who teach do is much more admirable to me than other celebrities. I just like people who are really saying something and I think that those nurses are saying something as important as those who have a million followers on Twitter.

A huge thank you to Paloma, Kathryn and Chris for all of their assistance at Groove Festival. You can find Paloma on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Make sure to download ‘A Perfect Contradiction’ too – ‘Love Only Leaves You Lonely’, in particular.

Fancy reading about other #ExtraordinaryWomen? You can find some of my heroes here.

Making The Scene


Whether your penchant is for literature or computer programming, Ireland has cultivated an incredible mass of talented individuals. Many of whom receive international recognition for their achievements.

Perhaps it’s my own personal bias, but this trend appears to be even more pronounced within the domains of fashion and photography. Whether that’s Boo George photographing Armani in Dollymount Strand or Danielle Romeril being awarded the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN scholarship, the Irish have conquered fashion at home and abroad.

To coincide with PhotoIreland; a festival aiming to begin conversations around photography, the Gallery of Photography are hosting lunchtime discussions with some of Ireland’s most distinguished fashion and photography talents.

Including Conor Clinch, Barry McCall, Aisling Farinella, Johnny McMillan and Ruth Anna Cross, the line-up curated by Jocelyn Murray Boyne and Darragh Shanahan is one which shouldn’t be missed.

The conversations begin at 14:00pm today, July 9th and span until lunchtime July 11th.

Entry costs €5 (or €2 if you’re a Gallery member) and whilst you may think ‘Why should I pay?’, I have a very strong feeling that you’ll get your money’s worth!

To find out more about ‘Making The Scene’, you can find the event on Facebook here.

Mrs Brown D’Exhibition


IMG_2127Within the past couple of days, there has been huge discourse online in relation to the city’s divide. In particular, how those inhabiting the South Side perceive those residing on the North Side and vice versa.

I’m extremely proud to say that I was born in Finglas and lived there for most of my childhood. I returned to Finglas to teach and it’s difficult to explain but standing in front of thirty children, teaching them about the positives and the successful people who have emerged from Finglas, I’ve rarely felt more at home.

One of those successes is Brendan O’Carroll; a man who has achieved great heights professionally but also struggled financially, even experiencing a failure or two. Yet, he never surrendered his dream, something which I greatly admire him for but more importantly, he never forgets where he came from and in every project he appears to recognise the city that born him and the town and streets that consistently support him.

For those reasons, I was hugely honoured this week to attend the opening of Mrs Brown D’Exhibition in The Little Museum of Dublin – my favourite haunt


The initial concept of the exhibition came about but four weeks ago with NBC Universal exploring various avenues to interestingly promote the release of Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie. Upon this decision, Kimberley Foy curated the exhibition due to her being a loyal fan of the television programme and Agnes Brown’s personal cheerleader – a career I’m currently looking into…

Speaking with Brendan O’Carroll at the opening, he genuinely appeared a little taken-back by the presence of his family, the support of Dublin and the interest which The Little Museum of Dublin had in his life.

When I initially got the call, I was a little confused – I didn’t know what such a prestigious museum wanted but when they said that they wished to do an exhibition on Brendan O’Carroll and Mrs Brown, I was genuinely shocked.

We helped as much as we could but walking into the exhibition and seeing all of the photos of myself – it’s a little embarrassing. You know the first time you heard your voice played back on tape, and you think to yourself ‘Oh God, that doesn’t sound like me’, it’s a little bit like that here at D’Exhibition but I’m also hugely flattered and honoured.

Kimberley Foy, curator of D’Exhibition, did an incredible job in honing down the mass of material needed for the curation. In his opening address, Brendan O’Carroll admitted that the highest compliment he could pay Kim was that his mother would be extremely proud of D’Exhibition.

Both Kim and Brendan worked collaboratively to present a balance of information and props to appeal to those with either a passing or insatiable interest in Mrs Brown. But how does the exhibition give an insight into the film? Brendan explained;

With D’Movie, we really tried to expand Mrs Brown’s story and give the audience history and character depth. Here at the Little Museum of Dublin, attendees at D’Exhibition will gain further insight into the character of Mrs Brown and will hopefully leave understanding Moore Street, Finglas and even me a little more. For me, that was really important!

Brendan O’Carroll’s mother was the first Labour TD and was an advocate for worker’s rights, along with being the primary drive behind women being allowed to enter an Garda Siochana.

As you walk in the door of the exhibition, there is a beautiful photograph – Brendan’s favourite element of the D’Exhibition – of him and his mother, the only photo that exists of the pair. With such a strong female role model, along with having five sisters, I asked Brendan what impact this has had on the development of Agnes’ character.

More than I know! I remember when I gave Jenny (Gibney) the first book I ever wrote – at the time we were just working together, she didn’t know me that well – I picked her up for rehearsals and she said ‘I finished your book last night’. I was a little nervous and asked her what she thought of it. She said ‘Either you have a lot of sisters or you’re gay!’


In this island, and on the other to our right, Mrs Brown’s Boys’ reputation alters greatly, depending on who you speak to. Some are engrossed in the programme, whilst others perceive it to be nonsensical. Speaking to the exhibition’s curator, Kimberley Foy, I asked her if this conflicting audience was a concern for the museum.

I think people need to take a second look at the programme and Mrs Brown, in particular.When I was chatting to people telling them that we have this exhibition on, I didn’t necessarily say to people that I was the curator because I wanted to see what their honest reactions were.

A lot of people questioned if it was a good idea but I tried to emphasise that the television programme and even the film itself isn’t just about crude language but offers a glimpse into Dublin of the past. Now though, I’m so close to the show that I feel almost offended when people discredit this great moment for Dublin.

However, my favourite moment from the opening of D’Exhibition came from the curator, Kimberley Foy in her explanation of what the exhibition means to her.

The highlight for me is definitely my first conversation with Brendan. Interestingly, the one phone that I could use to record the call was in my Grandmother’s house. If you can imagine the scenario, I’m on the phone talking to Brendan O’Carroll and beside me is my Grandmother, sitting in her dressing gown, trying to suppress her laughter at the antics he was describing. I had to take a moment to realise just how special that was, for my own family, that I could make a further connection to Mrs Brown, one that spanned generations.

D’Exhibition resides in The Little Museum of Dublin until July 20th. To visit the museum, it costs a maximum of €7 (but if you plan you’re clever when planning your visit – you may gain entry for free). On leaving you’ll come away with a sense of why Dublin and even Finglas, is so important to me. I can’t recommend it more highly.

Mrs Brown D’Movie arrives into cinemas on June 27th.

Thank you so much to Jill Guest for all of her assistance. All photos are taken with the Canon 100D – courtesy of Pembroke Communications.

Are you serious?


FREEICECREAMTake a second to look out your window or to just glance up from your phone. That miraculous ball of energy in the sky is known in warmer climates as ‘the sun’. Strange, right?

It offers both heat and light and is the perfect accompaniment to delicious frozen treats from HB Ice Cream.

To celebrate this sunny phenomena; an Irish summer - HB Ice Creams are offering three of you ice cream vouchers to spoil both yourself and a friend!

How do you enter?

Simply follow the directions from the app below and keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for the winner’s announcement on Friday June 20th.

Are you serious?

Extraordinary Women: Sarah June Fox

Before Christmas, I vividly recall sitting on the steps of a shop in Drury Street talking to an incredible person about being a woman, the worlds of graphic design, fashion, music and the challenges of being a Canadian living in Ireland.

Since then, Sarah has gained citizenship and is quickly becoming one of the most incredible graphic designers Dublin has to offer – an unbelievable feat having spent the first half of her life touring the country as JJ72′s bass player.

This week’s Extraordinary Women interviewee is Sarah June Fox; an amazingly talented individual who will have you wanting to achieve and learn just as much as she does.


How would you describe yourself?

Gosh, that’s so hard.

Even on a business card, what would your write about yourself?

Hmm. Well, my Twitter line – which you can only have a few characters in – says Sarah June Fox, designer, print-maker, dislodged Canuck and noise-maker.

From making noise to designing, your career seems to have been quite diverse. Where did it all begin?

Since I was four, I played music and that was all I did until I was about thirty. Back in Canada, I trained as a musician in a very specific music high-school, it was an arts school of sorts. I then pursued music in University and then played music for approximately ten years as my career. I didn’t know anything else, I didn’t do anything else and when that didn’t work out, it was devastating. In retrospect though, it was amazing – I went back to college when I was 31 or 32.


What was that like?

Scary! Being a student is grand when you’re 21 or 22 but being a broke student when you’re in your thirties is a different kind of thing. I took to it really well, though. Being in college as a mature student was amazing though, I really wanted to be there and it didn’t feel like a chore. I think when you move straight from secondary to school to college, it’s your first bit of freedom and perhaps you don’t go to class as much as you should. I was like that in my first degree, I scraped through – I loved it but I needed a little break after high school.

When I was in college, we had several mature students in our year. Some of them had families and studying primary school teaching, that was both an advantage and a disadvantage to them. Instantaneously, they knew what children would enjoy or appreciate but they also had a much bigger personal workload than any of us younger students. How did you find working with students of different ages, when you returned to college?

It’s an interesting balance. The course that I did was hugely demanding and if you didn’t work hard, you failed – regardless of your age. However, people brought such different experiences to the table and that was a real pleasure to see and work with. Graphic design is a technical skill but it’s also hugely creative and imaginative, you get to bring a lot of your personality and personal interests to your work and specific projects. I do think though, that both I and the other mature students really benefited from having a wider range of experience.

What made you choose graphic design after music?

My boyfriend at the time was doing design and it’s kind of as simple as that. I saw what he was doing and I think I had known about design for quite some time but didn’t really know what it was called and didn’t think of it as a ‘thing’. So, when I finally saw that this was something you could pursue and making posters wasn’t just for fun, I began to see it as a career for myself.

Sometimes, the creative individuals are often looked at as having this innate skillset. Beginning a career in graphic design in your thirties, was it something you took to easily or was it an initial challenge for you?

There were a lot of things that I had done previously that were similar to design but I just hadn’t tagged them as that because I really didn’t know what design was. Playing in bands my whole life, I always designed the posters but I didn’t know that I was designing – I was just making a poster for my band. I had an interest in layouts and I had quite good visual awareness but at the same time I was making prints and mono-prints which is similar to design but…

You hadn’t really linked them all to the career of design.

Yes, exactly. I almost fell upon this career that encompassed all of my interests.

AtelierYou currently work in Atelier David Smith, did you gain that position straight after college?

From college, yes.

What was the job application process like?

In college, Dave was my tutor so it was great that I knew him already. I knew how to work with him and it still feels like a learning experience working with him because he’s so…

Ridiculously talented.

Ridiculously talented! In a way, it still feels like an extension of college but overall, ‘real-world design’ is very different to that of college. Now, I have clients, time-constraints…

Managing relationships is a huge part of your work too, I guess.

Yes, exactly and that was one of the great things about my course – we were constantly presenting our work, which at the time was terrible because I’m quite bad at public speaking and I’m quite shy but it really prepared me for talking about my work and explaining my creative processes – which is amazing.

I imagine that every day for you is different, but what would your average schedule look like?

At the minute, I’m essentially working two different jobs: I’m based in Atelier, three days a week and I work freelance four days a week. I’m often trying to juggle both of them. A day in Atelier, we will often have several projects on, some of them will be coming to a close and you’re dealing with printers and then other jobs are just beginning and they may require research or mock-ups.

How does that compare to working freelance?

I really enjoy the balance of the two. Atelier is amazing and I would definitely work there full-time if I could but the portfolio of work that I do for freelance is very different. However, I do think that I would find permanently working freelance extremely difficult.

Because of the constant demand to pitch ideas to new clients?

Yes, that and also because I’m not a very good time-manager – Work wise, I’m good at scheduling that but I find it very difficult to tell myself to stop working or knowing how much work to take on, that’s one of the things that I’m currently working on.


Whereas when you’re working in an office, when the lights are turned off – it’s a sign for you to go home.

Yes, it’s nice to go to a place of work and come home from work. When I’m freelancing, I could be replying to emails in bed when I wake up and before I go asleep – I find it difficult to just ‘turn off’.

Which is problematic for your mental health, almost?

You really need a different space for working, otherwise you just can’t decipher between work and home. Today, between email and mobiles phones, we’re all available twenty four hours a day, people expect you to be available at all-hours and it takes a really strong person to ‘turn off’.

Particularly with social media, we’re only every 140 characters away from a reply.

It’s a little scary.

Sarah & Corina

You’ve worked on some incredible design projects but what ones are you particularly proud of?

One that I particularly love is the Lennon Courtney project, which are a client of Atelier but it’s my favourite website that I’ve worked on. They’re amazing clients and they always look for a beautiful aesthetic – it’s a dream job! You get to work with amazing clothes and images and our ambition is just to accent that. It was also our first time to work with e-commerce and ‘Shopify’ and that was hugely interesting as I got to learn a new form of code – that’s the nerd in me!

Professionally, you’ve accomplished an incredible amount. First, you had a hugely successful music career with JJ72 and now you’re dominating the domain of graphic design but what remains on your bucket-list for the next ten years?

I’m really not sure. I mean, I’m working my dream job at the minute so I’m happy career-wise but I want to learn more and that’s why I keep taking on new and interesting projects. For example, I’m currently working on a programme for TV3 at the moment and I’ve never worked in the medium of television before and whilst there are huge similarities with other projects, I’m really enjoying the challenge of it and the opportunity to learn from it. My aim for the next decade is really to continue to educate myself and to upgrade my skillset.


That’s really inspiring and something, as a teacher, I would be a huge advocate of. At ‘Offset’ a couple of months ago, I was quite surprised to see how many women were involved and hugely successful in the domain of graphic design. My assumption was that it was a dominantly-male career. Was it that way when you were training?

In colleges across the country, the number of females studying graphic design greatly trumps the number of male students and whether or not they continue on to careers in graphic design is different but in terms of the workplace, I’ve never met any misogyny or nobody has ever discriminated against me, in getting a job, because I am a woman. The only thing that I have ever seen is that clients are sometimes surprised that I’m interested in coding and the technology side of the career but it’s nice to surprise people sometimes!

When I was scribing a list of people who inspire me for this interview series – it was quite long, to say the least but who are the people who impact upon you?

Oran Day in Atelier is a brilliant designer and the way that he thinks and talks about his love for design is extraordinary. When I watch him interact with clients or other professionals, I always learn something new and I’m regularly inspired to do better in my own work.

Sarah June Fox

Finally, earlier this year you took part in The Science Gallery’s ‘Fail Better’ exhibition, what was that experience like?

It was really nerve-wracking. We had to talk for five minutes about failure and when I said that I would do it, I explained my transition from music to graphic design and then I felt a bit like a chancer – I mean, I had quite an enviable music career, on paper but I wasn’t making any money from it and it just didn’t work out but I played some amazing shows and met some incredible people. Was it a failure because it wasn’t profitable? It was an amazing experience and the reaction from it was really lovely – I bared my soul and some may find that embarrassing but I’m really glad that I did it. 

Thank you so much to Sarah for participating in the Extraordinary Women series. Following Sarah on Twitter is something I would wholly recommend – tell her I sent you!

Counter Culture

According to a study undertaken by One4All, three quarters of people spend €1,000 on clothes and accessories each year. The study also revealed that 39% of people shop for new clothes and accessories once a month, whilst one fifth of people are shopping ever week.

Spending this much time in department stores and retail outlets, it wouldn’t be considered alien for relationships to develop between the customer and the sales assistant but how often do you stop to have a brief conversation with the person behind the till? Do you know their name? Would you be able to recognise them outside of their uniform?

The role of the shop assistant can be a thankless one. Behind the facade of the Cheshire cat grin, you can often feel invisible whilst simultaneously trying to assist difficult customers and demanding management.

This week, the exceptionally talented Katie O’Kelly takes to The Axis stage to explore the darker side of the retail domain in her brilliant play ‘Counter Culture’. I had the great fortune of speaking with Katie about her own experiences of working in retail and the influence of the 1913 Lockout in her performance.

How did you first get involved in theatre?

My dad, Donal O’Kelly, is an actor and a playwright so I’ve grown up with theatre and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been around a stage or a set. In a strange series of events, my Dad is the director for ‘Counter Culture’ too, but when I was younger I went to an amazing drama school, Ann Kavanagh’s Drama Class and really got the bug for it from there.

After the Leaving Cert, when it came to CAO applications, drama was the one area which I seemed to really enjoy doing so I thought I’d give it a go and I was accepted into Drama and Theatre Studies in Trinity which was brilliant and as part of that course, I spent the third year of my degree studying in Goldsmith’s College in London. Goldsmith’s was much more physical approach to learning in terms of course content whereas Trinity was very much theoretical-based.

When you were choosing to explore theatre as a career, did you feel any pressure or that you had a certain reputation to live up to due to the fact that your father was already established as both a playwright and an actor in the same field?

It was scary, I had a big shadow to fill but because of my Dad’s involvement in theatre, I never saw it through rose-tinted glasses. I had no aspirations that as soon as I would leave college I would see my name in lights, I knew the challenges of the career, but I loved it and really wanted to pursue it and it’s been amazing so far.

Has working with your dad in a professional capacity altered your relationship?

At the very beginning, we had to decide – particularly because he was directing me – to leave the personal elements of our relationship at the door and be entirely professional as the most important thing is making the show the best that it can be. It did help too as we both understood each other so well, throughout the process we had an almost shorthand way of communicating that the other could decipher which really brought a lot to the process.

Where did the drive come from to write such a focused piece about the retail industry?

A year ago, I found a picture of my granny when she was on strike, standing outside of Clery’s on O’Connell Street in 1983. When I was younger, I worked in retail myself along with many of my friends and have always wanted to write a play about that experience, the crazy customers who come in asking mad questions and the challenges of the work. However, I really wanted the play to be about something so when I found this photo of my granny, it was something that I never really knew about my granny and really gave me a new angle to explore for the play.

The piece is structured around four characters, without giving too much away; could you give me an insight into each of them?

The main character Bridie is modeled mostly on my granny; she’s 64 years old and retiring on the day which the play is set (The play spans one day in the department store). Then there’s her granddaughter Gemma, who is heavily pregnant and is sent to work within the store’s soft furnishings department – management no longer believe she’s able to pull off the costumes and clothes that’s needed to sell ladieswear. Gemma is not based on me – I promise!

The third character is Simon; he’s a ladder-climbing, assistant manager who is trying to implement zero-hour contracts, which are being brought in by the store’s senior management on the day the play is set. Finally, there’s Jonathan who is a happy-go-lucky Dublin security guard. His character offers a light-release from the tensions of the play and the chaos that ensues when the zero-hour contracts are introduced. I wrote the play last year, at the time of when these zero-hour contracts were first implemented in Ireland last year and I wanted to discuss the difficulties these conditions and legalities had on employees, particularly because last year was the centenary of the Dublin Lockout.  

The statue of Jim Larkin has a physical presence in the piece but was it important to you that he was referenced within the play?

When I visited Clery’s, as research for the play, one of the things that struck me was Jim Larkin’s statue shadowing the building just outside the door and thought it would be interesting to transform the statue into a character of sorts, like Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ in style, watching the mayhem unfurling within the department store. I must mention that in the play, the store Mackens is fictional but inspired by Clery’s.

How does the retail domain which you’ve constructed for Counter Culture compare to the real one?

The play takes the hierarchical structures found within your typical department store and uses them for dramatic effect. In a sense, I wanted to create a modern fairytale with almost magical characters coming on and off stages and whilst the play is set over one day in the department store, the audience are offered breaks in the action with training video excerpts which I remember very vividly from working in retail. In my day, they were over-heightened American videos reminding you of titbits such as ‘Always fluff and fold’ and ‘Always smile’ – lots of nonsense but I wanted to incorporate that part of my retail experience into the piece too. 

Delving into the darker side of retail, behind the façade of the cash desk smiles, has creating and performing this piece altered your customer experience of retail?

It has actually, you notice far more – especially when you realise that most of the people working in these shops are the lowest paid workers and they’re now being asked to take on these new contracts that offer them so little job security. It’s so unfair that these are the people who have to bear the brunt of the economic downturn. Plus, you often see some of these people working on the shop floors having a tough time, either from a challenging customer or management and working on this play really affected how I reacted to those behind the tills or stocking shelves. You see retail in a whole new light!

What is the one talking point you want to emerge from ‘Counter Culture’?

I would love for people to emerge from the performance talking about the zero-hour contracts and to have them keep in mind that standing up for workers’ rights is not something that belongs in 1913 but is just as relevant today and we need action to change that. 

You can read more about ‘Counter Culture’ at The Axis here whilst tickets are available for the two performances of June 12th and 13th here. This is one piece of theatre you should definitely in 2014.

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