Last night, I had the absolute privilege of attending the launch of Peter O’Brien’s fifth collection for Arnott’s. The Irish designer’s name has become synonymous with feminine tailoring and beautiful knitwear.
His sharp eye for detail and innate ability to predict not just what Irish women want but also what their wardrobes need, make him one of the most talented fashion designers on the island.
What I admire most about Peter is his sharp wit, kind nature and modesty. Thus, it was a great honour to interview him about his first steps into the fashion domain, his experiences of being the house designer at Chloé and of course, his take on the frivolous language often employed in fashion writing – pun intended.
How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?
Contrary to today where everybody is exposing everything about themselves on television and in the media, I was brought up in an era where it was considered impolite to talk about oneself. Thus, that kind of question sends me reeling! How would I describe myself? Well professionally, I’m a terrible procrastinator – if it can be done tomorrow night, I’ll do it two days later. I always function better when a deadline is looming. Personally? I think we delude ourselves as to what we really are. I always thought that I was terribly easy-going and very easy to work but when I say that, people in wardrobe or those who work with me, look at me with a raised eyebrow. So, I think maybe I’m a bit of a perfectionist but I hope that I would never be unkind. As a person though, I hope that I am loyal, kind, generous and a nice friend. I’m not one of those people that are hugely driven and sometimes, I kind of wish that I was and that I had that ‘killer instinct’.
I’m not sure if it’s something you learn but instead is an innate skill or ambition.
Well, I think I’m very lucky. I do what I do and I have a relative facility for it. It’s never painless but I guess I’m lucky that I can do a specific thing and people come to me and ask me to do it. You do have to consider yourself incredibly lucky when you get paid for doing what you love to do.
In your early years, what led you to the domain of fashion design?
There was never a second’s doubt in my mind, I always wanted to draw and I always wanted to draw clothes. You could ask my Mum – I always had a pencil in my hand. Even my copybooks in school were covered in drawings of ladies in ball-dresses.
Some people admire sporting heroes, others obsess over reality television stars or inspirational and political leaders. It’s a very personal choice and I don’t believe we have the right to say that one is better than the other.
Through ‘Minnie Mélange‘, I have had wonderful opportunities to meet and speak with some individuals whom inspire me most. However, during my recent time at London Fashion Week, I had the fortune and somewhat luck to meet and briefly speak with someone whom I’m a huge fan of; Hamish Bowles.
Perhaps that name means nothing or very little to you, but I was in awe. Hamish studied in Central Saint Martin’s College and previously worked as both fashion editor and fashion director at Harper’s Bazaar before taking up a post at American Vogue in 1992. 22 years later, he is International Editor at Large at American Vogue.
In sync with his journalistic prowess, Hamish Bowles also owns one of the world’s largest collections of vintage clothes and has previously curated exhibitions for both the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and Oscar de la Renta’s ‘Balenciaga in Spain’ which toured both New York and San Francisco.
With Bowles’ consistent exhibition of grandeur in the pages of Vogue and in his manner of dress, one could easily assume that he is both unapproachable and unrelatable. In the New York Times, Vogue’s Editor in Chief, Anna Wintour commented on Bowles that “We have this vision of Hamish being this special person who lives in a special world, and he is not that at all. He can be at home anywhere”. Having met Hamish in London’s Somerset House, I cannot agree more with Anna. He politely stopped and we chatted briefly about his highlights from New York Fashion Week. He was generous with his time and words, and even bent down to literally ‘rub shoulders’ with me for a photo or two – all while he needed to be punctual for Sibling’s Autumn Winter presentation.
Hamish: ‘Would you like to be on the cover of US Vogue?’ Sinéad: ‘Let me check my diary!’
It was one of those moments that I will never forget and afterwards, felt completely surreal and left me a little shook. This ‘ode to Hamish’ may verge on fan-girling but to be honest, I’m quite alright with that.
You can find Hamish Bowles on Instagram here; an account that offers insights and witticisms you won’t find anywhere else.
Growing up, I was really fortunate to be raised in a house-hold where music was vitally important. My parents loved Bob Marley, OMD, Bronksi Beat, UB40, Erasure, Michael Jackson and of course, Joe Dolan. It was an eclectic mix!
Today, when you walk through my house, at any one time there could be five or six songs ebbing from the different rooms. It’ll be 30 Seconds to Mars from my brother Chris’ room, Ed Sheeran from wherever Natasha is working, Charlie XCX will be pouring out from Niamh’s space and Chloe will be singing Phantom of the Opera or listening to Taylor Swift.
Me? I’m probably in the kitchen attempting to lip-sync to Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’.
My point is, music is intrinsic to all of us, it soothes us, is a vehicle by which we convey our emotions and is a powerful tool which invokes memories.
I assumed that this feeling evaporates when music is not only your passion but your profession. Surely musicians get sick of singing the same song, every night, in a different city?!
Last week, The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue convinced me otherwise. Danny was painfully honest and couldn’t vocalise enough how still after 20 million albums, he’s just some ‘fella’ from James’ Street in Dublin.
How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?
Describe myself? Em, fun-loving – I like a good laugh. I’m emotional; I tend to feel things more than your regular ‘dude’ on the street and honest. I guess music is also a great word to describe me because it’s got highs and lows, it has tragedies and triumphs, it’s got a certain melody to it and perhaps maybe melancholic too. Unsurprisingly, I love a good melancholic melody!
‘No Sound Without Silence’ is the fourth album and whilst I’m not a musician, I imagine that after every album you learn a huge amount from the process and the audience’s reaction to the record but what have you taken from ‘The Script’, ‘3’ and ‘Science and Faith’ to make this fourth album?
I think I learned that the deeper you dig, the more gold you find which I think is also true of perhaps the more superficial songs. If you can imagine a song that you think ‘oh this will really work on the radio’, you create a melody and a lyric around this idea but you soon release that as a song, it doesn’t have any heart or true emotion in it.
What I have learned is that when listening back to our previous albums, the songs which I gravitate towards are the ones that I was the most honest on. By that, I don’t mean ‘oh I’m sad today’, but the themes and things that people don’t want to talk about; the passing of a parent and the times when you are painfully heartbroken. Within the band, Mark and I are the primary lyricists and we construct versus from difficult and brilliant experiences that we both have had. Also, when singing the songs live, there are particular lyrics that really hit you in the gut, the audience may not be aware of its meaning but you can’t help but recall that moment in your head, even when you’re on stage. So yeah, to answer your question – I think the most prominent thing which we have learned as a band is to be more open and honest as each album progresses.
For me, that’s the definition of music as an art, it’s being able to illustrate an emotion or a feeling that others can’t dictate in music but can relate to and experience.
In relation to honesty, is there ever a moment where you feel that you’re being too open in such a public forum like music?
The Script often gets caught in the division between critics and the people who listen to our music solely for enjoyment. Critics don’t like the fact that we are as honest as we are – that we wear our hearts on our sleeves. However, audiences love us for it. Unfortunately though, I think the critics mistake us for a band that gives a shit about all of that ‘stuff’, which really is to their detriment. Our aim with our music is to attempt to understand the human condition and by that, I don’t mean every single human being but me personally and interestingly, the most important lessons that I have learned about myself, appears to be what unifies the audiences that we play to.
You mentioned there that critics have a perception of what music should be. Is that something that needs to be amended or is it healthy for the industry?
No, I don’t think it’s a problem that needs to be fixed but perhaps it’s a change that needs to happen within the individual themselves. I don’t really understand this notion of a totalitarian society where one person’s opinion matters to everybody. I think it would be better if instead these people suggested something because I think to be so definite about something, particularly with a negative viewpoint, could be a hindrance. However, I do see a huge change within the industry – particularly within the past two years – if you go to iTunes or YouTube, beneath the song you could have five thousand people offering their comments and thoughts on the product. To a certain extent, everyone is a reviewer – the monopoly no longer exists or at least will cease to exist very soon.
At the end of 2002, Jay Z released the song ’03 Bonnie and Clyde’ which featured Beyoncé. The track sampled TuPac’s ‘Me and My Girlfriend’ and earned the number four position on Billboard’s Hot 100. Thus, it equated to Beyoncé’s first top ten hit as a solo artist.
Whilst these achievements are more than noteworthy, the one element of the song that particularly resonated with me was Jay’s referencing of a British fashion house. According to the Brooklyn rapper, ‘the only time you wear Burberry (is) to swim.’
Burberry Campaign: Spring / Summer 2000
Fast forward twelve years later, the celebrity domain cannot wear enough Burberry – Beyoncé too!
Why, though? Well, in 2001 Christopher Bailey joined Burberry as the Creative Director. Previously, he had worked for both Donna Karan and Gucci – in the era where Tom Ford was at the helm. However, when he migrated to Burberry, Bailey was faced with significant challenges. The brand’s iconic plaid had become almost archaic but Christopher’s role required him to blend Burberry’s history of tartan and outerwear with a modern edge that would appeal to a wide-spanning demographic.
In 2006, Angela Ahrendts left her position as Vice President of Liz Claiborne to become Burberry’s CEO. Together they made innovative decisions; they invested millions of pounds into their runway presentations, installed iPads in every Burberry store for their sales assistants and heightened their online presence with live-chat functionality for sales. The result? The completed 2013 with a 14% rise in sales amounting to £528m.
The collaboration of Ahrendts / Bailey and the impact which it had on the fashion house received positive acclaim from critics and customers alike. Style.com’s Sarah Mower wrote that turning “the frumpy old country lady’s Burberry into a fashionable thing” is “something of a cause for national pride in Britain.”
However, earlier this year Apple recruited Angela Ahrendts to the position of Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Stores. The vacancy at Burberry proved controversial as Christopher Bailey was promoted to the positions of both Creative Director and CEO. Whilst shareholders voted against Bailey’s rise in salary, the market has yet to reflect customers’ dissatisfaction.
Whether you agree with the brand’s business decisions or not, Burberry’s re-branding and management landscape continues to fascinate me.
Burberry Campaign: Spring / Summer 2014
Standing at 105.5 cm, investing in a fashion brand is not a decision I take lightly. Quite often, a litany of alternations need to be made in order for the garment to fit me properly, which in turn would add to the cost and mean losing a significant amount of fabric to my dressmaker’s scissors. Thus, I have abstained and purchase accessories instead. (I have more scarves than you shake a stick at)
This week though, I strongly contemplated renouncing my title as a high-fashion pioneer as I discovered Burberry’s childrenswear. Clothes made for infants and teens are often twee and over-sentimental but Burberry’s line reflects the garments in their adult lookbooks but remain age-appropriate; a combination very few perfect.
The good news? You can purchase all of the above in sizes measuring 4 years to fourteen years. Thus, if you’re on the shorter side of average height, you can jump on this bandwagon.
The not so good news? For the items above, prices span from €215.00 to €1,895. As a student, they are not within my discretionary income budget but in a few years time, I shall be meandering down Grafton Street in head-to-toe plaid. Maybe.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
JumpFromPaper 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.
Their 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or give them a call on 021 490 1844.
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.
Cameron, 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!
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!
How 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…
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.
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.