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…

Exactly!

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

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_2127

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

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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!’

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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?

FREEICECREAM

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.

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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.

Featuring X

Feautring X

What’s your favourite music video? On Twitter, I asked the same question and below are some of the responses:

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Though, what makes an artist’s video so memorable: A connection to the lyrics? Cinematography? Plot? Cultural references? Product placement?

Last year, the five most popular music videos on YouTube / Vevo were Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ and ‘We Can’t Stop’, Will.I.Am’s ‘Scream & Shout’ which featured Britney Spears, Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ and Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’.

For me, I tend to be drawn to a video that takes inspiration from the past and alters it slightly. Whether that’s Blink 182′s ‘All The Small Things‘ (a parody of various pop videos including The Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way’) or Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ which was heavily inspired by Clueless.

Thus, it was of no surprise that I was drawn to Drogheda-based five-piece Featuring X’s debut video ‘Wild Love’.

Within the opening frame, it’s obvious whereby the group attained their influence; Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love‘. A visual which has been parodied more times than I count, including at the VVIP Awards last year with Bressie and a host of models.

Within Palmer’s video, Terence Donovan directed models Julie Pankhurst, Patty Kelly, Mak Gilchrist, Julia Bolino and Kathy Davies to be robot-like, inspired by the representations of women in Patrick Nagel’s artwork. For the shoot, a musician was hired to teach the models guitar fingering techniques but succumbed after an hour.

This stoic portrayal of women was key to director Gavin Kilduff choosing to renew the classic with the Irish musicians.

“Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ being one of the most iconic images of women within music videos, it always bothered me that none of the women could actually play their instruments but were there purely as set dressing. When meeting and seeing how talented the Featuring X’s girls were I felt they would be the perfect group to subvert that famous imagery as here were girls who could really play their instruments.”

‘Wild Love’ took six hours to record, a surprising duration as visually it may appear quite simplistic. However, my favourite feature of the video is how it was recorded: To attain the grainy aesthetic symbolising the past, Kilduff recorded the video in HD using a Canon 5dmk2 but exported it to a VHS format to give the video an authentic antiquity.

In the midst of their Leaving Certificate exams, Featuring X (comprised of Niamh Sharkey, Dara Farrelly, Eleanor Rogers, Sarah McLaughlin and Jenny McKeown) have released an impressive track with a video that questions the traditional roles of female musicians in pop culture.

‘Wild Love’ is officially released on June 26th but I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. I’d recommend you do the same!

You can follow Featuring X’s journey through Facebook and Twitter.

Extraordinary Women: Caroline Downey

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Caroline Downey’s curriculum vitae would consist of more than one ream of paper. From embracing upcoming Irish music talents to exclusively producing shows that involve Barack Obama, Frank Kelly and more, Caroline is one of the most driven, ambitious individuals whom I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Extracting the profession, as a person Caroline is kind, approachable and always willing to listen to your idea – whether it’s tremendous or terrible. I could list her characteristics for many more characters but one of my favourite elements to her personality –  like me, Caroline has a penchant for ridiculous millinery.

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How would you describe yourself?

I’m Caroline Downey, I’m 52. I’m the Director of the Gaiety and co-owner of MCD Concerts. I’m managing a new artist called Hozier. I produce some shows and I sit on the board of the ISPCC and the Christina Noble foundation.

I imagine that day-to-day, your schedule differs hugely.

Vastly.

Is there one particular element of your work or schedule that you would have preference over?

It really depends on the time of year. At Christmas and in the lead up to the festive season, the pantomime in the Gaiety is all encompassing. During that time too, the Childline concert is on and that takes up a considerable amount of my time but I have a tendency that when a project is finished, I move on almost immediately. I don’t dwell on it, I don’t live in the past and sometimes people who work with me can find that quiet difficult but I have to.

With a schedule so demanding, that’s very understanding. You started your career as a model…

Well, I was a waitress from the time I was about fourteen but I’ve worked at almost everything – from the factory, to supermarkets, you name it. I was raised between Australia and South Africa and didn’t go to school in Ireland for quite a while.

Growing up on the other side of the world, did that have much impact on you in later life and in your current line of work?

Not really but what it did make me want to do was to make sure that my children stayed in the one school and grew up with the same friends. That was a definite as when I was growing up, I had been to eight different schools, it’s not the best…

I moved schools after first year in secondary school and found the one change of school particularly difficult. I can’t imagine what eight changes were like.

It was a challenge but particularly because later in life it transpired that I was dyslexic. At the time, I put it down to just being stupid but every time that you moved country, which we did every two to four years, it means learning new history, new geography – one country did French, another did Africans.

Were the different cultures a challenge to embrace?

No, that you can live with. As a teacher yourself, you know that there is not a global curriculum apart from maths and maybe science. External to that, the content is pretty relevant to the effects of a country itself. Then imagine adding all of that onto being dyslexic, it wasn’t pleasant but I was quite sporty – sport was my saviour. I played hockey and water-polo but sport was great in terms of integrating as it didn’t matter what your language barrier was or the country’s culture, sport was sport – you just had to be good at it!

Earlier you mentioned waitressing and working in a factory, did those jobs provide you with the skills you needed for your current roles or did you learn on the job?

When it came to work, I knew what I didn’t want to do (laughs).

And what was that?

I knew that I didn’t want to work in the Supermarket or waitress again. Actually, I enjoyed waitressing and I think it’s something that everyone should do. Storm, my daughter, is doing that at the moment – she’s in the middle of a gap year before she undertakes her Masters. I think it’s a great way of making money, it’s a great way of meeting new people. I didn’t much like the other part-time jobs that I had when I was younger but yes, I knew what I didn’t want to do.

In the early days of founding MCD, were they challenging?

No, not at all because when we started out, we had nothing – we didn’t know any better. I worked the door, we drove to all of the gigs and mostly, it was fun!

Looking at your role as a producer, is there much difference for you in producing a concert like Childline, in comparison to producing a pantomime?

The concept is the very same – except actually, everyone gets paid at the pantomime! At Childline, they all work for free. It’s the same formula though; you need lots of great talent! For pantomime, you have to find a good script – for Childline, that’s the songs. For both projects a great director and set designer are required.  It’s almost identical in one way, much like producing theatrical pieces for the stage like Moll which is currently on in the Gaiety but it’s the same recipe as when I produced the Meteor Awards or Barack Obama at College Green – fundamentally, it’s about your team. You can produce as much as you want but if you don’t have the support system around you, then it’s not going to work.

What makes a great team?

Efficiency and a willingness to listen to me (laughs)! I have an amazing team, in all areas. Interestingly, with Childline the team is predominantly female.

Does that make much of a difference?

No, they weren’t hired based on their gender but because they were the most efficient team for that project. Actually, the lighting designer for Childline is male but then in the pantomime, Daryn Crosbie, Ronan and Matt McCluskey are each male but they were the best in their field. For my team, I choose the best; it’s irrespective whether they’re male or female.

You’ve mentioned your involvement with Childline but why do you think the work of the ISPCC is so important, particularly in 2014?

Because abuse is ongoing, it’s possibly just more out in the open today than it was thirty years ago when I first started working with the ISPCC. I first got involved because of Ann Lovett but now we have bigger problems with the issue of bullying and in particular, cyber bullying. With all of the great things that the Internet has brought to society such as Twitter and social media, it also has huge downfalls.

In the past, if you were being bullied in school, it finished at the school gates at 3 o’clock and commenced again the following morning but that doesn’t happen any longer, through the medium of the internet, it continues.  Also, children are still being beaten, they’re still being sexually abused, they’re still living below the poverty line, there are still parents who aren’t caring for their children and that has not altered, not one little bit.

The ISPCC has been in existence for almost 110 years and wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need the ISPCC – along with Barnardos and all of the other brilliant charities that are doing incredible work for children in this country.

Earlier, we were speaking about gender-roles in the workplace, do you think there are any further challenges for women in employment versus men in the same roles?

No and I’ve asked my girlfriends this question too and their response is that they are successful because they work very hard. Recently, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ and for all of the hype that surrounded it, she spoke frequently that there wasn’t enough women but I think a lot of women prefer, by choice, to stay at home and raise their families and it seems to be because there aren’t enough women in high executive positions that it’s frowned upon. I think that if a woman wants to do it all, can do it all but then, I’m not in the corporate world and perhaps I haven’t hit the glass ceiling. In our industry, it’s irrespective whether you’re male or female; you have to be good at what you do.

Also, I know many won’t agree with me on this but I also don’t believe that a woman should sit on a board just because she’s a woman, your position should be granted because you deserve to be there –irrespective of your gender. I sit on a variety of boards, the work is slow and tedious but it has to be done. Me, I want everything done tomorrow and at meetings I often find myself asking ‘What do you mean we have to wait a month?’ but sitting around the table, I don’t count the men and the women I just think that they’re all there because they have a specific reason to be present. 

 To the young women of this country, who perhaps are still in school, what advice would you give them?

Try everything and that goes back to what I was saying at the beginning; through new experiences you may not find exactly what you want to do but you will discover what you don’t want to do. When Zac (Caroline’s son) was in Transition Year, he did some of his work experience in radio. He worked in Today FM and Setanta – he spent much of his time there logging information. He came away from the experience totally confident knowing that field wasn’t what he wanted to work in. Jeff (Caroline’s son), I’m not certain where he worked, perhaps it was in MCD.

When transition year students come for work experience in MCD, they have this image of it being a very glamorous job but it’s really not.

Filled with lots of paperwork, I imagine.

If you’re lucky! If you’re working on festivals, Croke Park for example, you’re stuck in window-less concrete obvious and you’re completely oblivious to the show that’s happening outside.

Prior to last year, people knew of your work but perhaps they were unable to put a face to a name. What was it like being involved in Celebrity Apprentice?

I found it very difficult; it was naïve of me almost. I hadn’t allowed that I would have known so many of the celebrities that had taken part – of the ten, I knew four very well. It’s very hard to fire someone who you know so well, someone who has been so supportive of you, particularly in the case of Mikey Graham. He’s an ambassador for my charity, so that was very hard.

At the same time, you can’t show favouritism to him in the boardroom.

No, you can’t because each of the celebrities were raising money for phenomenal charities. If I had to think of the charity first, they all could have won so I had to take it challenge-by-challenge and the women buried the men!

Was the outcome what you expected when it initially began?

Initially, I didn’t think that Edele (Lynch) would have won but that was because of pre-conceived notions. I thought Amanda (Brunker) might have been in the running and as the series progressed I thought that Daniella (Moyles) would do very well but the efficiency of Edele – you would give her a job tomorrow morning. Daniella was pretty efficient too but her career and star is rising already on the rise – she doesn’t need us!

Caroline Downey - Celebrity ApprenticeWere you glad that you did it in the end?

I was, at the time I wasn’t and shortly afterwards when I was publicising it I wasn’t but looking back on it, I’m glad I did. We raised a lot of money, almost €135,000 and when that much good comes from a project, it’s difficult to look back on it negatively.

You’ve worked on a gargantuan number of projects, programmes and performances but is there anything remaining which you wish to do in your career?

Nothing that I’ve ever done is what I’ve wanted to do, does that make sense? I’ve fallen into a lot of things but I just like to have a new chapter. As we were saying earlier, women can have it all but I believe that perhaps they just can’t have it all at once. Sometimes it can be difficult juggling both your family and your career. In my case, I didn’t do as much when the children were smaller so fundraising became a big platform for me and I worked from home. As they grew older, I could take on more in terms of work but my new journey is managing Hozier, along with producing plays and pantomimes in the Gaiety.

I imagine it’s rather difficult to choose, but is there a moment in your career which you’re most proud of?

My greatest wish, and I don’t know if it will ever happen, I would like it to happen and I hope it will, is that the ISPCC Shield Campaign becomes international. I would love if people wore their shield for the month of March around the world for anti-bullying. If that happened, I would be extremely happy.

How could that happen? Is it about encouraging celebrities around the world to embrace the campaign?

I would like to think that at Childline we have a template which other nations can take example from. At the moment, we have a repertoire of twenty eight huge celebrities, each of their photos taken by Barry McCall but the celebrities themselves are so willing to be involved. After all, most of them too have been bullied. I think they can empathise with children. For other nations, they can bring their own celebrities forward and they can use our template – I want them to take it!

On behalf of Little People of Ireland, I travel to quite a few schools – both primary and secondary schools – and give talks about my experience of being a little person.

Were you bullied?

I wasn’t and I get asked that question quite a lot as part of the various talks but I really owe a huge amount to both of my parents. They instilled in me a confidence and a real sense of self that really helped me pave my way through education, employment, friendship and all that falls between. I think it was because I was so comfortable being me…

That they just left you alone, really.

Yes, exactly and even now, among my closest friends they often forget that I stand at 105.5 cm tall – until of course I can’t reach something or there’s an obstruction in my way.

That’s them seeing you, for you. It’s irrelevant what size, race, or age you are. 

This series, Extraordinary Women, began due to the reporting of L’Wren Scott’s death in the New York Times. She was a woman who I admired greatly for being both a fashion designer and a savy business women. On the announcement of her death though, the headline read ‘Mick Jagger’s girlfriend has died’ and whilst that may have equated to more website views due to Mick’s fame, I was deeply saddened because at the end of the day, L’Wren was someone’s daughter, someone’s niece, someone’s sister, she was a person in her own right.

Unfortunately, that’s how tabloids work. She did come to people’s attention thirteen years ago because of her relationship with Mick Jagger but she stood out on her own. I don’t know what it is, I’m always tagged with Denis. It happened only recently, ‘Manager of Hozier, Caroline Downey (wife of Denis Desmond)’ and you think to yourself ‘When do you become your own person? Why must you always be tagged with a man?’ They don’t write Denis Desmond (husband of Caroline Downey).

It’s also really common that journalists will report, ‘Caroline Downey, mother of three’ but they wouldn’t write ‘Denis Desmond, father of three’. Why is that relevant?

In those particularly cases, let’s be really honest here, the women do the bulk of the juggling when it comes to children. There are some extraordinary men in existence who do care for their children in the same way but perhaps it’s written that way to illustrate that women achieve all of these things along with being a mother of three.

I always find it interesting with Amy Huberman, when Brian (O’Driscoll) is interviewed he’s never asked about when he’s having his next child but it’s a question that she’s commonly asked. Equally with Dawn O’ Porter, Chris O’Dowd is never asked about having children but Dawn is continuously asked about being mother.

My final question for you Caroline, from meeting you in a cold rehearsal room with matching fox hats (the photos are on Twitter) you have had an incredible influence on me personally, but who are the people who inspire you?

Christina Noble. Without a shadow of a doubt! When Storm was in Transition Year, she and I went to Vietnam to visit the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. We visited the orphans – the foundation has built schools and a place where the feel safe, they even have Westlife posters plastered all over the walls. Within the Foundation, education is key – the belief is that you don’t give a hand out, you give a hand up. We also went to the blind school which affected Storm the most because the children can only identify you through touch – their injuries mostly from surgeries because of Agent Orange.

For me though, there’s just something about Christina. She’s one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. 

We succumbed to the #selfie.

We succumbed to the #selfie.

Thank you so much to Caroline for taking an entire afternoon to speak with me.

To follow Caroline’s summer journey managing Hozier and the upcoming pantomime season, you can find her on Twitter. Tell her I sent you!

To view more Extraordinary Women interviewees, simply click here.

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