Extraordinary Women: Jo Ellison

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Interviewing one of the people you admire most can be nerve-inducing. When said person’s previous occupation was to interview the likes of Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Michael Fassbender and One Direction, your anxiety is only amplified. However, Jo Ellison is one of the kindest, warmest and most hilarious people who I’ve had the fortune to speak with.

Currently the Fashion Editor at the Financial Times, Jo is but the second individual to inhabit the role. The inaugural editor was Vanessa Friedman, who took over from Cathy Horyn and is now the Fashion Editor at the New York Times. Since taking to the FT but a year ago, Jo has surprised audiences with her historical and cultural viewpoint on fashion and has cultivated a trusted relationship with designers, buyers and those who care very little for fashion.

In two days, Jo Ellison is participating in a sold-out talk series at the Galway International Arts Festival and I’m incredibly honoured that she took time out of her holiday to speak with and inspire me.

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How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

As a person, I guess I’m quite loud and opinionated. I would like to think that I am quite a good laugh to be around and professionally, it would be pretty much the same but I’m quite controlling too. Let’s just say that I’m a control freak [laughs].

You began your career with the Irish Examiner and you’re returning to the west coast for the Galway International Arts Festival but what appeals to you about the Irish people and landscape?

I moved over to Cork to be with my boyfriend at the time, now my husband. I had just graduated and didn’t have a huge amount of career prospects in London. I found myself living in Cork in 1999 and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up going into the Irish Examiner for a subbing test, to see if I could do night shifts and from that, I got a job there. I think of Ireland as where I began my career and have always felt a genuine connection to the land because it was my first experience of working in a newspaper. Cork was such a friendly place and I know it sounds like a terrible cliché but I genuinely feel that Irish people are incredibly supportive and generous. There is none of the pettiness that I find amongst British people and particularly, in London. I find that there’s no bullshit in Ireland. I mean, there’s a lot of bullshit, you all bullshit a lot of the time [laughs] but you always find that there’s a certain straight-forwardness about people. I really love that!

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Extraordinary Women: Maria Doyle Kennedy

Extraordinary Women: Maria Doyle Kennedy - Minnie Mélange
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Have you ever admired someone from afar and wish that you knew them? Or have yourself almost convinced that if you did know them, you would be the best of friends.The acceleration of the internet and in particular, social media has elevated the number of opportunities which we have access to such people.

I was very honoured Maria Doyle Kennedy said yes to being interviewed for the ‘Extraordinary Women’ series. Maria Doyle Kennedy is as impressive in person as she is on record, on film, on stage and online.

Extraordinary Women: Maria Doyle Kennedy - Minnie Mélange

How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

I think that’s an impossible thing to do, really. Well, unless maybe if you were a true narcissist that would be all you would do for the entire interview [laughs]. But I’m not. Well, I hope not anyway. I’ve no idea, I think that, and I don’t really see the point in describing yourself either, I mean, the whole journey for me is about figuring out who you are and I keep thinking I’ve done it and then I realise I haven’t a clue and so I learn a bit more. In a way, I feel I’ll suddenly go “lightbulb”, and then I’ll keel over, you know. That I’ll finally get it and that’ll be the end of me.

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Extraordinary Women: Dr Rhona Mahony

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Twelve months ago, L’Wren Scott, one of my favourite fashion designers died. To alert the world about her passing, the New York Times led with the headline ‘Mick Jaggers’ Girlfriend Has Died’. The publication received mass criticism but their rationale was that Mick Jagger was more popular than L’Wren. Thus, their article would receive a higher number of ‘clicks’.

I had no relationship with L’Wren, I was merely an admirer of her work but I was horrified on her behalf. The New York Times later apologised for their reporting and amended the headline but the controversy sparked an idea in me. I was consistently frustrated by the rhethoric which is employed in the media to talk about and to women. I wanted to refocus the conversation and actively began to meet and interview women who inspired and interested me across the domains of journalism, education, sport, literature, technology, theatre and music.

This ‘Extraordinary Women’ series is one of my proudest achievements and I could not be more honoured or excited to present the fifteenth conversation with one of my heroes; Dr Rhona Mahony. Rhona is the Master at the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street in Dublin but what defines her as extraordinary is her compassion, dedication, ambition, curiosity and sense of humour.

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How would you describe yourself, both personally and professionally?

I think I’m evolving all of the time. Like most people, I’m not sure I’m quite sure who I am. I work hard, I am very committed to the National Maternity Hospital but I also love the elements of life outside of that too. Particularly, with my family – my husband and children are very important to me. I’m quite simple in my tastes, I love to run, I love good food, I do enjoy the odd glass of wine and that’s me. I’m not so complex. Oh, and I love to read books.

What kind of books?

I’ll read anything – from the back of an old Cornflakes box, a new novel to the older classics. The greatest pleasure I have is being lost in a book. Funny enough, I find escapism in books more so than in any other medium. I don’t watch much television, I do like the radio but I love to read. Someday even, I would love to write a book.

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Minnie Meets… Joe Caslin

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Joe Caslin is an artist and a secondary school teacher. He is the creator of the powerful mural that of two men embracing on George’s Street, Dublin. His iconic monochrome work narrates themes of identity, patriotism, masculinity, discrimination and mental health. His art is powerful in its subtlety and permits an audience to cultivate their own meaning and rationale.

In the early hours of April 11th, Joe Caslin placed a mural of two young men embracing on the crossroads of Dame Street and George’s Street in Dublin’s city centre. The artwork has been a focal point of conversation in the run up to the referendum on marriage equality.

I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak with Joe Caslin – an individual who is unapologetic in his drive to make change through art. Although his work may only be stationery for a limited period of time, the cognitive, emotional and societal impact which he instigates is immeasurable.

Joe Caslin

How would you describe yourself, both personally and professionally?

Dedicated, empathetic and a bit mad.

Was it a conscious decision to have a dual-pronged career of being a teacher and an artist?

I consider myself an artist first and unlike if you are a maths teacher, it’s unlikely that you’ll also be a mathematician. As an art teacher, you have practiced art for a substantial amount of time. In my first seven years of teaching, I lost five kids to suicide – it happened very quickly and very early on in my career. That had a huge impact on how I was as a person. I then left teaching to undertake a Masters and prior to the course, you had to present a proposal of what you wanted to do and I thought I wanted to make role models for young men. I thought I could solve all problems by drawing! I quickly figured out that I couldn’t but what I could do was to create a conversation.

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Extraordinary Women: Lisa Dwan

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I was recently asked to define my greatest attribute and without much contemplation, I announced it to be listening. It’s a skill which I’ve consciously honed and developed over the past number of years – it is essential for my role as a teacher, a researcher, an interviewer, a friend, a sibling and occasionally, as a daughter. However, is it my greatest attribute? I’m not so sure.

Without sounding overtly egotistical, my reasoning for the amendment is not because of a sudden realisation of how great I am but due to this blog. ‘Minnie Mélange’ has developed from an online portal for my personal fashion commentary to become an outlet for me to converse with those who inspire and interest me most. The common thread between these two dimensions is curiosity. In the cacophony of voice and spectrum of content which is available online, my insatiable curiosity has been the vehicle to decipher that noise and to find the people and ‘things’ which interest me most.

The most authentic representation of that curiosity can be found within the ‘Extraordinary Women’ series. Over the past year, I have been fortunate to speak with the most amazing individuals who have denoted their ambitions, failures, successes, dreams, personal characteristics and professional drive. The fourteenth interviewee is Lisa Dwan; a warm, engaging, talented, disciplined, ambitious and vivacious individual who is difficult to define by one or any label.

At the beginning of the Summer, Athlone-born Lisa will take to the stage at The Barbican Theatre in London to perform a trio of Samuel Beckett’s work but the pieces, ‘Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby’, have already received mass positive acclaim across continental boundaries. Meeting Lisa whilst she was in Ireland was one of the most philosophical and educational experiences I’ve had to date. It was a privilege to co-question the representation of women in theatre/television, the hunger for perfection and the liberation in being oneself whilst simultaneously sipping hot chocolate.

Lisa Dwan

How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

Professionally, I do a number of different things. I’m an actor, I’m a producer, I suppose in a sense, I’m multi-faceted but I also have a media company – I’m a journalist, I’m a writer, I’m a presenter – I do a whole heap of things and what I try to do to afford me that freedom is that I try to not allow anyone to give me a label. The question that I most dread is ‘what do you do?’ I try to define myself by my work.

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Competition: The Moth Comes to Dublin

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Almost 20 years ago, a story-telling club first began in the heart of New York. The inaugural show took place without any advertising but still sold out. This insatiable appetite for narratives, truth and personal experience is fundamental to The Moth’s success and cult-like following.

Since that first event, The Moth has cultivated a story-telling community which includes Ethan Hawke and Salmon Rushdie, to name but a few. It has also ebbed from the stage and uses the live material to create a podcast which is downloaded by approximately 25 million people, per annum.

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Minnie Meets… Mary Ann O’Brien

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According to Repak, Irish people receive an average of eight Easter eggs today. That culminates in the population scoffing approximately 17.5 million chocolate shells, with a cost amassing €36.6 million.

Thus, it feels quite apt that today’s ‘Minnie Meets…’ interviewee is Mary Ann O’Brien. Almost twenty three years ago, Mary Ann sat at her kitchen table in Kildare exploring her insatiable hunger for chocolate. Beginning with just two saucepans, a wooden spoon and her toddler Lily as a sous-chef, Mary Ann never imagined how her business would develop. mary-ann-obrien-founder-of-lily-obriens-chocolatesSince those humble beginnings, Lily O’Brien’s has over 130 employees and in 2013, attained a €22 million turnover.

Simultaneously to Lily O’Brien’s, Mary Ann is the co-founder of The Jack and Jill Foundation and currently divides her time between the chocolate factory in Kildare and the Dáil for her role as an independent Senator in Seanad Éireann.

How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally? 

I like to think of myself and someone who doesn’t take themselves seriously but takes their work incredibly seriously. I love to laugh, I love life, I love nature and a sense of humour is necessary to get through this funny old world that we have found ourselves in. Professionally, I am the over-achiever, the crazy focused one that is both competitive and hugely enthusiastic about chocolate. That’s a quick rendition of Mary Ann O’Brien!

The way in which you don’t take yourself overly seriously, is there ever a conflict between other people realising that your sense of humour doesn’t or impede upon your professionalism?

Yes, that’s a very good question and it happens particularly in the US where a cultural difference occurs – although we both speak English, they really are not the same languages. For example, when I start speaking in California, I need to be very careful because I can see it in their eyes, they’re thinking ‘Is this girl for real, or what?’ I remember when I was first presenting to British Airways in London, I spoke infectiously about the products and I was laughing gaily along but I had to say, ‘Apologies for my sense of humour but we are deadly serious about our product, quality and customer service’. I try to mix humour with seriousness.

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Extraordinary Women: Ana Matronic

Extraordinary Women: Ana Matronic
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On October 1st 2012, I did something which previously, I never had the confidence to do. I attended a concert on my own. Looking back now, it seems such a trivial piece of information to admit, but I was quite nervous about it at the time. The act were the Scissor Sisters and they were at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, in-sync with their latest album ‘Shady Love’. Little did I know but that would be their final concert in Ireland prior to disbanding.

It was an incredible performance, the audience were vigorously involved and a unique atmosphere was cultivated – one which even seems to defy words but the energy and enthusiasm was palpable. I was in awe of lead singer, Ana Matronic’s confidence, the ways in which she engaged with the crowd, her powerful strides across the stage, the choice in costume, her generosity and kindness and of course, vocal ability. I was in awe and that moment alone epitomised Ana as an Extraordinary Woman.

I was incredibly honoured to speak to Ana for this interview series and made every attempt not to fan-girl. We spoke about drag culture, the importance of authenticity, marriage equality and staying true to oneself.

Extraordinary Women: Ana Matronic

How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

The most succinct way of describing myself would be a witch. Personally and professionally, I’m a witch!

How would define your coven?

My coven is one of a transforming chimeric characters; people who can change form and keep me entertained.                

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First Look – ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’

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As you enter the ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ exhibition, the first sense which is engaged is not sight but hearing. The deep cackle of Lee Alexander McQueen echoes over the entrance. The sound is harmonious but tinges of darkness can be aurally discriminated. Alexander McQueen was no ordinary designer and Savage Beauty is no ordinary exhibition.

There is no way back for me now. I’m going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible. – Alexander McQueen

From my first few steps into the Victoria & Albert Museum yesterday, signs which read ‘Press Preview: Savage Beauty’ dotted the corridors. Much like Hansel and Gretel, I followed the proverbial breadcrumbs to the opening address by Martin Roth, Director of the V&A. He began to narrate a story of homecoming and celebration which appears to be not only an intrinsic and unifying thread throughout the entire exhibition but also for the staff who worked on Savage Beauty. Alexander McQueen was almost family to the museum.

The collections of the V&A never fail to intrigue and inspire me. The nation is privileged to have access to such a resource… it’s the sort of place I’d like to be shut in overnight. – Alexander McQueen

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Alexander McQueen was driven by the world’s juxtaposing beauty and savagery. He was vigorously anti-establishment and his designs oft provoked terror, fear, curiosity and awe. Even more disconcerting is that much of his work was autobiographical. Choosing to exhibit such a vastly diverse spectrum of work is daunting but to do so at ‘home’ can appear insurmountable.

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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A

Jellyfish emsemble and Armadillo shoes from Platos Atlantis SS2010. Model: Polina Kasina
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UPDATE: A review of ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ is now online here

Lee Alexander McQueen often narrated a desire to reach an audience larger than the few who sit front row at fashion week. In 2009, his Plato’s Atlantis collection was the first to be streamed online but Lee died just four months later, without seeing his desire wholly realised.

In 2011, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York exhibited, ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty'; a post-humous display of McQueen’s most note-worthy pieces that captured the designer’s struggle with his outsider/insider identity and his brand’s amalgamation of fashion and art. The exhibition was frequented by 661,409 visitors in just three months.

At the time, there was heated discussion about the location of the exhibition. Lee McQueen was innately proud of his working class East-end London roots and whilst the Metropolitan Museum of Art didn’t initially feel like ‘home’, it was an immeasurable commercial success. However, in just over a week’s time, ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ opens to a European audience at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Already, 58,000 advance tickets have been sold and pre-bookable tickets for the first five weekends of the exhibition are completely sold out. The exhibition has also had to be extended by two weeks due to public demand. The show’s creative director, Sam Gainsbury has said that the emphasis on home and London will ‘make the show feel more raw’ whilst at the V&A, “It’s more about those early years, when McQueen wasn’t famous, when there was no money, no celebrity, just this incredible creativity.”

I am really fortunate to be attending the preview of the exhibition on March 12th and like most with an interest in fashion, I consider myself Alexander McQueen’s biggest fan. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Kate Bethune, Senior Research Assistant for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.

Jellyfish emsemble and Armadillo shoes from Platos Atlantis SS2010. Model: Polina Kasina

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

1. What does your role entail, regarding ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’?

I am the Senior Research Assistant for the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. I am part of the curatorial team and support Senior Curator Claire Wilcox.

2. What process or discussion was involved in bringing the collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum?

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