Win: ‘Me and My Mate Jeffrey’

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One of my highlights from 2014 was taking part in ‘One Young World‘; a global forum for young leaders to develop solutions to the world’s most important problems. In front of delegates from over 194 countries, I took to the stage alongside Joanne O’Riordan, Adam Harris, Caroline Casey, Mark Pollock and Bressie.

Our session was called ‘Disability: Move to Include’ and we each spoke about our own personal challenges and how we have physically, emotionally and cognitively overcome them. It was the first time disability and difference was discussed at One Young World and it was a moment I will never forget.

If you get to watch but a few minutes of the video, you’ll realise how powerful, emotional and inspiring the session was. I learned so much from each of the speakers but I was particularly taken by Bressie’s speech. He spoke so candidly about his pain and feeling of isolation. He gave me a new understanding of mental health and encouraged me to be brave in speaking about my experiences of difference – particularly the most painful moments.

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Minnie Meets… Richard Malone

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In the year of Irish design, there are few people more interesting to speak with than fashion designer, Richard Malone. Hailing from Ardcavan in Co. Wexford, his creativity, discipline and code of ethics have caused quite a stir within the industry. He is polite, warm, calm and deliberately chooses his words, in a way you might imagine a musician does with a lyric.

However, this contemplative nature must not be confused with passivity – Richard is in fact, the opposite. When it comes to his work, he is blunt and explicitly outlines the parameters to which he ethically, creatively and socially adheres to. He refuses to subscribe to a notion or idea merely because it is ‘en vogue’ – he has an extraordinary clear vision of who he designs clothes for and why. Thus, it’s no surprise that Richard is one of the most celebrated young designers in Central Saint Martin’s history.

Already, he has attained the Deutsche Bank Award and he was the first Irish person and degree-level student to win LVMH’s Grand Prix Scholarship. BBC Radio 3 featured him in their ‘Young Artists Day’, the only Irish person to achieve that accolade and recently, he featured in Brown Thomas’ CREATE exhibition showcasing the best in Irish design. However, London Fashion Week awaits Richard Malone and he is one of three designers to showcase his collection under Fashion East’s sponsorship.

At every opportunity, Richard speaks of his pride to be Irish and even more importantly, to come from a working class background. He gives hope for a new era of fashion and is an individual who we should be discussing and supporting as much as possible.

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How would you define yourself, both personally and professionally?

I am a fashion designer but if I’m honest, that’s merely the ‘end game’ and as many exhibitions that I do, no one sees the process of what being a fashion designer entails. There is a lot of writing, painting and drawing and recently, I had an exhibition in Wexford which was purely a curation of my sketches and drawings. I think my approach to design is very different and today, there is a huge cross-over between fashion and lots of other media. It’s a much more exciting era to be and to watch a designer today than in Galliano’s and McQueen’s era as fashion designers are performance artists, fine artists and curators. At least, I think’s it more interesting [laughs]. So yes, I’m a fashion designer but one with a different approach, purely because my background is different and that was immediately obvious even on my first few days at Central Saint Martins. I had a different outlook to so many of the other students.

Coming into a space where all of the other participants have somewhat of a homogeneous experience and background must be somewhat challenging?

I looked to it as an asset as a lot of fashion recently has been quite boring and sterile and the starting point to my collection was almost a reaction to that. There is a process in place at the moment where young designers research an artist, research a designer and smash a collection together but there’s no personality in that and it can’t be sustained. I wanted my designs to be a complete juxtaposition of that and to be completely authentic. At the time of starting my collection, I was working in Louis Vuitton in Paris and was immersed in this world that was really different to how I imagined it would be. Some designers are happy to take very prestigious positions, huge amounts of money and are content but I’m not like that – I question everything. If I was asked to work with a specific animal skin, I would be happy to say no and when I was casting models for my lookbook, I refused to use a model who was size zero. The girl in question was a size 8-10 – she had boobs and she had an ass. She looked great!

Working in fashion, I always feel that because of my class and background, I’m continuously fighting with the industry. I’m not afraid of confrontation.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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