Thursday 15 November 2018

These pins were made for walking . . . on the world's most glamorous catwalks

Faye Dinsmore, Ireland's most in-demand supermodel, has become the toast of the fashion world. Just don't mention Rosanna ... writes Maggie Armstrong

Faye Dinsmore was standing, smoking a cigarette outside Trinity College in 2008, just like any other day of her university life. Except her life was about to change forever.

The then 20-year-old student had caught the eye of a passing stranger -- who just happened to be the Paris-based fashion designer Ciarán Sweeney.

When he shuffled to her side to introduce himself, she found him "charming". He told her she should be a model. She balked. "I thought he was just trying to chat me up. He wasn't."

This chance meeting is how the doors of the international fashion world opened for the auburn-haired girl from Ballintra, Co Donegal.

In October last year, Faye moved to London to extend her portfolio. Since then, the 22-year-old has wowed the fashionistas and ruled the runways of Paris, Milan and New York.

Last Christmas, she appeared in the video to Robbie Williams's hit 'Bodies', which she now dismisses as an embarrassment. She learnt that flitting about with a pop star on-screen does no more favours for a serious modelling career than does wearing lingerie on Grafton Street -- the dread fate of many Irish promotion models.

There is a stark distinction between promotion models, whom she calls "girls in bikinis at press launches", and fashion models, who are usually strong, willowy creatures transformed into art pieces for more elite audiences.

Irish girls who have made it past the promotion-model category are few and far between, and none has made so astronomical a climb as Faye, who has mixed feelings about the domestic scene here -- especially the trend for Irish models to enter beauty contests as a way of raising their profile.

"In Ireland, agents will openly promote a model on the basis of having been a former Miss Ireland or Miss Universe.

"Internationally, agencies would either run a mile from or to go to extreme lengths to get you to never talk about your dark pageant past," says Faye. "They don't sit well with agencies and clients, for all sorts of reasons -- Rosanna Davison might have done well internationally had she never become Miss World, but unfortunately it's been a mixed blessing.

"Pageants equal glamour; glamour does not equal fashion. It's just the way the world is."

Nor does Faye hold back when discussing her former colleagues on the domestic modelling scene.

"I never got to become an Irish promotion model," she says, tongue planted firmly in cheek, "but I still harbour ambitions to one day stand proudly at the top of Grafton Street, maybe in a sash if I am really lucky, as an icon for Irish women.

"I hope the bishop one day gives Irish promotion girls the permission they need to take off their bikinis -- I mean, promotion modelling in Ireland is so repressed as compared to Britain -- our beautiful young promotions girls are being held back.

"Hopefully, for the sake of Irish women everywhere, with the help of the Sunday Independent or some other enlightened bastion of progressive change leading the charge ... we'll get to a bikini-less utopia. Until then, we're stuck in a bygone era long past in Britain, France and elsewhere." Ouch! Faye's other bugbear is the low rates of pay Irish models are on. Though she recently earned €50,000 for one particular shoot, she remembers more austere times.

"In the year I was working in Ireland I did campaigns for Avoca, Vodafone, McGee, Littlewoods and more. I did more editorials in The Gloss, Image, Tatler, Prudence, LIFE ... than anyone else. I worked more than any other girl in Ireland -- period.

"Yet in reality, I made just enough to pay for college and a little more. I'd estimate about €15,000 to €20,000. But that's at the high end in Ireland.

"I've had the 'top' models in Ireland crying to me on the phone about how their friends think they are millionaires, when in fact they have to shop in Penneys on the sale rail."

She estimates that the top models here are earning a measly €650 a week.

Faye herself went on to bigger and better things. Her story is a hopeful tale that proves that our best and brightest can still prosper despite the recession.

She is the youngest of a farmer's family of 14 children and grew up, she says, on the beach or with "cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and a horse".

Before Ciarán Sweeney spotted her, Faye was supporting herself through her second year studying French and Classics at Trinity College.

Faye's first fashion show was among professional models in the Science Gallery, which she took to, Sweeney says, "like a duck to water".

Assets modelling agency was soon hot on her heels, landing her campaigns and editorials until she decided she could afford to shelve her studies.

Last spring, she found herself on the international modelling stage. She moved around Paris, living in sumptuous apartments, partying with Hollywood's erotic photographer Ellen Von Unwerth and walking her debut Haute Couture Week for Eric Tibusch. HCW is high fashion's flagship event, for which "nothing can prepare you". However, Faye's exhausting schedule eventually took its toll. "I worked back-to-back for 40 days straight. I can't explain how exhausting that is. I had a breakdown after about 30 days. I just started crying one day."

In the week we did the interview, she had dinner with Karen Millen and Edel O'Meara, did three shoots for German Grazia magazine, and flew back and forth between Paris and London.

Her profile has skyrocketed since, on the advice of her agent, she set up a Facebook fan page and blog,, which at the time of writing boasts 152,624 followers -- more than any Irish blogger.

Faye then moved to New York in September in time for Fashion Week. She landed shows for the two weeks through her prestigious agents MC2, who have groomed Claudia Schiffer, Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen, among other icons.

When she returned for London Fashion Week in September, she strode the runways for Swedish designer Simon Ekrelius and for Tata-Naka -- the Georgian twins who designed clothes for iconic TV series Sex and the City. She's just been immortalised in fibreglass as a Rootstein Mannequin -- a clothing doll in her image, used for display in top department stores.

Was it spooky to see a replica of her anatomy? "Spooky for sure," Faye admits. "You never get to see your bottom and you shouldn't -- well, I shouldn't."

Ciarán Sweeney describes her as "a joy to watch" and as having "an eccentric, Merchant Ivory quality".

"She's very adaptable and can go from edgy young designer to very commercial to classic effortlessly," says Sweeney.

When asked if she's had to undergo a punishing weight-loss regime, Faye credits her good genes and says, "I'm pretty lucky I don't have to be hugely conscious of what I eat.

"That said, I do Bikram yoga at least five days a week and generally stick to a lot of fruit and veg."

Faye says her manifesto is, put simply, to "restore high fashion". For this reason, Faye uses her blog to buttonhole new trends and promote young designers and photographers, particularly Irish ones.

So what does the future hold for Faye? "I don't have a Plan B and I'd be lying if I said I did," she says.

Irish Independent

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