Renaissance man: How Darren Kennedy is #trending
At just 33, Dublin-born Weekend columnist Darren Kennedy has carved out several careers in fashion, but he still has no time for the pomp and ceremony of the industry. Words by Joanna Kiernan. Photography by Mark Nixon
No one could accuse Darren Kennedy of being lazy. The Dublin-born TV presenter, Weekend columnist, fashion designer and stylist has a finger in every pie.
He also loves to talk - not to hear the sound of his own voice, I hasten to add, but because he has a genuine interest in people. Darren, I observe within the first five minutes of meeting him, is not your average egotistical TV star or fashion brat.
There is no air-kissing charade followed by long-winded autobiographical monologues. Darren Kennedy doesn't just want to talk. He loves to chat. There is a magnetic sparkle in his eyes that draws you into the conversation.
"I get the oddest looks at fashion weeks because I think I smile too much and say hello to everybody I make eye contact with," Darren laughs. "They always seem a bit surprised."
It was this friendly nature that ignited Darren's friendship with Carine Roitfeld, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris.
"I met her at a Chanel gig. Karl Lagerfeld was there and she was there and I was so much more interested in her than him," Darren recalls, his eyes dancing at the memory. "She had this big posse of people around her, but she seemed so nice and relaxed. So I thought 'Feck this! I am going to have a chat with her!' So I walked across the room and I said 'Bonjour, Carine'." Darren re-enacts the moment in perfect French.
"Straight away she spoke to me and I told her my name is Darren and I'm a big fan, then all of her people just closed in. It was hilarious!" he laughs. "One of them was like 'who are you?' but Carine said it was fine and we ended up having a great chat. I have bumped into her a couple of times at London Fashion Week since and we always keep up. I love her because she is great craic.
"Anna Wintour on the other hand just seems stuck up. She probably isn't and that's her persona and yada yada, but I have no time for that," Darren grins, waving away the negativity with a flick of his wrist. "Anna just seems like a bit of a weapon and unnecessarily so. I have never met her. I've been close to her, but I have never spoken to her, whereas Carine is just a fabulous woman. We are all the same. We are all working away at different stages and who knows? There might come a day when she'll be happy she knows me!" Darren beams.
Getting to know fashion designer Tom Ford has also been a huge coup for Darren, who admits to being a little starstruck the first time they spoke.
"I've been really impressed by what Tom Ford has done, but also by his attitude; he is very relaxed, he is very charismatic, very warm and he doesn't take himself too seriously on a one-to-one level. Clearly, he is an absolute perfectionist and probably a nightmare to work for, but who cares? He gets it done.
"I have been lucky enough to meet Tom a couple of times and I just think he is incredible. What I love about Tom is that people try to box you in and he has never let that stop him - he has directed movies, he has done womenswear, he has done menswear, fragrances, all of these different things. They are all just a reflection of him, and I think as rounded individuals, we should have more than just one interest. If I was just into fashion, I think I'd kill myself and my partner would definitely kill me!" he smiles.
Yet fashion is a big part of Darren's life. He was, it seems, a natural-born stylist.
"I remember raiding my mother's wardrobe with my friend at the time and we were really young - I'd say maybe six or seven. I guess all kids are like that. They have that interest at some point or another," he explains. "But you know the way most kids feel that they are being dragged shopping with their mam? Well, I was like 'let's go shopping, mam!'" Darren's voice rises by an octave.
"I'd be stuck in there in the changing room, right in the thick of it, while my older brother would be waiting outside or gone to the sports shops. I was probably Ireland's youngest personal stylist" he laughs.
"I was very much focused and opinionated about what I thought was nice and what I didn't. Then, that kind of graduated to a stage where my mam would be very definitely looking for my opinion. She's got great style anyway; even when I look at the photos on the walls of my parents' house from the 1970s, they have always had amazing style. I didn't realise it at the time, but I guess it's kind of by osmosis that I got it."
After school, Darren studied for a degree in International Business and Languages at both DIT and the University of Bordeaux. He is a fluent French and Spanish speaker and puts the motivation for picking up these particular skills down to his love of "chatting".
Once he finished college, Darren began working in TV and worked his way up from a runner to more senior reporter and producer roles.
"I loved TV and was learning so much, but I reached a point, when I was about 23, when I said 'right, what's happening here now?' because I felt like I was on a kind of hamster wheel," he explains. "It was great and I was getting loads of work, but none of it was mine. I was doing what was being set out for me - obviously, I did have some creative input - but I didn't have control. I'm not a control freak, but you want to nurture something for yourself at some point."
The revelation sent Darren back to his first love: fashion.
"I love clothes. I love how people dress and what it says about them. So I took myself off to Central Saint Martins and did a few courses there, which to be honest just reaffirmed that it's all so much about a personal aesthetic and confidence," he says. "Did I learn much there? Probably not, and I mean that with the greatest respect to them."
Darren then set up his blog Helpmystyle.ie, alongside a personal styling business.
"That all took off, and the next thing I knew, my TV work was complementary to that. So I was styling Operation Transformation, for example, as well as being a producer and a reporter on it," Darren explains.
The worlds of fashion and television have nicely dovetailed for Darren, despite being notoriously tough industries to crack.
Once a regular face on and behind Irish screens, he now divides his time between Ireland and the UK where he is the dedicated fashion presenter on ITV's This Morning programme.
"I have no problem with work," he smiles, a fact that is backed up by the sheer volume of Darren's weekly workload and travel schedule. "My pet hate is people who are lazy. I love to be busy. I love to be doing what I like doing. We all do, of course, but I never had any problem doing other jobs in order to get where I wanted to go. You can't just say 'OK, once I get that ideal job then I will work really hard'. It doesn't work like that."
The multi-talented Mr Kennedy is also kept busy working with master Irish tailor, Louis Copeland. His third suit collection will land next month.
"The first time I met Louis was 10 years ago when I was doing a radio show on Dublin City FM called Kennedy's Couch where I interviewed well-known people," Darren explains. "I interviewed Louis live one morning in the kitchen above his Capel Street store. I got on really well with him and we built up a relationship. I wore some of his suits and then approached him with the idea of doing a collection. He took a punt on it and the response has been incredible."
And as if that isn't enough, Darren is now working on a new fashion series on RTÉ2, which will start later this month.
"It's really exciting," he tells me of #Trending. "There has been a complete dearth of fashion across RTÉ. I developed it with the producer Denise Dunne, so it's very much our baby. It's not shoe-horning something in because there is a gap there. We are taking our lead from fashion and how it has democratised. It's no longer just about what's happening on the catwalks in Paris or London, they are now reflecting what's happening on the streets and it's not about us preaching."
But throughout his travels, Darren has noticed a number of style issues, which are specific to Irish women.
"A lot of Irish women are in denial about what assets they have. They focus on the negatives," he explains. "They don't see what I'm seeing, which is often an amazing shape. OK, they might have a bit of cellulite, but who cares? They might be carrying a tiny bit of extra weight, but they've still got the basics. My number one styling tip is to have confidence, which is a big issue with Irish women."
Fake tan is another major problem.
"We are seeing it less-so, but the tan and getting the boobs and legs and everything out..." Darren trails off, wincing a little into his coffee cup. "It needs to be pared back a little bit. Natural beauty is in. Everyone goes on about French women and I have lived in France and what they have is understated, as opposed to that very overstated look. You'll never see a model walking down a catwalk tangoed, so less is definitely more."
Irish men, on the other hand, are coming on "in leaps and bounds" in the style stakes.
"I think Irish men get a bad rap," Darren tells me.
"If you go into a pub on a Saturday night in Cahersiveen, yes, there are still challenges, but the tide has turned and it is changing rapidly. It's no longer seen as 'who does your man think he is, looking after himself?' Now it's more 'he's looking smart, isn't he?' It's also about the bigger picture: you want to get ahead, and the professional world is so competitive. You're up against people who are highly skilled and highly educated. If you want to get ahead, you need to look well and take care of yourself."
Darren's new series #Trending begins on RTÉ2 on October 23 at 8:30pm
Who-What-Wear Ireland: Darren's Top 10 Best-Dressed
"Conor dresses for the peacock effect. He knows how to rock some fine tailoring."
"Never shy of taking a risk, her style is playful and individual."
Celia Holman Lee
"Elegant, chic and feminine, Celia is a poster girl for ageing gracefully."
"Laura always kills it, whether she's wearing a couture gown or a pair of her favourite skinny jeans, biker boots and a leather jacket."
"There's a simplicity to Ali's style which has always captivated me. She's a stunning looking woman and always looks very natural."
"Michael does the whole effortless-casual-cool thing really well, but tailoring is definitely his forte. No better hanger for an exquisitely cut Tom Ford or Burberry suit... or a Darren Kennedy x Louis Copeland for that matter!"
"Admittedly Roz could wear a bin-liner and she'd look amazing, but in fairness to her, she's got a really cool sense of style, sometimes boho, sometimes tailored, but always very cool."
"We don't talk enough about Samuel Beckett's style. I think it's time he was also lauded for being stylish as hell. If I look as cool as him in my later years, I'll die a happy man."
"Despite killing it in a suit, Pierce has a very relaxed style that contrasts with the stuffiness of 007. He's at his best and most comfortable in an unbuttoned shirt, jeans and ruffled hair."
"Chris is brilliant craic and I love that he doesn't take himself too seriously. He always looks great on the red carpet. I reckon his super-stylish wife, Dawn (O' Porter), has rubbed off on him."