Sunday 15 September 2019

'What a woman wears has nothing to do with her ability to do the job'

Fiona Heaney says women first of all dress for themselves but also for other women — and get unfair criticism
Fiona Heaney says women first of all dress for themselves but also for other women — and get unfair criticism
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

She is an award-winning designer with a cult celebrity following who dresses the biggest names in British and Irish television.

Susanna Reid, Laura Whitmore, Claire Byrne, Lorraine Kelly, Grainne Seoige, Amy Huberman and Kate Garraway are just some of the presenters clamouring to wear Fiona Heaney's designs on air.

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So no other designer is better placed to understand the harsh criticism female stars come in for from their audience.

"The first thing people are critical of is what they are wearing or how they are looking, which is completely irrelevant to what they are employed to do," says Fiona, who is shortlisted for the Creative Businesswoman of the Year at the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards tomorrow night.

In a famous experiment, Australian TV presenter Karl Stefanovic decided to wear the same blue suit every day for a year to test the reaction. Stefanovic, who co-presents Channel Nine's Today show with Lisa Wilkinson, said afterwards the number of comments amounted to zero. "No one has noticed," he said. "No one gives a sh*t.

The double standard raises a wry laugh from the Fee G designer: "A man can put on a suit and no one is going to notice if it's a blue or white shirt or really pass any remarks, but women have always been criticised on TV.

"Recently, Susanna Reid has been tagging me on Twitter when she wears some of my pieces and the comments she gets are quite incredible. Some are obviously very positive but then some - well, she has a lot of male admirers, should I say, so some of the comments you'd question. But really they are just critical right down to comments like 'that colour doesn't suit you', 'that's too big', 'that's too long', 'I can't see your legs', they're just extremely pass-remarkable and social media has added to that fact because people can comment anonymously."

She says: "I would also dress some of the RTE presenters such as Claire Byrne, Maura Derrane, Grainne Seoige and the Virgin Media presenters too. And recently, I think it was Anna Daly who said that somebody had emailed the show to say they didn't like her outfit. While no one questions what a man has on, and what they are wearing has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to do the job."

With much of the commentary coming from other women, Fiona says the irony is this is the group we are dressing to impress.

"I don't believe women dress for men, they absolutely don't. They dress for themselves firstly but they also dress for other women. It has become very much a [reality that] people are very aware of what they are wearing and what other [women] think of what they are wearing. But then women are critical of other women. Which unfortunately is the total opposite to being supportive."

She adds: "We are very judgmental and social media has only added to that. Thankfully, I have been massively luckily that none of my outfits has ever received a total backlash of negativity so in that regard it hasn't happened to me yet - but I am not saying that it won't happen in the future.

"Everyone has an opinion. Being a presenter is difficult because they have to be extremely tough-skinned. It's a really hard gig and then to be judged on appearances is a sad [tendency] of society but that's where we are at."

Meanwhile, Sonia Reynolds, co-founder of Stable of Ireland and also shortlisted with her business partner, Francie Duff, says she just dresses for herself. "I know the research says that women prefer to be complimented by their girlfriends. But in my own circle, most women I know actually dress for themselves, myself included."

But, she says: "I do think women really appreciate it when they get nice comments on how they dress, especially by women they don't know."

Fiona and Sonia will join a host of other leading business women at the Clayton Hotel tomorrow night, including Breda Quigley, managing director, The Q Cafe Company; and Clare Kelly, sole trader, Health Squad/Junior Lifesavers, who are both also shortlisted.

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