Saturday 20 January 2018

Meet the new generation of Irish models

Every generation needs a new revolution. In the world of Irish modelling, that revolution is here. It's in the attitude of those now making their mark on a world stage, as much as in the way they look. Our reporter spoke to four young women - the standout faces of their industry - who are reinventing expectations of Irish modelling, and blasting at the limits of ambition.

From left: Ciara wears top; skirt, both River Island. Kelly wears top, Victoria Beckham; skirt, Carven, both Brown Thomas. Liliana wears: jumper, Topshop. Shorts; shoes, both River Island. Sarah wears: jumper, Max Mara. Boots, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
From left: Ciara wears top; skirt, both River Island. Kelly wears top, Victoria Beckham; skirt, Carven, both Brown Thomas. Liliana wears: jumper, Topshop. Shorts; shoes, both River Island. Sarah wears: jumper, Max Mara. Boots, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
Dress: Alexander Wang, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Dress: River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Waistcoat, Acne. Boots, Fitzpatrick shoes. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Top, Victoria Beckham; skirt, Carven, both Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Emily Hourican

The media has had a lot of fun around the idea of the Irish Models over the last 10 years, a kind of teasing based around the idea of Irish models as somehow not quite 'proper' models.

A bit fatter than European models, a bit less groomed, a bit too easygoing. Likely to be found standing at the top of Grafton Street in a bikini in November, or wrestling with an enormous fake apple for a photo call in St Stephen's Green.

These Irish Models were presumed to be just passing through - this wasn't a proper career for them, the thinking went. It's just a way to make a bit of pocket money without having to invest in themselves to the extent that more ambitious models might - all those hours in the gym, eating healthy but joyless food, and styling themselves in some way that will make them stand out from the crowd. These Irish Models were, apparently, fair game, because they didn't take themselves seriously.

But somewhere in the last few years, a change has been effected. Something subtle and gradual, but undeniable, so that now, there is a new type of Irish Model, far more in the mould of Gigi Hadid or Cara Delevingne.

Way back when, models were not expected to stand out, they were, literally, background material, something on which to display clothes. They didn't have opinions. They didn't dress to be conspicuous, they dressed almost to disappear - quiet, elegant, discreet, always with a spare pair of heels and some tan tights, the better to showcase the clothes that were their raison d'etre.

In Ireland, these girls modelled for Ib Jorgensen or Sybil Connolly. They bundled themselves into the back of rickety minibuses and trekked across the country for fashion shows and events and were always, under even the most cramped and difficult of circumstances, professional, good humoured and hard working. This was the era of models like Grace O'Shaughnessy, Suzanne Macdougald and Hilary Frayne who married Galen Weston. At that time, Irish models were known for their poise and intellect. There was more than a touch of Grace Kelly to this generation.

But modelling changed. Internationally, there was the Amazonian 1980s, followed by the super-waif 1990s, neither of which looks particularly suited Irish women. Then came the influx of Eastern European models onto the international scene - a seemingly inexhaustible supply of virtually interchangeable girls, all young, all hovering around the size-zero mark, all seemingly without much personality, all utterly replacable. They were aloof and unknowable.

This was the moment when speculation started around the future of modelling -would we all be looking at virtual girls in a few years' time? Why bother employing someone of flesh and blood, who might be late, or need to go to the loo, when a computer could quite easily generate a form with the perfect measurements, a face that would also be 'perfect' in terms of symmetry and flawlessness?

This probably seems absurd now, but, truly, that was the thinking. After all, what the advertisers wanted then was someone young, thin and pretty to showcase their wares. If that person didn't need to be paid, was never likely to stand up and shout 'exploitation', or be photographed wearing a rival brand, so much the better.

And then a glorious backlash began, starting in the UK. A backlash of personality, of idiosyncrasy, of many small flaws that added up to far more than the sum of perfection. Instead of groomed and elegant clothes horses, photographed only on shoots or at red-carpet events, the new breed of models began turning up in fields at festivals, wearing welly boots, with tousled hair, smudged mascara and ragged shorts. They were many sizes, not just a zero. They had tattoos and spots, they fell out of nightclubs and into taxis, they raved and drank and had rows with their boyfriends - or girlfriends - just like everyone else. Except that, despite the tousled hair and smudged mascara, they looked better than the rest of us while they did it.

More than anything, they gave the impression that they were having fun, and that having fun was at least as important to them as getting rich and famous. Instead of a faintly uneasy collective of other models to whom they were civil, these girls - the Georgia May Jaggers and Jourdan Dunns - had friends. Friends they loved rather than competed with, friends who meant more to them than any professional rivalry. Friends who had their backs. And together, they were all stronger than they could be apart. Cara Delevingne isn't just her 34.8m Instagram followers, she is also her friendships; with Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Kendall Jenner, her sister Poppy.

And the public responded to them, with relief and enthusiasm. Because they fit the mood of the times, for something 'real' and relaxed and, yes, perhaps just a little bit more feminist.

The aspirations of these models changed too. Before, if models were anything except just models, they were wannabe actors, photographers or designers. All very much within the industry. Now, they are DJs, artists, chefs, bloggers, activists, or simply 'brands'. They think big, and they think for themselves.

The days of being a body, or a face, are over. Now, they are a brain, a voice, ambition too. They don't sit and wait for the call that will tell them where to be and what colour tights to bring with them; they busily collect thousands of followers on Instagram, they front campaigns, speak out about human-rights abuses and wear T-shirts that say 'The Future is Female'. They make music, and sugar-free cakes - for most of them, modelling is a way into something else; and that something isn't, any longer, a 'good' marriage.

In this country, the likes of Daniella Moyles and Roz Purcell were the first wave - women who stood out from the crowd, who goofed and laughed and presented themselves as they were, complete with imperfections and expectations. They didn't apologise for who they were, or explain. They got on with it. And in so doing, they changed the face of Irish modelling, so that now, the new generation has a chance to be something new. Something more. And it's a chance they seem to be taking.

This generation aren't Irish Models, they are just models. They have the obvious attributes of beauty and poise; they also have their own, very individual, looks. They have determination, ambition, and the kind of level-headed cool that sweeps all before it.

They are the Next Big Things. Get ready to know them by their first names.


Waistcoat, Acne. Boots, Fitzpatrick shoes. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Born in Donegal, Sarah grew up "just outside Dundalk", and never thought of being a model. "I got into it through acting, oddly enough," she says. "My mum and I share a love of theatre and when I was 21, I won a few awards in different drama festivals and one of the adjudicators suggested that if I wasn't going to pursue acting as a career, I should at least do some commercial acting. I guess the confidence boost made me approach an agency with that in mind. They signed me that day."

What did it feel like, competing with much younger girls? "Twenty-one is certainly considered older to be starting out in modelling," says Sarah, "but for me, I think it was the right time. To be honest, I was very focused on my academics all through my teens." After school, Sarah did a pharmacy degree at the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin. She currently lives in New York. "A typical day," she explains, "involves working or running around to different castings and auditions set up by either my model agency or my acting agency. I love shoot days because it's actually rude to turn up with your hair and make-up done, so there's no getting ready at all really."

How does Sarah deal with the uncertainty of the industry? "Because you are self-employed, you can decide what your own priorities and goals are," she says. "Modelling was a great part-time job while I was in college and I've loved it as a full-time job since. I am moving home from New York to work more in Europe because I really miss home, my family, my boyfriend and friends. The great aspect of being self-employed is that you can make these decisions."

And, it seems to suit her personality type. "I did this online personality test," she laughs, "and I got a lot of descriptions like 'practical', 'logical' and 'responsible', and I would say that's fairly accurate. I tend to be organised and prepared, I love a to-do list and there is a spare everything in my bag."

So is the reality of modelling different to Sarah's preconceptions? "Vastly different!" she exclaims. "You are treated with a lot more respect and have a lot more control than I would have thought. The industry is less competitive, more supportive than I had expected. When I started modelling, I was very intimidated and nervous, but I quickly learned that most people are really lovely and down-to-earth."

What about body image, and the pressure to be a certain size? "There is no denying that some jobs do require certain measurements and I think people can find it difficult to accept when their body is not designed to meet those," Sarah says. "I feel that because I didn't model until I was a little older, and had worked in numerous other jobs by then, it has been easier for me to recognise that this is just a job, and there are plenty of other great jobs out there.

"Also, as I have a pharmacy degree, I have an understanding of the serious, long-term health implications which can develop from being underweight or malnourished. As for what I eat, there definitely isn't a pattern. I eat relatively healthily but I don't follow any particular diet. If I want something, I have it and if I'm somewhere new, I try whatever the local specialty is. In New York I've tried a lot of doughnuts and pizza!

"I exercise more or less depending on my schedule and where I am. As children, my siblings and I were very sporty, and during stressful times, like exams, my dad would insist I went for a long cycle with him in the evenings to get out of my head for a while. I still find exercise a great way to relieve stress and I really enjoy it."


Dress: River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Born in Bratislava, Slovakia, Liliana moved to Dublin when she was seven. "In 2005 my dad came to Ireland to work as a lorry driver. He worked long hours and he never really had time to ring us," Liliana explains. "My mam worked as a real-estate agent in Slovakia, and she found it very hard to raise my brother and I without my dad being there. My brother was eight at the time, and he suffered from severe ADHD disorder. In January 2007, my mam, brother and I came to Ireland. At the time, I was very upset about the fact that I had to leave my home, my friends and my grandparents, and start a new life here. But now this is home and I would never go back to Slovakia."

So how does a typical day go? "At the moment, it involves waking up at around 7am and going to school until 4pm. I'm in fifth year, so there is a lot of work and study that has to be put in. I could even spend five or six hours doing homework! School and study just aren't my thing."

Liliana started modelling by going to a bootcamp run by the Andrea Roche Model Agency. "I was feeling anxious," she says. "I had never done anything like that before and I would describe myself as a very shy person too, so this made me even more nervous! But at the end of the day, I was asked for my number. I was over the moon, because as far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to be model. Since I was a little girl, I had a thing for fashion."

And has it lived up to her expectations? "So far, this has been an amazing experience. It can be hard, but I always say to myself: 'You can only learn from your mistakes and do better next time.' I have found that everybody is very kind in the modelling industry and a pleasure to work with. They are all helpful and full of advice. I love meeting new people, because they tell me about their experiences and I love hearing about other people's stories. But I never knew that modelling could be so tiring; you could be up from 6am or even 5am, and not be home until 6pm or 7pm. I also never knew how stressful modelling can be; not knowing if you did good or bad in a photoshoot can stress you out!"

Who does she look up to within the industry? "My top favourite model is Cara Delevingne. I love the way she can position her face so beautifully. I also admire her for her personality. She doesn't pretend to be someone she is not; she is always herself and she doesn't care what people think. She embraces her weirdness and does what makes her happy. She makes me believe that you can do anything in the world if you put your mind to it.

"Outside the modelling industry, I admire my mam. She is such a beautiful and loving person. She has been through so much but she never gave up. In my eyes, she is the most beautiful human because of her kindness. She has supported and believed in me from day one while a lot of my family members and friends did not believe me and laughed when I told them I was going to be model one day."

I would love to be a successful supermodel and my dream is to do a big campaign like Victoria's Secret or Calvin Klein. Outside of my career, I would like to take care of my parents when they get older and be there for them like they were there for me when I needed them most. If modelling doesn't work out, I would like to be primary school teacher."


Top, Victoria Beckham; skirt, Carven, both Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Kelly grew up in Newbridge, Co Kildare, and started modelling shortly after her 15th birthday. "I didn't really know much about the fashion industry," she says, "so I just took every day as it came. But I live my life like that in general - on a wing and a prayer!"

As an industry, modelling can be, she says, a mixed bag. "I've modelled in London, and that's a completely different ballgame. I've experienced that bitchiness among other girls, and it's just not nice. Here it's such a small industry, you can't afford not to be nice - you won't work. I would be very thick-skinned in general; it would take a lot to insult or upset me, but when I got back from London, I was very shaken up. It does get under your skin after a while: 'We need to measure you'; 'You need to lose weight'. When you know that you're already slim. It's hard."

How does she think about body image in general? "I go through stages where I think, 'Oh, I need to lose weight . . . ' then I snap out of it," Kelly says. "I think, 'I'm healthy, I have no reason to be stick-thin.' And I don't want to look like that. I've seen girls killing themselves to be thin and it affects other things - your skin, your energy, your hormones."

In any case, modelling, for Kelly, has always been "a plan B. I don't model full-time any more, I work in a marketing agency as well. I'm at a different stage. I love modelling but I hated not knowing when the next job would be, or how much I was earning that month. You could be working every day for a month, then get nothing for a month. It was great when I was 15, 16, 17, and it was pocket money. But now that I'm grown up and paying my own way - I need to know what I'm making. It might take 4 or 5 months for a payment to come in, and I don't like to live like that. Modelling will always be in my life, but I like something where I can use my head.

I never just wanted to be a model. I wanted to have more - modelling can be one-dimensional. You're in a creative environment, but really, your opinion doesn't matter. I wanted to get away from that, to be in a job where I could give my opinion. Otherwise, I think you'd go mad. People call you 'the girl', 'the face', especially in London."

As well as marketing, Kelly also writes for Xpose magazine, covering London Fashion Week. "I like to have a few things on the go at the same time."

"I have to force myself to go to the gym, and I hate it," Kelly says of diet and exercise. "I try to be one of those people who goes during their lunch, but I hate it. I have a sweet tooth and a craving for fast food. I could go a couple of weeks of being strict on my diet, then I just fall off the wagon. I wouldn't be as strict as other models, I'm a kind of a Yolo [you only live once] person. I treat myself if I want. I'm lucky with my metabolism, but I'm also at the age where I can get away with it. That won't last!"


Dress: Alexander Wang, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll.

From Limerick, Ciara started modelling when she was 14. "My mom brought me to an open day, and it started from there," she recalls. "From the beginning, I loved doing it. You hear the horror stories, but nothing like that has ever happened to me. All the other models I've met are very nice; the older girls will give you little tips. At the moment, everything is getting very big and exciting. I'm still in Limerick, I'm finishing my last year in secondary school, but I'm hoping to move to Dublin next year.

"In the meantime, I do shows and jobs after school and so on, and usually fit in around three jobs a week. I love wearing nice clothes, doing photoshoots and tv work, it's all so exciting, but I like catwalk the best, there's a bit of adrenalin involved. When I come up to Dublin, I try to pack a couple of things into the one day. Luckily, my mum is very supportive, she drives me up and down to Dublin for every job."

Ciara's plan is to perhaps take a year out before college, and give full-time modelling a go. "I'd like to study midwifery," she says. "It's something I've wanted to do since I was small. It would be a very tough job, I think, but also a very rewarding one. However, modelling is my first choice.

"Yes, I'm planning an alternative career," Ciara continues, "but I would mainly love to model full-time. I would absolutely love to move to London or New York. In fact, I'm thinking of meeting agencies in London soon, and seeing how that goes."

Does the idea of a move daunt her? "No, I think I'd love the opportunity. It would be scary, but I'd have to get used to it. I'm really ambitious and outgoing. If I want to do something, I will really, really work to get to where I want to be. I'm very driven. In five years time I would like to be opening a show in New York! I certainly hope I would be modelling internationally, and living in New York."

Photography by Kip Carroll.

Styling by Liadan Hynes

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