‘Irish Model’ is a filthy expression. But should it be? Niamh Beirne examines the real Irish modelling industry and finds the Irish models not working on Grafton Street
You’ve seen the girls that adorn the Sunday Independent: blonde hair (extensions intact), average physique, ghastly gold bikinis. Irish models, right? News flash: modelling it may be, but fashion it is not. We shouldn’t dare confuse the two. The words ‘Irish model’ have become synonymous with Grafton Street promo girls – a highly unfortunate state of affairs, when one considers the incredible and genuine editorial and runway models that have originated in Ireland.
Take Erin O’Connor, who has been a shining beacon of truth for all who realise that what she does, with her cropped cut and strikingly dark features, is fashion that embodies unforgiving personal style. Of course, she’s not actually Irish, but her name is, and she did work for RTÉ, which is practically the same thing right? Anyway, Fake Bake-loving glamour girls are far from such. It cannot be left to Erin O’Connor alone to fly the flag for ‘Irish’ models though, and it hasn’t, much as it may not be publicised outside the industry.
What really makes a model? It seems to be a unique combination of well-placed facial features, height (5’8” and above) and personality. There’s more to it, though: there are also the matters of how the model perceives him or herself, and their awareness of themselves; of course, the real allure of a model is only realised when it’s captured through the lens.
There is often a turning point in a young model’s career where everything seem to click into place; that’s when things undeniably get started. Above everything, however, it is the rarity to a model’s quality that aids their potential success. Consider Rebecca Morgan, proprietor of the Morgan agency, whose models truly reflect the genuine fashion talent this country has to offer. Morgan strives to find genuine promise in an aspiring model before signing, considering a full-time contract to be a big risk for both parties. A pretty face alone, therefore, still leaves much to be desired. The industry is tough as nails, and not everybody makes it.
The modelling shows that have been taking over our TV screens of late have lulled many into a false sense of hope that anybody can obtain a modelling career – in particular the new season of America’s Next Top Model, where entrants must be below 5’7’’. While smaller women might have some chance of success in the States due to the massive commercial market, there is little chance of triumph in these parts for a girl of such stature (unless, of course, they are happy to stay in their bikinis on Grafton Street). The market may be small, but competition is fierce. The Model Agent, brought about by esteemed agent Fiona Ellis, depicted the industry more realistically. The entrants were not pitted against each other in the same way as their American and British counterparts; instead, castings and individual work were given focus.
Carrie Ann Burton (pictured) and Amber Jean Rowan are two candidates from the show who have seen great success since their participation. Carrie Ann, who is currently working in London, not only graced the cover of Image magazine as winner of the competition, but more recently led the campaign for Peter Ó Briain’s A-Wear collection, in which she was beautifully dark and powerful. Her success is not difficult to comprehend; Burton takes ones breath away with her piercing blue eyes, even without make-up and specialised lighting. There is no denying that she is a stylish force to be reckoned with. Amber Jean has seen continued success too; one need only take a look at the current issue of Irish Tatler to witness her distinct look, where she is featured in a captivating beauty editorial. These girls have found considerable success in Ireland, but can such a career be sustained in a market of Ireland’s size where – when it comes down to it – the nation, being far from sensational, are much more concerned with looking at the clothes then appreciating an aspirational photograph reminiscent of Vogue Italia?
There is no denying that there is most definitely a market in Ireland, which is continually innovating with new talent emerging and leading the way. Take Julie Flynn. A frequent collaborator and often muse of Alan Taylor featured elsewhere on these pages, she has also found herself in a campaign for John Rocha. The fashion industry is perched upon an international stage, however, and it is inevitable that for Irish models to make their name and take their place within the industry, they will need to reach further afield as many of our designers and photographers have done. Rebecca Fleetwood springs to mind: while fronting a Joanne Hynes campaign here in Ireland, she has also worked with international designers such as Alexander McQueen, and has walked on international catwalks including Milan.
Amongst the confusion remains the clarity. Never again should an Irish model be confused with a scantily clad Miss World wannabe. When we consider young talent like Julie Flynn and relish in her pure look that is versatile, innocent, and powerful, it seems crass to call her an ‘Irish model’ when it risks equating her with the Glenda Gilsons of the world.
Let’s not make the same mistake again. There are models of all varieties in this country, but irresistible fashion and photography are not in their blood. Capture that.