David Downton in Conversation with Erin O’Connor
Illustrator David Downton makes no bones about the fact that he is rather fond of Erin O’Connor. After all, Erin’s super long limbs and striking profile make her the perfect subject to a fashion illustrator’s eye. The pair met backstage at a Lacroix show at Couture Fashion Week and have continued to meet up ever since.
As a part of the ’In Conversation’ series held at the London College of Fashion, David and Erin hook up once again to discuss Erin’s career thus far before an audience of students and industry professionals.
It’s true to say that there has always been a mystique around models, they are often idolized and ridiculed in equal measure. Often seen as objects and dismissed as all surface and no substance models in general, get a bad rap. How refreshing it is then, to hear one of our most prominent models on the scene today talk candidly about an industry that is misunderstood by so many.
“I was spotted bending over a bargain bin at the Clotheshow Live.”
First off, she likes her job, in fact she loves it. For Erin creating an image or a character on the catwalk is about role play. She not happy to rely solely on her looks and stature alone and will bring her own interpretation in the equation. Starting from the very beginning David asks her about her discovery. Erin wittily replies, “I was spotted bending over a bargain bin at the Clotheshow Live.” Aged 17 with braces on her teeth, hair to her waist and incredibly self conscious of her towering height, Erin was the last person to think that she could become a model.
Model agent and scout Fiona Ellis, however, could see the potential, sat in the audience she commented, “What I first noticed about Erin as she turned around was her amazing nose.” It was ironic, the very feature that Erin had been self conscious of as a teenager was to become her trademark of individuality as a model.
Even though Ellis had high hopes for young Erin, success was certainly not overnight. “I went on loads of go-sees and castings from Avon to Vogue but I didn’t get much work in the beginning,” says Erin. Not one to give up at the first hurdle Erin puts her quiet determination down to her years of ballet training.
A pivotal moment came when she did a shoot with Juergen Teller in 1996. Much like Kate Moss and Corrine Day, once Teller shot with Erin interest geared up with photographers elsewhere. The Dolce & Gabbana campaign with Steven Meisel followed and from that point it was onwards and upwards for the young model from Walsall.
David flicks through images from Erin’s career on the overhead projector – campaigns from Versace, Nars, Vidal Sassoon, Moschino, the list goes on. Viewing her portfolio of work in this way you really get to see the energy and character she exudes in each photograph.
As her career soared press interest grew and it wasn’t long before Erin got labelled with the likes of ’Le Freak Chic’ and Anti-Beauty. Meanwhile, Stateside, Erin was considered more of a lady, an aristocratic being with links to the Royal Family! Comments and press quips aside, Erin has learned to take it all with a pinch of salt.
“Not in ten years of modelling had I heard of the ’Size 0’ debate!”
When David broaches the much talked about subject of ’Size 0’ Erin’s eyes look up at the ceiling as if to say ’oh no, not that again.’ For the record Erin declares that she has been in double figures, size wise, all of her adult life. And while she feels the issue is an important one, she amongst other models have been unfairly targeted and miss-quoted by the press, hence the reaction. “Not in ten years of modelling had I heard of the ’Size 0’ debate! What annoys me is that the press made out that I wasn’t healthy to work.”
“80% of my career is on the catwalk – its total freedom and up to you to do the job.”
Despite the all the assumptions Erin maintains that she really enjoys her job and feels incredibly lucky. “80% of my career is on the catwalk – its total freedom and up to you to do the job.” On her campaign with Marks & Spencer Erin says she is now “finding her happy face.” And mentions that she uses a mirror during shoots to ensure she is manipulating her features in the best way possible.
Throughout the talk you get the sense of a great rapport between David and Erin. David adds: “I do love drawing Erin, so much so I’ve been asked if I am obsessed!” Noting that she is ten years in to what is considered a relatively short career Erin reveals that she also writes and is working with the British Fashion Council to promote up and coming British designers. If Erin has her way, however, she’ll never be far from a catwalk or camera lens. “The industry is not so ageist these days,” she says. My guess is she’ll be posing for a good while yet.
Inspirational quotes from Erin O’Connor:
“I was told my features were too extreme to be a cover girl.”
Erin has appeared on various covers from Vogue, Dazed & Confused & iD.
“I was flattered to be asked, (to appear in the M&S campaign) as you know I am more of a couture model.”
The campaigns featuring Erin and four other well-known faces have helped M&S regain healthy profits and upped brand appeal.
“I didn’t think I could be a model, I wasn’t considered a looker at school.”
By JoJo Iles
Illustrations by David Downton
Thanks to Erin O’Connor, David Downton and the London College of Fashion