Model Slash: Entrepreneur Erin O’Connor
Erin O’Connor needs no introduction. After a nearly two-year-long hiatus, the supermodel (pictured), who first came on the scene in the mid-nineties and has been a muse to countless industry influencers, from designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld to photographers Richard Avedon and Nick Knight, is ready to make her runway return at the Spring shows in September. “I’ve been in and out of fashion for 15 years and I’m re-carving my career yet again, because aside from missing the people I’ve built relationships with in fashion, I miss posing the most,” O’Connor told Style.com. “I love the physicality of my job and how my mind and body are most happy when I’m expressing and moving. My face was always secondary to body alignment and the dynamism of making a moment come alive.” O’Connor’s first job back on the scene was shooting Zac Posen’s latest Resort lookbook (she’s also done editorials for Rankin’s The Hunger and the forthcoming TWELV magazine). “It’s funny because I did Zac’s first show about ten years ago. My fitting back then was in his parents’ kitchen, so I really felt like I got the measure of the man when I came back like a decade later and he’s now a full-on phenomenon,” she said. For the occasion, O’Connor asked Posen’s photographer to set up a mirror next to his camera so she could adjust her poses—just like Richard Avedon used to do with her when she first started out. “He was very instrumental in teaching me how to use my body because I grew up as a ballerina, which is all about continuous movement, while photography is static and about capturing a moment.” Given her rekindling with Posen, we wouldn’t be surprised to see O’Connor turn up on the designer’s catwalk in September.
While O’Connor may have shortly stepped away from the limelight (“By the time I hit 30, I finally realized I’d been independent and working non-stop since I was 19,” she said), she’s had her hands full steadily juggling plenty of side acts. For starters, O’Connor founded the Model Sanctuary to address new health initiatives the British Fashion Council had set out for models back in 2007. Each season, O’Connor and her colleagues offer a comfortable, educational surrounding for models to unwind between the shows during London fashion week. Up to 300 models stop by the house each day and have access to a team of professionals including therapists, nutritionists, trainers, and life coaches. “There was so much aggression fueling the whole debate about thin models that it became counterproductive,” O’Connor explained. “I wanted to move away from the hard-hitting scrutiny and create something that was reassuring and non-alienating. I think we’ve made positive, sustainable, and much needed change.”
In the same vein, O’Connor co-founded All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, which is an organization that promotes celebrating women of all ages, shapes, and sizes as beautiful through a variety of public campaigns. But that’s not all. Along with stylist Kate Halfpenny, O’Connor started up a line of ethically sourced graphic T-shirts and bags called She Died of Beauty. The idea came to her after a lively night out. She and a friend were recovering the next morning and Emily Dickinson came up in conversation. Referring to the poet, O’Connor’s pal said, “Don’t worry. She died of beauty.” According to O’Connor, “there was something quite genius in that simple token statement, so we decided to develop those fresh words into a full concept, which has a kind of dark humor to it. In general, I think we should impose as much humor as possible on fashion because people in the industry are known to take themselves so seriously. ” In addition to shirts that read “She Died of Beauty,” there are also ones like “She Died of Perfection” and “She Died of Love.” They employ a group of women based in India to hand-make each of the items and are planning a new range involving intricate embroidery, which plays up their artisans’ strong suits. Putting all of these effervescent enterprises on the back burner, O’Connor currently has a laser-sharp focus on returning to modeling in a big way. She says, “I feel like I still have so much to give this industry.” Apparently others agree. O’Connor told us that backstage before Jean Paul Gaultier’s latest Couture show, the designer assigned each model a different siren, from Monroe to Hepburn, to embody on the runway. When he came to O’Connor, Gaultier stopped and said, “You—you’re just going to play yourself. You are already an absolute diva.”