We caught up with Briony Somers, a young Irish model with Morgan The Agency, fresh off the London runways where she was that girl in the red headpiece at John Rocha’s show and walked for Simone Rocha’s acclaimed collection. She’s just finished a stint in Simone Rocha’s Parisian showroom where she was working for Paris Fashion Week. We know – she’s living the fashion girl dream… Here she talks about combining her modelling career with her student life, how one prepares for shows when Anna Wintour is FROW and centre, and a little bit about self-esteem.
You’re a debater, a student, and a model too. That’s a lot of identities to carry around. How do you manage that duality?
It’s a bit strange going between academia and fashion because there’s a general perception that university is a more “real” world than fashion. My experience is that both worlds are quite self-contained because they tend to produce things for other “insiders”. When it comes to going between the two worlds there can be a bit of disconnect. Fashion is an interesting place to work because the creative process of a shoot or a collection draws on so many different elements – art, history and literature. I really enjoy the cultural richness and the opportunity to contribute. It’s also very interesting to bring fashion into the academic world a little. Later this month I’m running a panel discussion on “The Politics of Fashion” in the Hist, one of Trinity’s debating societies. We’re lining up some really great guests and I’m very excited to see how it will be received.
How did you get into modelling?
It was something that had been suggested to me a couple of times so my sister took some pictures and I sent them into my agency in Dublin. When I was next in Dublin I went into meet them and started working with them.
How do you mentally prep for events like London Fashion Week?
Doing shows in London was such a surreal experience. I found it was really important to remember to take it all in and enjoy it. But doing that is only possible if you prepare yourself for the realities of what the work involves. I went into fashion being quite aware of the industry, which I found useful in understanding things I wasn’t to take personally. It often happens that people discuss your height, measurements, hair and skin and it is important to remember that these are superficial things that don’t define who you are as a person. The difficulty of divorcing your body from your self-esteem is that many girls take it too far and forget to take care of themselves. It is important to remember your self worth and know that getting enough to eat and not being treated inappropriately are things you have a right to, however easy it is for that to get lost in the stress of the week. I think we all need to remember what Karl Lagerfeld said, “Don’t get carried away – its only dresses”. It is only possible to enjoy what fashion has to offer if everyone is working in a safe environment.
Regarding eating and health during something like London Fashion Week – do you have any comments in relation to that?
There is no arguing that health is a big problem for models but it upsets me so much how this topic is so often dealt with. People are quick to point out how young girls are put under huge pressure to maintain a thin physique but the discussion frequently devolves into publicly calling these girls disgusting and shaming what, for many of these very young girls, is a natural skinniness. I have often been judged by people for wanting to be a part of a world that is viewed as superficial and a female indulgence. Young people who submit themselves to these types of pressures for sport aren’t met with this judgment and I feel this is a disparity that needs to be borne in mind.
Personally I have struggled with very cruel comments from people about my weight. In school I had girls poke at my bones and tell me I was disgusting, tell me I was so thin I was “basically anorexic” or “looked like a skeleton”. The cruelty of these comments was something that was difficult for me to deal with, but for those that do suffer with eating and body image disorders these attitudes make it very difficult for those girls to speak about their problems and get the help they need. People are quick to refer to non-models as “real women” and the implication of this is that those of us who do model are less real. When girls are subjected to this type of criticism it becomes clear how much this language has effected how people are willing to treat models.
Importantly health issues for models are only partially personal. The structure of the industry makes it particularly difficult for girls to make sure they are taken care of. We work as freelance workers and the jobs we get often only last a day, maybe two, giving no job security. On top of that if you turn up for a job not looking as they expected or there is an incident you can be sent home meaning you will miss out on that work. This is coupled with the fact that there is no trade union for models making it a uniquely poorly regulated industry. I have been incredibly fortunate to have an amazing agent who is immensely supportive. Having relied on that in a couple of situations I can only imagine how difficult it is for the girls who don’t have that. Luckily much of this is changing with work from people like Sara Ziff and Coca Rocha in New York as well as Erin O’Connor and the model sanctuary in London so hopefully models will eventually be treated with a bit more respect than the current standard.
What’s working in a showroom for Paris Fashion Week like? And how does that compare to a runway where you make the front pages?
The really great thing for me was getting to see the whole process right from having fabric cut and pinned on me through to the shows and finally the clothes being bought to sit in amazing shops like Dover Street Market, Colette and Havana’s. When I was in transition year I did two weeks work experience with John Rocha in his studio and this has been an amazing continuation of that.
The experience in the showroom is very different to that of the shows. The shows are so exciting and intense; they’re over in the blink of an eye. The showroom spans about two weeks running from the end of LFW until Friday, two days after PFW finishes. I had no idea what a big part of fashion week they are. Buyers rush from shows to appointments and press make a point of seeing the clothes in person as well as at the show. I’ve actually been far more star struck in the showroom than at the shows! The whole experience is much more intimate in contrast to the shows where Anna Wintour might be sitting front row (as she was at Simone’s show) but you wouldn’t have a chance to notice.
What sort of fashion do you do during downtime?
I wear a lot of dresses and black tights and occasionally jeans but usually with a silk top or cashmere jumper for a bit of luxury. I’ve actually become slightly obsessed with cashmere recently and am always trying to pick up pieces in charity shops and TKMaxx. I’m a big fan of Costume’s blitz sales (in theory the rest of the shop too), Maje and Cos. Being involved in debating in college I attend a number of black tie events. For these I usually make my own dresses with nice silk at The Cloth Shop, Murphy Sheahy and A.Rubenesque.
Briony is represented by Rebecca at Morgan The Agency. For her portfolio click here.
Jeanne Sutton @jeannesutton