The Ir­ish cat­walk star on danc­ing jigs at au­di­tions and meet­ing Har­vey We­in­stein.


Ed­i­tor LINDA MA­HER Fash­ion ed­i­tor GRACE CAHILL Chief de­signer COLM CORRIGAN YOU is pub­lished by DMG Me­dia Ire­land Group ed­i­tor SE­BAS­TIAN HAMIL­TON Manag­ing di­rec­tor PAUL HEN­DER­SON YOU, Third Floor, Em­bassy House, Her­bert Park Lane, Balls­bridge, Dublin 4, switch­board: 01 256 0800


High fash­ion model Laura O’Grady, 23, from Castle­knock, Co Dublin – who has been a Saint Lau­rent and Vivienne West­wood muse – recog­nised Har­vey We­in­stein im­me­di­ately. ‘I was at a BAFTA af­ter-party in Lon­don ear­lier this year and he came in. I said “hi” be­cause he was stand­ing right in front of me, though he is very creepy so then I just walked away.

‘ The first time I heard al­le­ga­tions about him was two years ago but I didn’t know if they were true or not. Sto­ries about mod­els who had as­pired to be­come ac­tresses, the kind of sto­ries that have come out now. Then when I saw him I thought it wouldn’t sur­prise me if they were true.’

It was a close en­counter – thank­fully, not too close – with the dis­graced Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer, just months be­fore his spec­tac­u­lar fall.

Many vic­tims of his al­leged sex­ual as­saults were mod­els, in­clud­ing Filip­ina-Ital­ian Am­bra Bat­ti­lana Gu­tier­rez, who be­came part of an NYPD sting op­er­a­tion af­ter fil­ing a com­plaint about the mogul. You may have heard au­dio of their sec­ond en­counter when he tried to bull­doze her into his ho­tel room.

‘I’ve been pretty lucky, I’ve never had any really ter­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ences in mod­el­ling,’ says Laura, when we meet in a Dublin ho­tel fol­low­ing her shoot in the windy Wick­low moun­tains. ‘I once did a shoot with a pho­tog­ra­pher where he was do­ing too much com­pli­ment­ing but in a creepy way. He was say­ing I was his ideal woman but he kept go­ing on and on about it and it made me really un­com­fort­able. It was too much and I told him to stop and he did.

‘I spoke out about it straight away to my agents and they didn’t send girls to that pho­tog­ra­pher again. But I’ve never dealt with any­thing very se­ri­ous where I’ve been touched in­ap­pro­pri­ately or asked to do some­thing I didn’t want to do.’

Four days af­ter fin­ish­ing her Leav­ing Cert in 2013, Laura flew to New York to sign with top agency Supreme and move into one of their model apart­ments in the trendy Meat­pack­ing District.

The only daugh­ter of a banker fa­ther and le­gal sec­re­tary mother, she had at­tended Mount Sackville con­vent school for 14 years.

‘New York was such a shock to the sys­tem,’ she ad­mits. ‘I’ve stayed in model apart­ments many times and it’s one of two ex­pe­ri­ences: it either feels like camp if you get on well with the girls... Then if you don’t get on with the girls it can be hell. Mess is a big prob­lem some­times with the girls. And peo­ple Skyp­ing very loudly. Ev­ery­one has to Skype, we all have to main­tain longdis­tance re­la­tion­ships whether they’re pla­tonic, ro­man­tic, fa­mil­ial. Just some­times it’s 2am and they’re scream­ing in their na­tive lan­guages at their boyfriends!’

Laura was still a gan­gly teenager find­ing her feet in this strange new world when she got the call all mod­els dream about.

‘I was do­ing a show in New York, it was my 19th birth­day and I was in the line-up to go out [on the run­way]. I heard my phone ring be­cause I was stand­ing be­side my dress­ing rail and it was my agent say­ing, “You booked a Saint Lau­rent ex­clu­sive! So you have to leave New York and go to Paris.” So I did and I met Hedi Sli­mane at Grand Palais,’ she says, of the French pho­tog­ra­pher and de­signer who had dou­bled YSL’s rev­enue be­fore he left the fash­ion house last year.

‘ Then ev­ery day I would go there and change into a robe and sit on a couch and me and an­other girl would take turns try­ing clothes on. He was just styling the col­lec­tion for the run­way.’

Laura was one of the star mod­els at the show it­self, stomp­ing down the cat­walk to cam­era flashes and the ad­mir­ing gazes of front row celebri­ties and mag­a­zine edi­tors.

‘I think in that mo­ment I naively thought, “I have ar­rived!”’ she says. ‘What I didn’t re­alise is that get­ting that first step to­wards a suc­cess­ful ca­reer is less im­por­tant than main­tain­ing it. It’s much harder to main­tain mo­men­tum in mod­el­ling than it is to get it in the first place.’

Back then Laura was the fash­ion world’s in­genue du jour. ‘I was do­ing Vogue Italia, I was do­ing i-D, I was do­ing Dazed and Con­fused – ev­ery big mag­a­zine. I did a shoot for Vogue Italia shot by Miles Aldridge. They got this vin­tage bus and they dressed us all up like ec­cen­tric, ex­trav­a­gant ladies so I had a big curly Fifties-style hair and red lips and they gave me a pug. I never worked with an­i­mals be­fore and it was then I re­alised how hard it is to get a pug to look through a win­dow, down a cam­era. We were rub­bing treats on the win­dows so he’d look. That was good fun.’

Af­ter a cou­ple of whirl­wind months in Eu­rope Laura went back to Lon­don. ‘But I felt like I was un­der mas­sive pres­sure as a lot of mag­a­zines were writ­ing ar­ti­cles say­ing I was go­ing to be the big face of the next sea­son. I got so fright­ened of it all. It was too much, it was too big.’

She felt her agents at the time were try­ing to mould her into some­thing she wasn’t – dic­tat­ing to her how she should dress and come across to clients.

‘ They were mar­ket­ing me in a way they thought was trendy that sea­son. But my worry was if it wasn’t me and I just faded out af­ter a sea­son I’d feel so empty. I was afraid of hit­ting a peak when I didn’t know who I was or what my style was.’

So she did what many a young Ir­ish woman has done be­fore and since – she came home to her mammy for some TLC.

‘I took a break and then I went back to it. Since then I’ve really en­joyed it but I’ve been a lot stricter and stronger with how ev­ery­thing works. When I was in my late teens and even up to 21 what­ever my agents wanted me to do I did it be­cause I thought they were the ones who knew best. Whereas now I try and keep more con­trol over it, oth­er­wise it’s not go­ing to work.’

De­spite her new­found con­fi­dence, Laura has ➤

➤ still had to jump through un­usual hoops to get jobs. ‘At the cast­ing for a Vivienne West­wood cam­paign [in 2014] they asked me if I could dance an Ir­ish jig. And I did it, just as I was. I was wear­ing these cu­lotte shorts and my lit­tle legs were flail­ing about. I thought, “I can’t ac­tu­ally do a jig but they won’t know what a jig looks like so I’ll just fluke it.” I did a jig. Then they said, “Wait one sec­ond, can you do that again?” And they all took out their iPads and iPhones. It’s on the in­ter­net some­where. A day later they said, “You got the job!” It’s a real “Dance, monkey dance” story,’ she chuck­les.

Vivienne West­wood her­self was not there ‘but I met her later in Paris. She’s really dif­fer­ent to how you think. I thought of her as be­ing really ec­cen­tric and open about her po­lit­i­cal ideas and she is all of those things but when you meet her she is very calm, very fo­cussed.’

In per­son Laura is sen­si­ble be­yond her years and she has grown into her clas­si­cally beau­ti­ful looks.

‘Like ev­ery model I was def­i­nitely much quirkier when I was younger be­cause there seems to be an ap­peal in high fash­ion for really scrawny, alien-look­ing girls,’ she smiles – and it’s true that her lanky limbs, saucer eyes and prom­i­nent ears have been much ad­mired. ‘I guess I’m quite clas­sic now. I book a lot of Fifties jobs.’

Later in the week of our in­ter­view Laura will fly to LA for meet­ings with model agents be­cause the fash­ion world – once so snooty about ‘La-La Land’ – is be­lat­edly em­brac­ing it.

‘Hedi Sli­mane moved Saint Lau­rent from Paris to LA and Tom Ford is liv­ing in LA and has started show­ing there,’ she says. ‘It’s such a so­cial me­dia-savvy place and such a health- con­scious place and they are the two things that really de­fine the in­dus­try right now. The fash­ion in­dus­try is not about the co­caine party girls that it was in the Nineties,’ she says. ‘Now clients are look­ing for girls who are really fit, really toned and lead a healthy life­style. They are the kinds of women that brands want to rep­re­sent them – not bad in­flu­ences.’

Mod­el­ling is no longer just about show­ing up on time and be­ing beau­ti­ful.

‘ There is a mas­sive pres­sure now be­cause In­sta­gram is con­trol­ling the in­dus­try. In­sta­gram fol­low­ing is be­com­ing so big. When you go to cast­ings in New York you used to write the time you ar­rive, your name and your agency. Now you write the time, your name, your agency and your In­sta­gram fol­lower num­ber. It’s crazy,’ says Laura, who has over 13,000 fol­low­ers now on the pho­to­shar­ing site.

‘Nearly ev­ery agency has an In­sta­gram pol­icy. It’s a two-page pol­icy on the kinds of things you have to post and how of­ten. It’s usu­ally at least one pic­ture a day. Es­pe­cially self­ies, be­cause they get a lot of “Likes”.

‘I would rather work in an era where so­cial me­dia was not that big,’ she sighs. ‘I re­mem­ber be­ing in Ire­land and my agent say­ing there was a job go­ing but I couldn’t be put for­ward for it be­cause they were look­ing for girls with at least 10,000 fol­low­ers. I was like, “Wow it’s even hap­pen­ing in Ire­land”. So I started to build it up a

lit­tle bit. I haven’t bought fol­low­ers or any­thing which I think hap­pens a lot. I know some girls who sign up for this soft­ware that in­creases your fol­lower count. I know one girl who’s got 100,000 fol­low­ers but she pays some­one €3,000 a month to man­age her ac­count.’

It’s not just mod­els who bend the rules – ap­par­ently it’s the de­sign houses too.

‘Some­times in New York – I’ve never done a job like this – but they’ll pay in trade in­stead of money.

‘You do the job and then a day af­ter the show they’ll open up their show­room with last sea­son’s stuff and the mod­els come in on a time slot and they can just pick some­thing. Or else they are given a cer­tain amount of credit for the store.

‘When I did New York Fash­ion Week, I had just fin­ished school, I didn’t have any money. My agency had paid for my visa and my flights so the idea of do­ing some­thing for trade pet­ri­fied me: “Okay, I have a nice coat but I can’t pay it off”,’ she says, of the ini­tial ex­penses in­curred by agen­cies that must be re­paid by their mod­els. It doesn’t sound fair not to pay mod­els? ‘I didn’t think so either,’ she agrees. ‘I have never done a job or show for trade but I do know girls that have. When I did Saint Lau­rent they don’t give any clothes to any­body. They pay cash and quadru­ple the amount of those peo­ple that give trade. It’s a way more re­spect­ful way to treat mod­els. To treat them like they’re ac­tu­ally peo­ple who need to live.’

For Laura home is di­vided be­tween Dublin, Lon­don, New York and Tokyo - she has agents in all four cities. And now she hopes to find rep­re­sen­ta­tion in LA.

‘I’ve been get­ting a lot of job op­tions out of LA but I don’t have an agency there so I’m go­ing to go and do some meet­ings.

‘LA is be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant for mod­el­ling – I think a lot of it is be­cause of the Gigis, Ken­dalls and Kaia Ger­bers,’ she says, of Ha­did, Jenner and Cindy Craw­ford’s daugh­ter, who live in the city, and all of whom have mas­sive so­cial me­dia fol­low­ings.

Celebri­ties try to strike a bal­ance be­tween be­ing re­lat­able and as­pi­ra­tional to ap­peal to the masses – but Laura sees straight through it.

‘Gigi Ha­did is this friendly, slightly goofy girl but at the same time you know you’re not go­ing to be like her be­cause you didn’t grow up in Bel Air and you’re not a su­per­model.’

Now along with mod­el­ling, Laura is writ­ing a thriller, look­ing into tak­ing act­ing classes – and count­ing her bless­ings.

‘For me to be 23 and to have trav­elled the way that I have, I feel ex­tremely priv­i­leged.’

LAURA O’GRADY pho­tographed by Kenny Whit­tle

Laura in ac­tion on the cat­walk and in client shoots

GREEN BLAZER COAT, €1,165, Stella Mc­Cart­ney @ Brown Thomas PRINT MIDI DRESS, €895, Marni @ Brown Thomas BERET, €15, Mon­soon Pic­tures: KENNY WHIT­TLE Styling: GRACE CAHILL Hair: LUCY O BRIEN @ Brown Sugar, South Wil­liam Street, Dublin 2, See brown­, 01 616 9967 Make-up: LOR­CAN @ Make Up For­ever, Claren­don Street, Dublin 2. See makeup for­, 01 679 9043 Shot on lo­ca­tion at Sally Gap in Wick­low. Spe­cial thanks to Pow­er­scourt Ho­tel, En­nis­cor­thy, Co Wick­low. Avail­able for wed­dings and ex­clu­sive events, see pow­er­scourtho­

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