STYLIST - Annmarie O'Connor

If there is one thing that I admire in people, it is an ability to look effortlessly put together even when the weather is, well, Irish. There is something special that carries through to every other part of your life when you know how to dress yourself well every day. My Mum always said that there were three things that every girl should learn after school - how to put on makeup, how to cook and how to dress. We all put on clothes every single day of our lives (well most of us do!) and not necessarily well. Gathering a wardrobe, caring for it and keeping it up to date is an art that should not be looked upon lightly. Done wrongly, it can cost a fortune and take over our personal space. Done well and you can hold your head high feeling that you look great, waste less time pontificating about outfits and spend money on outings to wear those extra special items.

But I am no expert! Today I am buzzing to introduce Annmarie O'Connor. We met on a damp and chilly afternoon in Dundrum, yet immediately I forgot about the weather and warmed to her witty and infectious personality. This lady is a talented, motivated and endlessly inspiring. "Don't be a busy fool" she told me wisely, a phrase that was advised to her by a colleague and that she herself lives by. As an award winning fashion stylist, author, journalist and TED talker, Annmarie O'Connor speaks from the heart.

We have a shared past, in that some has been spent abroad and then it became time to come home to Ireland. For Annmarie, that was in 2006 and she hasn't looked back. She started her freelance career as a fashion blogger, when blogs were a rarity. That blog was retired in 2012 and she has recently launched a fabulous new website showcasing her work.

Her first book 'The Happy Closet' published in 2016 was a bestseller and featured in Good Housekeeping magazine. "Writing it was the happiest I have been" says Annmarie, "I was on a creative buzz". 

As a freelancer, she says "It's only an opportunity if it is a good use of your time. Ask what your intention is - you can't control the future but are you heading in the right direction?".

Thank you so much for your time Annmarie! Be motivated to dress (and live) well by checking out her website here. It's a good one!

Can you tell us a little about your background, where you grew up and how you came to living in Ireland?
I was born and raised on Long Island, New York to a mother from Inishbofin and a father from Brooklyn. I am the youngest of five girls (including a set of twins). Ours was a modest upbringing (my father was a correction officer and my mother a housewife) with strong Irish
connections. My paternal grandparents, both from Kerry, met in New York (my grandmother was sent to Connecticut to live with relations after her mother died when she was just 8) and discovered upon meeting each other that they would have lived less that 9 kilometres apart. My maternal grandfather was a sail maker; he was also a cobbler. Having made his first pair of men's shoes at 13, he also understood the importance of quality and getting the basics right. My grandmother was equally fastidious and incredibly stylish. Keeping oneself well was a matter of pride and a mindset that permeated life regardless of one's social status. My father died when I was four years old and my mother raised us by herself. She packed up the family when I was 12 and bought us to Ireland so that she could afford to educate us all. So, we moved to Athenry, Co. Galway and she started a guesthouse. My sisters and I rapidly discovered what damp feels like; why bags of coal should never get wet; how to fit
more than one body around a Superser heater; what a slagging off was (see: broad New York vowels); that sheep being taken to the mart at 5am on a school morning is an effective albeit inconvenient alarm clock; and why it is a mortal sin to leave the immersion on bath – ever. Did we ever listen? Nah.

- You are a fashion journalist and stylist by trade – a dream career for many. Was it something you always dreamed about doing and how did you start out in the industry?
Not exactly. My first love was always reading and writing but I never entertained fashion journalism as a career until I left university. I took a B.A. in English and Italian. I gained an academic scholarship to the University of Bologna where I studied Renaissance Theatre. I completed an M.A. In Literature and Publishing and was planning to pursue a PhD at Berkeley but opted to revisit that when I was older and with more experience to offer. Publishing was a bit of closed shop when I left university in the 90s (and there was no social media) so I moved to London where I worked in radio sponsorships and promotions and website editing. All the while, I kept a side hustle in fashion features writing and blogging going but it wasn’t until I moved back home to Ireland after 4.5 years in London that I really broke into the fashion industry. I made the decision to go freelance full-time in 2008 and with that started a fashion blog called I Blog Fashion which put me on the map as Ireland’s first fashion blogger. One of the opportunities which opened up for me was styling which, I hadn’t considered before then.

- How would you describe your own personal style?
Tailored with hints of vintage.

- You have written two books, ‘The Happy Closet’ and ‘The Happy Medium’, did you find it easy to transition from journalist to author or did you find the discipline of writing a book quite challenging?
It was challenging in terms of volume and sacrifice but on an average work week, I write up to 5,000 words of copy (excluding other tasks like styling or broadcasting) so this discipline stood me in good stead. I think I found it the most daunting when I was half way through the writing process. I was really tired and felt like I had nothing more to say. That was scary! It’s
amazing though how you can dig deep and find those reserves.

- You offer quite holistic advice in your books and your recent TEDx talk. Is this a philosophy that you have always followed or is it a transition that you have made in your own life?
I’m a self-proclaimed inexpert expert on the subject of mindfulness. I believe that happiness is found on your own terms – not the dictates of the masses or the validation of a crowd. I believe in wearing what you love and loving what you wear. I believe in living a life you love and loving the life you live – regardless of how that life is packaged or presented to the world. For many years, I tried to fit the ideal of a lifestyle I thought I should be living rather than the one that gave my life a storyline and a sense of purpose. It’s this story and my own observations on life that underpin both The Happy Closet and The Happy Medium. Prior to having written both books, I was an unofficial ambassador for low-level anxiety. I had six crowns put on my teeth due to a chronic case of stress-induced bruxism. I had hospital EKG tests for heart palpitations (also stress-induced) and I'd frequently find myself wide awake at night with insomnia (also stress-induced). And those were just the physical ailments. Don't get me started on the ruminating thoughts and mental chatter. My head felt like Grand Central Station at rush hour during a power outage on Christmas Eve before the stores closed. Pure chaos. It was around this time I started a regular yoga and meditation practice. Being able to take myself out of my head and into my body by connecting with my breath has been one of the most powerful tools I’ve ever learned. I truly believe that most mid-life / quarter-life crises happen because of relentless box-ticking based on cookie cutter social expectations. We think
the job, car, big house will make us happy until we realise the things that really nourish us are subtle (and more sublime) than that. Finding meaning in life doesn’t entail embarking on an Eat, Pray, Love excursion to south-east Asia or joining a womb circle in the Andes (unless of course, you want to); rather it’s about reconnecting with the everyday bliss bringers that lend a soft lens and gentle scent of gardenia to even the smallest tasks. You know it as that pocket of sunshine your cat invariably seems to find, the moment of silence before your children wake up and the day officially begins. This is where you are truly satisfied; this is where happiness actually lives.

- As a relative newcomer to living in Ireland and the cold weather again, I struggle to combine keeping warm and looking good – have you got any tips for people like me?!
Ski silks! Seriously, they’re like an insulating second-skin. Aside from that, it’s all about the fine art of layering. Alpaca scarves and hats are pricey but a boon as they’re finer than cashmere, softer than goose down and warmer than wool.

- Regarding fashion shopping for core pieces, where are your favourite haunts?                          

I look to Scandi labels like COS for clean lines and structure; Irish eco label Theo + George offer great cashmere pieces, hardy Breton tops and bamboo cotton t-shirts.

- What is Dublin’s best kept shopping secret?                                                                           

Om Diva is a great boutique for unique accessories.

- Who are your favourite Irish designers?                                                                                       

I have so many favourites! I do love what Dunnes Stores has done in the past few years by partnering with designers like Joanne Hynes. Lennon Courtney and Peter O’Brien.

- As you work for yourself, do you find it important to have quite a structured work week?
Absolutely. I think it’s important to have ritual as much as routine as this creates a sense of agency when things get chaotic. For me, I start the day with a nice cup of coffee and breakfast (regardless of how early I need to get up). Should the day go slightly pear-shaped, it doesn’t take me with it.

- Dublin has changed dramatically in the years that I have been away, where are your favourite restaurants / bars?
I tend to go to Bow Lane on Aungier Street for brunch with friends. It’s buzzing with people and music and does a great drag show on a Sunday. Brunch is excellent; so are the mocktails/cocktails.

- For school / college leavers looking to have a career in fashion and journalism, what advice would you give them?
For those interested in journalism, it’s important to build a portfolio and create a strong contacts book. Be prepared to network and to think outside of the box. Familiarise yourself with publications before pitching ideas and embrace blogging platforms as a means of showcasing your writing style. For those interested in fashion, it’s important to shadow and/or assist a stylist (for example) to build trust and to gain experience. It’s really a question of putting in the graft. Reach out to stylists whose work you admire, offer to be of service and prepare to work long unsociable hours. It’s a very competitive field so it’s important to demonstrate commitment and humility. There’s definitely no room for divas.

Quick questions:
- Yoga or cardio? Yoga
- Eggs or porridge? Porridge
- Book on your bedside table? Perfectly Imperfect – Baron Baptiste; What I Know For Sure – Oprah Winfrey; Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
- Dream holiday destination? Bali
- Netflix or a hot bath? Both!