A Willing Nomad

Set among a row of semi-identical, 18th-century houses, on a tree-lined, quietly sunlit street in Camberwell, the facade does not particularly stand out. The exposed brick reaches up five floors. Two trodden down, concrete steps lead up to a dark navy blue door inside a little fence. It takes a while before she opens the door, but when I finally step inside the dimly lit hallway and guide my way through the maze of individually decorated rooms, I soon get immersed in a world that’s more defining than a name tag. Everything, from the cups, to the wall paper, to the rugs on the floor, breathes Erin O’Connor, not to mention the many paintings, drawings and photos of her own image, looking down or up at you from their sacred spots. I ask her with genuine astonishment: “So have you done many shoots here?” She answers: “No, you are the first one.”

Erin O’Connor has lived in this house for over six years. And it has clearly been a work of complete love and devotion. Most of her belongings originate from different parts of the world she traveled to while modeling: an iron bath tub from a flea market in Paris, vintage blinds from Ghana, upholstery fabrics from India, Marocco and China. “At its worst it’s sort of neglected chic,” she describes, “and at its best it’s a haven for my senses to salivate over. I have an aversion to clean lines and monotone colors, having been brought up a in a 70s interior which consisted of varying tones of beige and brown. To me, my home will always remain incomplete; part of my life’s journey is to stay passionately committed to finding treasures to fill it with.”

The same can be said of her personal style – “It is still evolving!” – though a few ground rules have been laid down over time. “I could never wear a mini skirt,” she squirms. “I am sorry to say that I inherited my father’s very sturdy knee caps, so for that reason, I try to keep them covered.” A failed attempt at wearing a baby doll dress made her realize “you had to look cute and innocent – two looks I have never mastered.” During the day her uniform consists of a well-cut suit, a blazer and flats. In the evening she goes for something more frivolous: always heels and lots of silk bold colored dresses. Her favorite designers are Vivienne Westwood (for the humor), Helmut Lang (for his feminine tailoring) and Dries Van Noten (“I would marry, die and be born again wearing Dries Van Noten!”). And like all my muses she adores vintage. “I’m especially keen on collecting kimonos and wafting around the house when I’m home alone. It somehow feels exotic. I love the idea of purchasing an already loved piece of clothing that details the history and life of the owner before me. I hope that when I’m long gone that my wardrobe collection will be of use to someone else.”

Erin took a break from modeling a few years ago but has been relentless at keeping her influence and ties to the industry intact. She founded the Model Sanctuary in 2007, a non-profit organization supported by the British Fashion Council that provides a place where models, facing fast-paced schedules can relax, recharge and seek unbiased advice. “The initial aim of The Model Sanctuary was to increase access to health guidance and support and, in general, to benefit models in a way that will be useful to them during their career in fashion.” During fashion week, a team of nutritionists, a psychotherapist, an osteopath, fitness instructors, masseurs and healers are on call at a kindly donated townhouse in Covent Garden. Last year she launched the She Died of Beauty brand t-shirt line with her best friend, Kate Halfpenny. “The inspiration behind the brand name and collection is to make “a teasing, yet affectionate tickle at the fashion industry we continue to love, honor and serve,” she explains. The collection consists of five typographic t-shirts with slogans like ‘She died of Perfection’ and two bags. And though she’s been concentrating on more fruitful endeavors, she never lost her model ambitions. During Couture Week in Paris in June she walked for her friend and fashion inspiration Jean-Paul Gaultier. “Fittings with JP are a blast! We talk about all sorts of current affairs, our favorite food (we both adore cake), our newest film crush and the character of my persona that he has dreamt up for that season.”

While Erin puts on her make-up and changes into her striking outfits, I get sucked into the tasteful whimsy of the house and a shocking episode of Downton Abbey on her computer. She tells me how she lost her keys the night before and got locked out, how she successfully maintains a long distance relationship, compares models to willing nomads and thinks she looks like Olive from Popeye’s. She’s had a busy few weeks – London Fashion Week is finally over – and she’s happy to be home. “This shoot was the perfect way to unwind,” she concludes. “Easy.”


October 19, 2011

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