Erin O’Connor (born 9 February 1978) is an English model.
O’Connor was born and brought up in the Brownhills, West Midlands, where she attended Brownhills Community School. She was raised Catholic and her father is Northern Irish, from Ballycastle, County Antrim. On a school trip to the Birmingham Clothes Show, she was spotted by a talent scout.
Shortly after starting modeling she found herself working with Richard Avedon on the Versace campaign. Aged 20, Erin met Jean-Paul Gaultier, a unique friendship was born and he has entrusted her to realise his vision both on the catwalk and in advertising campaigns ever since. But it wasn’t until hairdresser, Guido Paulo, cut off her hair in 1999, that Erin truly found her confidence as a model. “It was liberation,” she says. “I didn’t have the more typical attributes of a woman, so I learnt how to push my chest out and use my hands in a way I hadn’t before.”
In 2002, her profile was raised further after she appeared in the acclaimed Channel 4 series, This Model Life. Erin’s versatility is endless, and she is to this day one of the only living people to have appeared on a specially commissioned 1st class set of postage stamps, shot by the iconic photographer Nick Knight.
With her dramatic shock of dark hair, alabaster skin, graceful presence and statuesque beauty, Erin has become one of our greatest and most original exports, single-handedly purveying a dynamic new look in fashion and acting as a muse for numerous designers, artists and photographers. In 2002, illustrator David Downtown held an exhibition featuring line drawings of Erin, the first time an exhibition of its kind had been devoted to one model.
She has appeared on many front covers from Vogue and Numero to i-D. Advertising campaigns include Chanel, Givenchy Donna Karan, Valentino, Armani, Versace, Anne Taylor and Dolce & Gabbana, to name but a few. Always in high demand, Erin has shot with some of the most prestigious photographers in the industry including Tim Walker, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Irving Penn and Jaurgen Teller.
With a career spanning of over 15 years, Erin has become most known for her appearances on the catwalk. Walking for designers include Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Valentino, Yohji Yamamoto, Giles Deacon and John Galliano at Christian Dior. Gaultier once quoted “she isn’t only a model. She is quite like art. She is like theatre. She is an extraordinary inspiration.”
Erin’s poise, elegance and intelligence led to a highly coveted association to British Fashion Council as Vice Chairman of London Fashion Week, and alongside this she worked on a number of exciting new projects and initiatives including becoming a founding member of the first Model Union, joining the model health enquiry chaired by baroness Denise Kingsmill and attending the House of Lords with her fellow panellists to propose recommendations which were then subsequently recognised by the industry.
In summer 2007, Erin contributed to the Model Health Enquiry and founded the country’s first Model Sanctuary for models working at London Fashion Week. The Model Sanctuary was a non-profit health and wellbeing organisation set up for young models participating in London Fashion Week. They offered free advice from qualified experts including a nutritionist, life coach, osteopath as well as make up tips, healthy food all day and a place to relax and recharge in between castings and shows. After 5 successful years Erin has now handed over the initiative to the BFC to continue the good work that she started.
She continues to write on a regular basis, and has written for leading publications including The Times, I-D Magazine, The Guardian, Stylist Magazine, Vogue.com and YOU Magazine. She gave a lecture at London’s V&A Museum on the history of couture, and was appointed as a trustee for the prestigious museum, the youngest ever to be given the government appointed role. She also regularly chairs forums for art and fashion students, and chaired a symposium for new generation designers. Erin also featured as one of the Modern Muses in a photographic exhibition shown at the National Portrait Gallery photographed by Bryan Adams and has also appeared as the poster girl for the BP awards painted by Jonathan Yeo.
In one of her most memorable shoots Erin can be seen tapping into her renowned British sense of humour by appearing in British Vogue photographed by Mario Testino in collaboration with Matt Lucas and David Walliams for Little Britain in an episode of the South Bank Show.
Erin has featured as the face of Marks and Spencer and more importantly has been credited with changing the fortunes of the high street retailer. The campaign is renowned as the retailers most successful.
Over the years Erin has received numerous awards in recognition of her career including Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards, Model and Style Icon of the Year at the Elle Style Awards as well as Model of the year in Paris. Karl Lagerfeld has described her as “one of the best models in the world.”
In addition to the above Erin has launched her own line of Fairtrade cotton T-shirts and bags with stylist Kate Halfpenny featuring quirky slogans such as ‘She died of Beauty’ and ‘She lived for Love’ Each product is lovingly created with a sense of purpose using ethically and organically sourced materials “after all there’s no reason why style and conscience can’t co-exist!” say Erin & Kate.
Erin is currently managed by Jonathan Sanders & Co. Photographed by Emma Summerton and styled by Caroline Newell. She is now based in London.
Image: Francesco Carrozzini