Erin O'Connor on diversity and individuality

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Erin O'Connor
Erin O'ConnorPhotography by Tori Edwards

Tonight as part of the National Portrait’s Late Shift Extra: Snapped, model Erin O’Connor unveils Rankin’s new series of photographs. Commissioned by All Walks Beyond the Catwalk – which O’Connor co-founded with Caryn Franklin and Debra Bourne – the

"Conformism is a potent statement and as much as we do talk about individuality in fashion, there’s a sense that people are fearful of not conforming and not being part of action. I think the industry is resistant to change somewhat, but over the last year and a half I think with different projects and different designers, and hopefully All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, I think we’ve seen the benefits of increasing diversity within the industry. There are great slender models, great tall models, Amazonian models, great busty models ­– my point is models of all shapes and sizes, age, ethnic background should be embraced and celebrated. All Walks is a chance for us to be reminded of this fact, and to actually have the confidence to bring liberation from it, and to not see it as a negative thing. I appreciate this too, obviously because I am one of them: I’ve struggled the last few years because I’m not the sample size I’m actually classed as 'plus size'. Even that in itself is quite uncomfortable, not because I’m being classed as a plus size model but because to classify a fashion model in a category is wrong. We’re fashion models, we wear fashion. Hopefully All Walks and it’s incredible line-up of diverse, beautiful models will have huge positive impacts – not just within the fashion industry but outside it too. Rankin for me is a man who doesn’t compromise on personality, he pushed me to the extreme to adopt more personality and have a sense of attitude and conviction. That was a bit of a turning place for me, it was a day many moons ago, it hit me with forceful impact. It’s not about hiding your imperfections on a shoot; it’s about embracing them, and being unapologetic about them."

Tonight as part of the National Portrait’s Late Shift Extra: Snapped, model Erin O’Connor unveils Rankin’s new series of photographs. Commissioned by All Walks Beyond the Catwalk – which O’Connor co-founded with Caryn Franklin and Debra Bourne – the nine portraits celebrate the spirit of design and diversity. They feature looks by some of Britain’s best fashion designers including Stella McCartney, Vivienne WestwoodHussein Chalayan and Giles Deacon. The models pictured are aged from 18 to 80, range in size and race, in complete contrast to current ideals. Placed alongside paintings of famous women of the past, such as Nell Gwynn and Elizabeth I, these images will be on display for the first time and for one night only.

Text by Lucia Davies

All Walks Beyond the Catwalk presents SNAPPED Late Shift Extra, in partnership with FTI Consulting, at the National Portrait Gallery Friday 11 February 2011, 6-10pm. Erin O’Connor will also take part in a panel discussion at the Gallery during the evening, chaired by Caryn Franklin, on the subject: “Has Fashion Imagery become the lens by which we evaluate identity?”