New York state of mind
Living stylishly on a shoe-string is not something that comes naturally to New Yorkers – it’s something they work hard at, day and night, according to these young Irish designers who are trying to make it there
Finding their NYC style, from left: Aisling Flynn, Averil Blakely and Clare Kilty. Photograph: Jamie Saunders
HBO’s hit comedy Girls has won critical acclaim for its candid take on life in the Big Apple. Lena Dunham’s cult series follows the lives of a group of friends in their twenties as they clumsily navigate through adulthood, in search of the elusive American dream.
They live and work in Williamsburg, an ultra-trendy part of Brooklyn and a far cry from the well-heeled streets of Manhattan. These girls are stylish but mostly broke. Attractive, but self-obsessed. Offensive, yet endearing. Viewers see them trying to balance their careers, friendships and relationships, usually in cringingly intimate detail.
Back in the real world there are plenty of 20-somethings who can empathise. And there’s a new wave of emigrants keen to grab every creative opportunity that comes their way.
Here we meet three Irish “Girls” who also live and work under the bright lights of Brooklyn.
27, graphic designer
Aisling Flynn grew up on the Donegal coast, then swapped the seaside for stateside a few years ago.
“I wanted a new and exciting personal experience, but then I also wanted to continue on my career,” she says. “New York has a really desirable design scene and I knew there’d be a lot of opportunity here.”
She wasn’t wrong. Within two weeks of arriving, Flynn had landed a job in a respected studio and has worked on projects for clients such as Condé Nast, Burberry, Coach and the New York Public Library. Although she made it look easy, Flynn says it has been damn hard work.
“New York is a career town. People generally move here to get to the top, and you see that in shows like Girls. I think we work much harder than they do, though. There’s no such thing as a lunch hour. You work very long days and it can be expensive. Two drinks in the city will cost you more than you make in an hour.”
To avoid the price tags attached to life in Manhattan, Flynn spends most of her time at home in Williamsburg, scouring the many thrift stores and hanging out with friends.
“It’s filled with coffee shops and all kinds of bars and interesting boutiques. It’s more peaceful than in the city and it’s where I fit in best. You don’t see people walking around here with Chanel handbags. It’s more of a hodgepodge of effortlessly different cultures, ideas and aesthetics.
“In a city of eight million people it’s easy to feel lonely, but I make sure to surround myself with great people. My friends are more like my family here.”
Best thing about living in New York: The accessibility to do whatever you want to.
My New York style is: Sometimes feminine and classic, sometimes boyish with a little grunge.
My best vintage find: Rag & Bone black jumpsuit.
My best celeb spot: Anna Wintour.
27, fashion designer
Blakley is a Dubliner whose creative eye drew her towards New York . She works for a contemporary clothing company, designing lines for major stores such as Sears and Charlotte Russe.
“It’s much easier to find something here than at home,” she says. ‘‘The jobs are there but there are so many people fighting for the same position as you. It’s extremely competitive. But I think being Irish and European gives you an advantage over Americans. Europe is known for being a season ahead; it’s more forward and experimental.”
Blakley also lives in Williamsburg and used to get her caffeine fix at Café Grumpy, a regular meeting point on Girls. “They shoot in my neighbourhood. There’s always stuff happening. There’s lots of energy in Brooklyn. You have to learn to survive on a few hours’ sleep and with lots of coffee. My days can be long, but it’s really important to make your friends and squeeze out every hour.”
Blakley says some of the characters in the TV series are “quite self-obsessed”, but she does empathise with their daily dramas. “I think the personalities are exaggerated, but the situations they are in aren’t. They’re struggling all the time to make things work.
“New York can be overwhelming, and New Yorkers have big personalities. They are dismissive. I think you find your way eventually, especially in the professional world. You learn when to say something and when not to speak.
Best thing about living in New York: the melting pot of people and cultures.
My New York style is: fun, experimental and suits the mood I’m in.
My best vintage find is: a YSL jumpsuit from the 1970s.
My best celeb spot: Jay Z.
27, architectural designer
Of the three women, Clare Kilty is the newest New York recruit. She moved to Brooklyn from Dublin last year and landed a job with a consultancy firm designing shop interiors for luxury cosmetic companies, including Chanel.
“I studied architecture, but I’ve always had an interest in fashion and different kinds of design. So when I left college I wanted to do something that brought those two things together.
“It’s been a massive eye-opener for me. It’s hard, hard work and you have to be prepared to put in the hard graft.”
Kilty says that “working for luxury brands does not afford a luxury lifestyle. I wish I got discounts”. She keeps her style simple, but she is trying to embrace the eccentricities of New York where anything goes.
“I live in a little brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvestant. It’s not quite Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone. It’s a bit more ramshackle. It is an interesting area. It’s gentrifying. There’s a real mix of people who have been here for generations and then blow-ins like us.
“It’s fun. Everyone is always up on the roof at parties. You’ve got people on Instagram constantly feeding you these cool images of their lives, and then you do feel you have to keep up with that.
“You’ve got the guys with hipster beards and the dicky bows, and sometimes you want to rattle them and tell them to relax. It’s a really interesting scene to observe.”
Best thing about living in New York: Dough Doughnuts in Brooklyn.
My New York style is: Monochrome.
My best vintage find: A Chanel blazer in the Salvation Army.
My best celeb spot: Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Shosanna (Zosia Mamet) from Girls filming an episode on my block last week. Also I took a selfie with Eddie Izzard!