Briony Somers: a model student

Trinity student Briony Somers is tipped for catwalk stardom after her showstopper turn at the John and Simone Rocha shows


She made headlines at London Fashion Week modelling a red silk organza headpiece by John Rocha that enveloped her face like an oversize flower and then walked for Simone Rocha’s Elizabethan inspired winter collection that wowed the critics. Tall, blue-eyed and a natural redhead, 21-year-old Briony Somers from west Cork is not only starting to make a name for herself on the runway, she’s also a third year student of history and politics at Trinity College Dublin, a debater and an activist.

Last night she ran a fashion and politics debate at the Hist, a first for the oldest debating society in the world, with Marie O’Riordan former editor of Elle , addressing the students.

Over herbal tea and brownies at Bibi’s Cafe off the South Circular Road, Somers tells a story that’s likely to be familiar in the modelling world – growing up this tall and thin wasn’t easy. Born in England, she moved to Ireland at the age of 10. Her mother Carmel, a chef, runs the Good Things Café and cooking school in Durrus. It was a transition that was not easy initially, and at the small rural national school she was bullied for being thin and mocked for her English accent. “I had to change school because I was so unhappy and moved to Newtown in Waterford as a boarder. It was brilliant and looking back I am so grateful for the time there because it’s a school that opens you up a lot to different things.”

During Transition Year she did stints with John Rocha, Roksanda Ilinic and Vivienne Westwood in London, and her school history project was on the Nazis and fashion. “Their attitude to fashion was of the mother earth variety and they condemned the wearing of lipstick. Their politics were interesting, like they wanted to develop their own synthetic fabrics to reduce dependence on imports.”

Her modelling career began just over two years ago when her sister Ellen took photos of her and sent them to Rebecca Morgan’s agency. Her first job was modelling in the NCAD graduate show and for the college fashion shoot. Since then she has become one of photographer Perry Ogden’s favourites, most recently working on an Amish style fashion shoot for La Republica in Italy. Such fashion shoots draw on different elements from art, history or literature – and being part of that cultural creativity is something she relishes. But she also likes to quote Karl Lagerfeld who said “it’s only clothes, so don’t get carried away”.

She feels strongly that young models get unfairly blamed for being naturally skinny and wanting to be part of a world that others condemn as superficial. “People talk about unrealistic body image, but how about athletes? Such pressures on young athletes in sport aren’t judged in this way. People need to be able to understand the work that goes into a fashion image and not feel that it’s a template of how they should look. Body insecurity doesn’t seem to increase around the Olympics. Male passions like sport and fast cars aren’t treated as indulgent pastimes, and I resent not being able to do what I want free of ridicule. Modelling is much harder than it looks. ”

Working on the London catwalk for the first time was a surreal, nerve-wracking experience, she recalls. “I was the only Irish model brought over for the Rocha shows and the flashing of the cameras added to my nerves. There is that realisation that you are the show, that if you stop on the catwalk, the show will stop. ” Afterwards, she spent 10 days in Paris with Simone Rocha selling the collection to store buyers – “there was no adrenalin, it was more sedate. I got to talk to Kate Phelan (creative director of Topshop) and felt like a 15-year-old.”

She describes her own style as “girlish”, preferring dresses to jeans, and if money was no object she would love a Lanvin dress or one of Alber Elbaz’s big skirts and fans.

Although dressed in an Isabel Marant tunic (from Costume), Reiss boots and cardigan and peacoat from Maje, she admits that most of her buys are from sales. She once bagged a Valentino dress in TK Maxx and reckons that their Tralee and Waterford outlets are better than Dublin.