La dolce Vita: The Irish student modelling for Vivienne Westwood

Vita Byrne Carty: ‘I usually buy my clothes second hand from charity shops or online apps like Depop.’ Photograph: Tom Honan
Vita Byrne Carty has moved from getting spotted on the street to being a firm favourite of the punk queen, but she has no plans to let modelling get in the way of her education

It’s not often a young rookie Irish model gets catapulted straight into fashion’s fast lane, but that’s what happened to Dubliner Vita Byrne Carty walking in Paris in July 2018 for Vetements, one of the most talked about and radical international brands in fashion. It was her first job.

Held under a motorway overpass in the 19th district, the collection, described as “explosive” by Vogue, referenced the designer’s troubled civil war background in Georgia. Byrne Carty (then 18), who had just completed her Leaving Cert, was sent out in an oversized pinstripe blazer and skirt, Eiffel Tower heeled stilettoes and little make up. “Very androgynous”, she says though her shoes, the wrong size, drew unwanted social media attention. Since then, she has done another season with the brand.

Vita Byrne Carty in the Vivenne Westwood video for spring-summer 2021
Vita Byrne Carty in the Vivenne Westwood video for spring-summer 2021

Following her whirlwind introduction to the fashion world, Byrne Carty has developed an impressive portfolio: she has modelled at London Fashion Week as well as Paris, has worked on various high-profile campaigns including one for Self-Portrait, and on another two-month contract in China on editorial shoots for Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar – “the first time properly travelling on my own and able to experience different cultures” – and later worked in Berlin among other assignments.

It culminated this September with the fulfilment of a personal dream, working with the punk queen Dame Vivienne Westwood on a video for spring summer 2021. Westwood eschewed the catwalk for digital presentations three years ago and the film, shot on an iPhone with just four models – Westwood herself, her husband Andreas Kronthaler, long term Westwood muse Sarah Stockton and Byrne Carty – is a novel meditation on spring with poetry, music and fashion.

“She chose all the poems for us to read and cast me because she said she thought I looked like a Celtic bard,” grins the Dubliner, “and when she heard I played the harp, rented one that I could play. I have to pinch myself it was so amazing”. (Watch it on YouTube:Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood Spring-Summer 2021 Film )

Vita Byrne Carty with make-up by Niall Durack. Photograph: Patricia Amsjah
Vita Byrne Carty with make-up by Niall Durack. Photograph: Patricia Amsjah
Vita Byrne Carty modelling for Vetements in Paris this year. Photograph: Nurphoto/Getty
Vita Byrne Carty modelling for Vetements in Paris this year. Photograph: Nurphoto/Getty
Vita Byrne Carty in a shoot for Tank. Photograph: Alexander Coggin
Vita Byrne Carty in a shoot for Tank. Photograph: Alexander Coggin

Tall and willowy, Byrne Carty’s boyish looks are currently much in vogue and chime with fashion’s continuing focus on gender-neutral collections. “It’s funny, I am seen as androgynous, but I am not necessarily that,” she says. “I would consider myself as a feminine person. I wear a lot of black because I was into gothic style as a teenager.

“I draw inspiration from it as it has a certain level of elegance and history, which is also why I love Vivienne Westwood clothes and punk influences. A lot of her stuff is so tasteful and gorgeous, but she is also classic and feminine and I really love that she encourages people to swap clothes and refrain from buying new ones. I usually buy my clothes second hand from charity shops or online apps like Depop – I even sometimes borrow my Dad’s or my brother’s clothes,” she says.

Her Irish agent, Aislinn Lawlor of NotAnother agency, remembers the first time she spotted the teenager in Dublin. “She was walking the street like a runway and I was wondering, who is that gazelle?” What makes her stand out as a model, according to Lawlor is that “she is an interesting, unique character and very artistic, who has the ability to turn a basic shoot into something special. She is very delicate in the way she speaks and moves.” In a rare token of appreciation and a further testimony to Byrne Carty’s particular talents, Lawlor received an email from Westwood after the shoot saying how much they enjoyed working with her.

Vita Byrne Carty: ‘I usually buy my clothes second hand from charity shops or online apps like Depop.’ Photograph: Tom Honan
Photograph: Tom Honan

“She also represents a massive trend that we are finding for a couple of seasons now, particularly with overseas clients. They want another side to models, seeing them as personalities rather than just [clothes] hangers, thinking more about them as collaborators. Vita’s style and personality fit the Vivienne Westwood brand and we hope they will look for her again,” Lawlor adds.

Daughter of the well-known architects Gerard Carty and Eva Byrne, Vita is now in her first year of medicine in UCD, studies which went on hold temporarily because of modelling demands. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist but as I grew older, I realised that I draw a lot of energy from being around people and what changed my mind was studying science, biology and chemistry. Being a doctor makes a lot of sense in terms of making a real impact in the world and I want to be able to help people. Being a good doctor or GP makes such a difference and I like the idea of patient-centred medicine,” she says.

She is also studying Japanese “because I wanted to learn a non-Latin language either Mandarin or Japanese and Japanese was a better fit for my timetable.” And she wants to continue modelling, “if I can work around it and get my assignments done”.

“I will have time in the summer. I really do love it – it is the only thing close to artistic self-expression that I have in my life sometimes and everyone needs a creative outlet of sorts. I also love how it expresses variety, it’s much like dressing up and seeing how you’d look as another person… it’s really cool.” And so is she.