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The Vacuum - Issue 17 - Fashion spacer The Vacuum - Issue 17 - Fashion
Power Dressing: an Interview with Roisin McDonough
by Ruth Graham
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RG: Did you have to change your wardrobe when you were appointed Chief Executive of the Arts Council?
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RMcD: I think what you wear obviously reflects who you are to some extent but bearing in mind the difference between work and leisure. I think that everyone is entitled to respect whatever context you happen to be working in. I donít think that some people deserve more or less than others. Just because you are working for the Arts Council as opposed to the community sector does not mean that one group is more worthy of respect that the other. So from that perspective no. I didn't change my wardrobe particularly. It certainly wasn't a case of sackcloth and ashes one moment then silk and satin the next.
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RG: Do you feel that women in executive positions have to work harder at getting their image right in order to be taken seriously?
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RMcD: Yes, I think that probably is the case and some women internalise that but I have to say that I don't, it doesn't bother me.
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RG: Is it hard to keep up the Executive image?
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RMcD: You'd have to ask someone who cares.
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RG: When you go to formal occasions representing the Arts Council, what do you wear? Do you go the whole hog with ballgowns and everything ..?
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RMcD: Only if it says 'black tie'. I have a couple of frocks that I can wear and a purple suit that I can dust down. They do the job. That's maybe about once a year, if that, and people don't tend to remember what you wore from one year to the next so you can get away with recycling the same couple of outfits.
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RG: What would you wear if you were relaxing or on holiday?
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RMcD: Probably an itsy bitsy teeny weeny little polka dot bikini.
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RG: What about when you were a teenager - did you dress any particular way - were you a hippy or a punk?
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RMcD: When I was at University in Dublin I was a hippy. I went to university in 1970 and it took three or four years for Ireland to catch up with what everybody else was wearing at that time. So I was a hippy in 1970 and in the summer I didn't wear shoes. If you think of lots of patterns that clashed, lots of layers and long curly hair with a bandana: that was my look.
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RG: Did you ever cut your jeans and sew in flowery inserts?
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RMcD: I did. You would unpick the sides of your jeans and as soon as you sewed the material into it and put them on, you just thought you were gorgeous. Definitely very cool. Occasionally you would have a little star pasted on your forehead - that was for going out in the evening ... but definitely no hotpants. I had a friend who wore yellow satin ones and I remember seeing her walking towards me with these yellow satin hotpants on and thinking 'no- please! just take them off. it would be a lot easier to look at if you had nothing on'. They were just so ghastly, but that was the 70's and a lot of those massacres of fashion happened then.
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RG: Do you have any particular horror stories about clothes you have worn?
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RMcD: The worst I've ever worn has got to be a pair of apple green shiny knee length boots with a matching jumper and a denim skirt. I think that was pretty bad. That would have been around 1975 or 76. They were made of that awful material that crinkled, so that every time you moved they made a noise. They wrinkled and folded as well. They were vile. Materials are much better these days for wrapping round whichever bit of the body you want to wrap them round.
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RG: Do you have a style icon?
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RMcD: Eddie Izzard does it for me. I think he's great.
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RG: What colours make you feel good?
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RMcD: Definitely turquoise. I'm a turquoisey bluey sort of person so I have shirts and suits and jumpers and teeshirts - that's my favourite colour.
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RG: Do you enjoy shopping for clothes?
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RMcD: No, I don't do it very often because I'm too busy. Sometimes I find myself trying to shop in airports because then I have the time to browse but I never find anything I like there. Occasionally a girlfriend will ring up and ask me to go shopping with her but apart from that, I probably don't shop for clothes any more than twice a year. I really can't bear it much more than that. It's not because I don't like being around people or being in shops but I do find it a struggle, especially if I am looking for something in particular. It's probably as much to do with being at a certain point in your life where you're more confident about yourself whereas when I was younger - in my teens or twenties - I was always shopping and playing around with new clothes and new looks.
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RG: You don't feel the need to keep up with any particular fashion look or movement then.
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RMcD: Absolutely not. The current look seems to be those pointy shoes with high heels and to me that is awful. Fashion nowadays seems to be part of what I would call a feminist backlash. It's what fashion is trying to corral us back into - the sex object in many ways. The styles and the fashions that I like are when people play with that but make it their own and invert the kind of statement that you're meant to have imbibed. I like to see women do that. Some of the current fashions, particularly in shoes, are the equivalent of Chinese foot binding.
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RG: A lot of young kids are also very conscious of having the right label nowadays.
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RMcD: Oh yes, to the extent that I played a trick on my son. I'd bought him something from 'Dun'z' (Dunnes Stores) and I cut off the label and put another label on it. When I asked him if he liked it he said it was gorgeous. Then I told him what I'd done and he was furious. I said, 'Well; £5 from Dun'z or £50 from D.K.N.Y.' It's mad, completely mad. One of the best things to hit the streets has been the TK Maxx's. They are affordable but you do have to rummage. The 2nd hand shops can be brilliant too.
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RG: Who is the best dressed man in the Arts Council these days?
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RMcD: Barry Douglas is pretty impressive when he comes in wearing his tails, which he does sometimes. We also get a lot of artists coming in who dress very interestingly and sometimes very well - but as to a member of staff, I think I'd have to say, Philip Hammond. He's a very natty dresser. He's into the hand made suits - he's at the other end of the scale from me - very natty indeed.
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