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Over The Counter Culture Goodhood: Emily J O'Donnell


Leeds-born model Emily J O’Donnell has shot for the likes of Vogue Italia, iD China and LOVE magazine. After moving to Milan at two weeks old, Emily came back to the UK to study fashion styling and production at UAL, before eventually signing with prestigious agency Models 1. We spoke to Emily about her love of creative direction, the fashion industry, social media anxiety, and more...

What are you excited about at that moment?

The process of creating, in general. Like in whatever form that may be. I’ve been doing art since I was like 12, so I need to be stimulated creatively. Whether that be in fashion, music, or art. I always wanted to do music and that’s what’s exciting me right now. I sing and co-produce with these two other guys from Luxembourg - it’s a new process for me. I’m trying to be really patient, there’s a lot to learn and I just want to do the best I can do, you know?

Sonically, what’s the vibe?

It’s kinda like chilled, trappy; a bit soul-y. It’s gonna be cool.

You're quite active on social media, how do you find it?

Obviously it’s my job, but it’s also very detrimental to a lot of people. You have to use it the right way, It’s different for every person. But if I’m on, I try to manage it in a different way - seeing it just as work. The fact they took all the likes off, I fuck with that. In the long run, I think it’s better for everyone’s mental health. There’s a big misuse of social media and I think that needs to be addressed.

I just put a limit on my phone that turns off all my apps at a certain time…

Yeah, so I did that as well, after like 10 pm or something. I’m trying to diminish the time I use my phone, then maybe read books, or just meditate; do something that charges me up. I’m trying to put all the technology outside of my bedroom, but it’s hard. Your brain needs to be active.


What are you reading at the moment?

I read a lot of like Osho. I fuck with Buddhism, so I’m into all of that.

Do you do Yoga?

Yeah, I do Yoga and Pilates, it’s very mental. I’ve had some bad lessons though, which are purely down to the instructor, but its also about how you feel inside.

How do you feel about the modelling industry?

I grew up in Milan and modelling is very accessible for a lot of people. For my look, it’s harder to get work. Milan is a very traditional and old fashioned place. I’m lucky that I started in a city where there’s a space for uniqueness and also to shut all the stereotypes down. I’ve gone to castings where I’m the shortest by far or the only bald girl, and it's obvious that it’s not the look they’re going for. Psychologically it’s hard. Castings are a formal way of people being like: ‘We don’t like you...'

I’m with a great agency and they push me a lot, but my goal ultimately isn’t to model. I enjoy it and consider myself quite lucky. I’ve done some sick stuff.

How do you cope with rejection at castings?

What's yours is yours, nobody can take that away from you - just trust the process. When you first start it’s all very overwhelming. I was 16 and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, to be honest. Everyone’s kinda winging it and faking it. Once you get into the swing of it, it’s like ‘ok whatever’.

You worked with Nike on the video for the launch of their new tracksuit campaign. How was that?

Nike is one of my favourite brands. They were actually the first brand I worked with when I moved down to London. We established a really strong relationship. They have a really good team as well.

And the brief was really broad, right?

Yeah, they were like: 'so here are the new tracksuits, we just want it to be London. Here’s the money, go!’ So I had to pitch three ideas, but I knew what I wanted to do, so my first idea was the strongest.


What’s your creative process like?

It all depends on what I’m creating. I’m a very instinctive person, so if I sit down and think of it, it’s just not coming. So I need to be constantly inspired. The more I let myself loose and go out and do stuff, the more I get ideas.

How do you stop yourself from getting burnt out?

I get burnt out quite easily. I’m a Cancer; we’re emotional. I cry, I’m all over the place. And I’m Italian so I’m passionate and quite fiery, it’s very up and down for me. So when I’m burnt out, I just need to pause. I constantly need to reset myself and rebalance, which is why I do yoga and meditation.

What’s next?

I’m focusing on music right now. I work with a brand called Dark Circle doing creative direction for them, plus I’m getting more involved with their design process. Also some personal projects. I’m just kind of winging it you know...

We’ve touched on social media and your creative endeavours, on a final note, what would your creative bio say?

Creative. Some people say artist, but I don’t really like to say that. I like to create, I don’t care about what I create, as long as I create. I can make a table if I want, you know? I made it!