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‘I was scouted completely out of the blue’: Young Irish models making waves on the international scene

The biggest fashion houses in the world have been hiring Irish models to head up their campaigns

The look of the Irish: Irish models are increasingly achieving recognition in the notoriously competitive modelling industry

Last month, in a first for an Irish model on the international catwalk, Alice McGrath opened Dior Haute Couture at the Musee Rodin in Paris, while in Milan, the young Dubliner Sonny Drummond walked for Gucci. They are not the only Irish models increasingly achieving recognition in the notoriously competitive modelling industry. Here, they and other rising stars offer their take on why Irish models are doing so well, both here and abroad.

Sonny Drummond walking for Gucci. 'If you have modelled for Gucci you often get work with Fendi or Louis Vuitton, and a good few went on to Paris.' Photograph: Estrop/Getty

Sonny Drummond

Nineteen-year-old Sonny Drummond, from Westmeath, the grandson of poet Paul Durcan and son of artist Blaise Drummond, hit the headlines in December 2022 when, as a schoolboy, he made his modelling debut for Dior at the Great Pyramid of Giza in one of the most spectacular fashion events ever staged in Egypt.

Having been spotted by a scout from Elite, one of the world’s leading modelling agencies, five months earlier at the Longitude music festival in Dublin, it led to him signing up and then getting the call from Dior.

“It was insane news to have this incredible opportunity landed on you,” he recalls.


This season he was one of 56 models walking for Gucci in Milan. “It was a lot more fun because I was not as nervous as I was at Dior, and so I enjoyed the whole experience,” he says. Three rounds of castings with hundreds of others had preceded the event, and he only discovered he had made it the night before. The show also meant a haircut. Although he agreed to it – “they could have given me a buzz cut and I wouldn’t have minded” – he did miss his thick curly hair initially.

“The interesting thing about the show,” he adds, “is that for most of the models, it was their first show, so it was all new faces. If you have modelled for Gucci you often get work with Fendi or Louis Vuitton, and a good few went on to Paris.” Unable to join them due to the demands of the Leaving Cert, he didn’t get to hang out afterwards and meet Paul Mescal and other celebrities attending the show, “because I had a casting with Mr Armani the next morning: it was really crazy with queues of more than 200 waiting all the way down the street”.

Though he hopes to study economics and philosophy, Drummond is now considering taking a year out after the Leaving Cert to focus on modelling and see where it takes him. He is also applying to the Lir Academy to study dramatic art as his experience has made him appreciate the connections between modelling and acting. “In modelling you are trying to convey emotion in the way you walk and the way you move; it’s about going into character. Although I missed out on school [walking for Gucci], it was definitely worth it – it was unbelievable.”

Alice McGrath

From Omagh, McGrath set a new standard for a young Irish model when she opened Dior’s haute couture show at the Musee Rodin in Paris in January. “I was scouted by IMG modelling agency at the start of 2021,” she says. “It was completely out of the blue. They messaged me on Instagram, after which I went straight to my parents. During the second lockdown we had some meetings on Zoom, and around March, after restrictions were lifted, they invited us to London and we met a couple of agents.”

Having completed her A-levels in Loreto Grammar and moved to London, her first job was last September walking for JW Anderson’s SS24 show at London Fashion Week. “I was really nervous – I had been to different castings before and kept getting called back, but was so surprised that I got it because I was so quiet and so scared. It was the most surreal experience because I had never [walked in a show] before and was aware that all my friends at school were watching it.”

Her next big job was opening Dior’s haute couture in Paris, a major coup for an inexperienced young Irish model. “I’d spent two days in Milan before Paris and had 10 castings, but I was one hour late for Dior. The casting director was so relaxed and because I was late, they had time to have a conversation with me, but I didn’t find out until the morning of the show that I had been cast to open it, No 1.

“It was another surreal moment, and Dior kept booking and rebooking me. They shot me for their holiday campaign for spring-summer ‘24 which came out in October, and the spring-summer campaign in Vogue for February. I was in Paris last week getting the train to London and I opened the first page of Vogue and it was a double-page spread with me. I bought eight copies!

“Every job I get now I am going to enjoy and ride the wave of luck that I have. It has been so crazy, as I had been meaning to study finance. My older sister, who is studying medicine, is now my biggest fan.”

McGrath has had occasion in recent months to try to figure out what it is that others have seen in her. “I think [casting directors] like the novelty that I am Irish, that I have a positive outlook and I don’t show off, because that’s the way I was brought up. I think success in modelling is 10 times due to personality.”

Paul Kerr

From Whitehall in Dublin, Kerr was scouted by an agent from Elite while working for Abercrombie in the Dundrum Town Centre. He landed his first job with Asos in London in 2013. Since then, he has had a stellar career abroad and has shot for GQ, Esquire, Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health.

Part of the reason Kerr loves modelling is because it gives him the opportunity to travel, meet new people and work in new environments. “It’s the excitement of opening up the emails to see what’s there,” he says. “Getting a job and an interesting brief.”

Dividing his time between Dublin and Switzerland, where he has an agent and where his girlfriend lives, he is now training as an accountant, and that means having to be more selective in his work choices – he had to turn down Swatch recently. “I am still modelling, but I need to make my future secure,” he says. “I have learnt that it is always nice to have something to fall back on because external factors like recession or Covid mean that one of the first sectors to go is modelling – so you need to enjoy it while you can.”

What does it take to be a successful model? “You need to get along with clients and have a certain level of charm. You also need to be respectful, have good manners and respect what designers are making. Irish people are friendly, and friendliness goes a long way in the world of fashion.”

Niamh Dunne

A former Miss Kildare from Prosperous, Dunne has been modelling since the age of 17, armed with the confidence that came from winning the title. At 20, she fulfilled an ambition to study in Maynooth with the aim of becoming a science teacher. But having met a modelling agent from Milan in Dublin, she decided to leave her studies and take the risk of returning to modelling. “I have no regrets,” she says.

Based in London, some of her favourite jobs to date have included working with the Missoni family in Italy; walking for Laura Biagotti in Milan, modelling for Armani’s Tennis Classic in the summer of 2022 in London, and doing commercials with Land Rover. Photography and a love of video have become a passion and she has made a few YouTube videos chronicling her modelling life. “I like making videos because I become a character, so I have started acting as well,” she says.

Highlights of her career include “getting to wear the most beautiful clothes, meet interesting people like the Missonis, and being around creative people and photographers”. She’s a firm believer that personality plays a huge part in determining who winds up landing coveted roles in modelling. “I always wanted to be a TV presenter,” she says. “I’m told I bring good energy to the job.”

Caoimhin O'Brien: 'I decided to train at UAL as a graphic designer, so now I combine that with modelling.'

Caoimhin O’Brien

Caoimhin O’Brien’s career in modelling started at the tender age of 17, when he was a student in Terenure College and was spotted out and about in Dublin by a London modelling agency scout. Once O’Brien signed on the dotted line, he decided to give modelling his all. “I instantly loved it,” he says. After his Leaving Cert, he elected to spend the next year of his life modelling.

His start was inauspicious. Having been booked to walk in a Burberry show at London Fashion Week exclusively, he travelled to London from a family holiday in Kerry, but the job was cancelled at the last minute. Still, there was a silver lining. “I ended up with Jimmy Choo, and that was my first big job in 2013.”

Mentored by Rebecca Morgan at her agency, O’Brien worked for Brown Thomas, Fisherman of Ireland and Magee. He also returned to his studies, opting for a degree in languages at TCD. His big breaks were during an Erasmus year in Paris, when he started to combine work with modelling, a major assignment being a five-day shoot in the Alps for Primark. “A few months later I would see myself on billboards in the US, the Grand Via in Madrid and Oxford Street in London, and I got the first inkling that this could be something.”

After that, there were covers for Vogue in Germany, and two summers spent in Tokyo in Japan, “such a different culture and so interesting”, where he worked with Comme des Garcons and on Uniqlo campaigns and TV commercials.

During the downturn brought on by the pandemic, O’Brien had a lot of time to reflect, and he opted for a change of direction. “I decided to train at UAL as a graphic designer, so now I combine that with modelling,” he says. “It offers stability when modelling can be so precarious.” Based in London, where he has bought a house with his partner, he believes that nurturing other passions is essential to a modelling career. “Sometimes it can be very busy, other times there is too much free time, so developing interests and something to fall back on is important.”

Lucy Arbuthnott

From Booterstown in Dublin, Lucy Arbuthnott is tall, slim and blessed with classic Celtic looks. She was always told she should think about modelling. “I love fashion and my mum and I are obsessed with clothes, so modelling was always at the back of my mind,” she says.

At 16, Arbuthnott signed up with NotAnother agency, her first job being a photo shoot for Create in Brown Thomas two years ago. Last April she spent the summer in London, having signed up with Select modelling agency. She went to castings and learned how to walk the runway. “You need to move your shoulders rather than your arms as it is more elegant, and not move the hips so much,” she says. “You have to adjust your stride to suit the catwalk, so I had to practice. It is a formula.” Different designers demand different walks, “some more masculine, others more feminine”, which she has studied carefully.

Last September, her first show was walking for Marni in Paris in one of Karl Lagerfeld’s houses, closely followed by Issey Miyake, so her confidence has grown. “What I love about modelling is the people-watching and the fashion, seeing what everyone is wearing and Anna Wintour in the front row – it was so exciting.” She will head to Paris again for the new season, but is also keeping her feet on the ground, studying law as a second-year student at Trinity.