Alternative Beauty, An Interview With An Irish “Steampunk” Model
Tall, curvaceous and very beautiful it’s not surprising that Irish Model Black Swan Persona works on the international arena. And although she has the looks and height to carry off beauty and fashion photo-shoots she loves to represent the more unusual form of beauty “Steampunk”.
How long have you been modeling and how did you get it into it? I’ve been modeling for about five years now. In my teens, I participated in two Degas-inspired shoots for an exhibition with my ballet school, and that gave me a taste of what modeling was like. An artist friend, Piotr Harmsden, introduced me to a photographer he knew. He thought I had ‘something’ and asked to photograph me. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to give modeling a try. I’m shooting and being published now more than ever, which is fantastic.
How did you get into the Steampunk side of things and is it something you are personally interested in? I have always been drawn to more theatrical styles, and have long been interested in the Victorian era; the costumes, the literature, and the visual art. I started to hear the term ‘Steampunk’ mentioned in the Dublin alternative scene. My friend Harmsden was very into it, and could regularly been seen in a top hat and tails with a pair of goggles. I decided to look further into Steampunk fashion online, and was really taken with it how imaginative it was. Harmsden has since passed away, so it’s also nice to pay tribute to his style too.
Describe in your own words what Steampunk is and why you think people are fascinated with it! ‘Steampunk’ refers to clothing, literature, music, and visual art inspired by the time in history when steam power was used, combined with futuristic elements. Sometimes people get it confused with Dieselpunk. Steampunk clothing is generally Victorian or Wild West in style, embellished with cogs, keys, pocket watches, and goggles. Because of the sub-cultural nature of Steampunk, everyone can interpret it their own way. It’s such a remarkable style that it’s really captured peoples’ imaginations.
If someone wanted to get into the same kind of modeling as you do what would your tips be? Every aspiring alternative model has to start at the bottom and work their way up. You can’t expect to appear in magazines and work with the best photographers right off the bat. You have to build up experience before that can happen. This can mean doing your own makeup and styling, and shooting more basic concepts with photographers who are starting out themselves. The more experience models gets, the more accomplished they become, and the more photographers will seek them out for shoots.
When they approach their 30s often models are considered too old, what is your opinion and what is your plan for your future? I’m in my mid-twenties so I have a few years to go before I need to think about that! The mainstream modeling industry is obsessed with youth, yet models like Kate Moss continue to be successful after thirty. Claudia Schiffer is over forty years old, still models, and looks fantastic. In the alternative industry, pin-up model Masuimi Max is in her mid-thirties and is more successful than ever. If models look after themselves, there is no need to stop.
What is your attitude towards the restrictions on looks, size etc the fashion industry makes and do you think that a more realistic version of beauty should be shown more? The fashion industry places these extreme restrictions on models because what they are aiming for is perfection. That’s how they keep the industry elite. But their idea of beauty is not the only one. The alternative industry is made up of every kind of beauty you can think of; every size, shape, height, or age is included. There are models with imperfections like scars, even amputated limbs, all representing their own brand of beauty. I don’t want to write off the fashion industry because it certainly produces some exquisite images. However, its exclusive nature alienates many models whose unique beauty would remain unseen if that was the only option.
You studied history of Art and Literature, so you obviously have beauty and brains, why did you pick those subjects? I have always been an avid reader and creative writer. I really enjoy literary criticism and academic writing also, so it was a perfect fit for me. I got my Masters from the school of English at Trinity College Dublin, and was undertaking a PhD there, which I have since deferred. My favourite genre is the Decadent literature of the fin de siècle/Victorian era. I briefly studied art history, and I was particularly interested in the Symbolist movement, which occurred around the same time. So that era means a lot to me across the board.
Being smart as a model is going against the stereotype, how do people you work with deal with that? Does it make it easier or harder? Being intelligent is very much the opposite of what most people expect of a model. It’s nice to disprove that assumption, without waving your accomplishments in people’s faces. In all honesty, the majority of artists I work with are smart people, and we respect each others’ intelligence.
You have a tattoo on your wrist, they are normally not liked in the world of modeling but in “alternative” beauty often a feature, why do you think that is? Do you have any others? I have three tattoos, which is not many at all. I have a black swan surrounded by a halo on my left wrist and a Latin phrase on my right wrist. I four interconnected black swans on my lower back. They are the Children of Lir, but done in black to tie-in with my name. In terms of modeling, it seems that high-fashion models are obliged to remain blank canvasses for the various designers who hire them to sell their clothing. Alternative models are freer to project their own personalities in each shoot, and that includes having tattoos, but they are certainly not a prerequisite. You will see internationally-known alternative models, like Sabina Kelley or Raquel Reed, who are heavily tattooed, and others, like Miss Mosh or Ulorin Vex, who have none at all. The main thing is that we have to freedom to express ourselves that way if we decide we want to.
Where would you go to listen to music, dance and have a good night out in Dublin? No matter where in the world I travel to, I still think that Dublin nightlife is the best! Favourite haunts of mine include The Grand Social, The Twisted Pepper, Whelan’s, and 4 Dame Lane is always good for cocktails!
Do you have a Personal motto? It would have to be the Latin phrase that I have tattooed on my wrist- ‘luctor et emergo,’ which means ‘I struggle and emerge.’ It has always been relevant to my life, and will be in the future I’m sure!
Steampunk an international phenomenon:
Steampunk definition: Steam standing for the use of alternative and retro-technology (steam engines) and punk describing the rebellion against society and the way history went.
Originating in the early 1980s the term Steampunk was first coined 1987 by American science-fiction/fantasy author K.W. Jeter. In a letter to si-fi magazine Locus he used the term “Steampunk” to separate the kind of stories he and his friends Blaylock and Power were writing and publishing from the general fantasy and science fiction novels.
Today Steampunk has created a whole array of art, music and fashion that follows it’s own, loose, set of rules and inspires many to step outside of what is conventional and live an alternative lifestyle.
Steampunk art and fashion use a lot of brass, wood, iron, leather and visible machinery, big cogs and wheels balancing function and form against each other. This love of gadgets and industrial design is reflected in the music, which is a combination of dance/world music and industrial sounds.
But Steampunk reaches even further than that; Bioshock II is a perfect example of a computer game using steampunk story-lines and imagery. Warehouse 13, the successful TV Series, and the movies Sherlock Holmes have not only popularised steampunk, but also made it more mainstream.
But Steampunt is more than just a fashion/visual statement. The idea behind steampunk is that everything should have a use or be beautiful and that you should be committed to self-sufficiency and creativity of the individual. This means that supporting small local businesses, respecting handmade and crafted items and a love of art are at the very core of the steampunk movement.
Steampunk is a backlash to the Industrial Revolution, when the Arts and Crafts movement favoured the skilled work or human hands over mass-produced items. To a time when Victorian designer William Morris said “have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’.