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Model and creative director Emily O’Donnell. Instagram: @emily.j.odonnell

LUX contributing editor and model at Models 1, Charlie Newman continues her online exclusive series, interviewing her peers about their creative pursuits, passions and politics

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Charlie Newman

THIS MONTH: 21-year-old Emily O’Donnell signed with Models 1 just under a year ago and has already shot for the likes of Vogue Italia, LOVE magazine, Hunger and iD China. Having recently graduated from UAL, she is also pursuing a career in creative direction whilst making art and music on the side. Here, she chats to Charlie about juggling her passions, how structure hinders creativity and collaborating with Nike.

Charlie Newman: What was your childhood like? Are you from a creative background?
Emily O’ Donnell: I was born in Leeds, where my mum is from. At two weeks old I moved to Milan because my dad is Italian and that’s where I was raised, which explains why I have such a weird accent! I was in Milan until I was about 17 years old but by then I was itching to get back to the UK, so I moved to Birmingham for two years to finish my diploma in art and design. After that I moved to London and studied at UAL, so I’ve been studying art since I was 13. The schooling system is really different in Italy, in Milan you have to choose what you want to do at 12 years old, and my choice was art! I don’t actually have creative parents. When I was growing up, music was the main thing for me. I was a super RnB head, my main inspiration until this day is Erykah Badu.

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Charlie Newman: Congratulations on graduating from UAL! What was your final project on?
Emily O’ Donnell: My course was fashion styling and production but I shifted more into creative direction which is what I’m doing more of now. I did a short film based around the importance of the body within cultural fabric, whether that’s within religion or cultural tradition. I basically explored the meaning of fabric within different religions and sort of distilled the two – body and fabric – and then reworked them in a more contemporary way. I created a film and an editorial.

Charlie Newman: Do you think it is important to study the arts is if you looking to work in a creative industry?
Emily O’ Donnell: I think especially for art and fashion I don’t think you necessarily need it, I’m not saying I haven’t learnt anything, I definitely have, especially at UAL, it’s been great platform to network. But as far as your creative flow and your creative knowledge goes, I don’t think being in such a structured environment helps. For me, university courses aren’t structured for you like to your work. By the time I finished a project I always hated the work, I was done with it. But it’s definitely been a good experience, I’ve learnt from it. I’m just now ready to move on.

Charlie Newman: When did you sign with Models 1 and how were you scouted?
Emily O’ Donnell: My friend wanted to go to this scouting event at a Brandy Melville store and I said I would go along with her to support – I really had no interest in it. We were both asked to come back and having seen my Instagram, Models 1 wanted me on their talent board and New Faces. I signed with them almost a year ago. It’s been good, I’m a workaholic and I really need to keep working and they know that! I saw a few agencies before but having been a freelancer for a few years I knew that if I were to be signed by an agency, I really wanted one that would take care of me so it’s been great. Models 1 know I don’t just wanted to be modelling, that they need to push my whole career. I’m not just my face.

Emily O'Donnell walking through water in a dress

Instagram: @emily.j.odonnell

Charlie Newman: What are you working on now?
Emily O’ Donnell: I’m working on a few projects to expand my creative direction portfolio. I’m working on a combination of commissioned and personal work. I paint too and I’ve been working on an EP for the past year now. Because of university I’ve had to put everything on pause and now that I’m done with it I can throw myself back into it all – no summer breaks for me!

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Charlie Newman: How do you juggle it all?
Emily O’ Donnell: You know how people say that you can only master one art and you can’t do them all? Well for me it’s a necessity to have different outlets for me to be creative. I don’t think I could stick to one job for the rest of my life and for that to be it. I’ve always said that I’m going to work my ass off to make sure that I’m not in a position that I don’t want to be in. I never see it as Emily the painter, Emily the singer, Emily the creative director, Emily the model. They’re all a part of me and I love them all, I can’t not do any of them. If I’m not working enough I really feel it – I hate it.

Charlie Newman: Last year, Nike asked you to create a video for the launch of their new tracksuit campaign. What was it like collaborating with such a huge brand?
Emily O’ Donnell: I’m so lucky I have such an amazing relationship with Nike, they’re like family to me. They’re one of my favourite brands so when they reached out, of course I went for it. They gave me so much freedom for the video too which was great, all they told me was that it had to be fresh, be London and focus on youth culture. That job of course opened a lot of doors for me, I can’t thank them enough. If every there’s an opportunity for me to be in the right place at the right time I’ll take it!

Shave head female model against blue sky

Instagram: @emily.j.odonnell

Charlie Newman: What would be your dream project now?
Emily O’ Donnell: I really want to push my creative direction more into high end designers. I’ve done a lot of sportswear designers so it would be nice to mix it up.

Charlie Newman: What are you listening to or watching at the moment?
Emily O’ Donnell: I’m listening to Tyler the Creator, D’Angelo and Solange. I don’t really do series when it comes to film, because I don’t have the time. But having done film studies I’m really into David Lynch and Stanley Cooper, all the classics. I feel like when I watch movies now I’m only seeing the technical side of it, how they’ve shot it. I find it really hard for my brain to switch off. I watch a lot of documentaries because I find it much easier to watch, there’s less to analyse and it’s more informative.

Close up shot of a female model wearing pink eye shadow with eyes closed

Instagram: @emily.j.odonnell

Charlie Newman: You have such a distinctive beautiful look. When did you decide to shave your hair?
Emily O’ Donnell: I’ve had my head shaved for two years and before that I had a big brown bob, a bob! I feel like this is a much much better for my work, although it’s such an effort, I shave it and bleach it every week! People often say to me that they can’t work out where I’m from. It’s fresh and I’m really happy with it.

Charlie Newman: What do you think has been a career highlight for you?
Emily O’ Donnell: I wouldn’t like to say because I never like to sit back and I’m always onto the next thing. I’m lucky to have done so many sick shoots.

Charlie Newman: Finally, who’s your role model of the month?
Emily O’ Donnell: It’s got to be Erykah Badu, every time, I love her!

Follow Emily on Instagram: @emily.j.odonnell