Interview with designer and entrepreneur Sonya Lennon in the Irish Examiner, May 21st 2016: "My mother was a transatlantic air hostess which was very glam back then and I remember being inspired by the goodies she brought home in the form of clothes. I was cutting up curtains and sheets from way back when. I’ve always been determined and forthright. I was the eldest. I’ve one sister. I was probably an opinionated pain in the ass growing up. When I left school I did a foundation course in Communications in Coláiste Dhulaigh and I applied for the degree in Dún Laoghaire but didn’t get in. My parents said do something useful so I went to Paris to improve my French.
When I came back to Dublin, I wanted to work, not study. Dad was in the bank and, when I didn’t go on to do a degree, it was challenging for him, given that I’d had the benefit of a private education. I worked in a series of fabulous boutiques like Kamouflage and Firenze — part of that avant garde scene that was bringing things like Commes des Garcons to Ireland for the first time — and I honed my understanding of what clothes do on a body, as well as my ability to sell.
I’m more of a lark than an owl. I have no problem getting up at 6am when I have a heavy workload. I go to bed around 11pm. Ambitious isn’t the word I’d use for myself. It’s more about challenge, pushing, growing and learning than ambition for its own sake. For a long time I played it safe as a freelance fashion stylist, afraid to challenge myself.
The transition to being on television was not of my making. I was offered the slot on the TV programme 'Off the Rails' and was reluctant at first, because I’d spent 20 years building up a reputation and a career as a stylist and I was worried about shelving that. But then I realised you don’t get offered a prime time TV gig twice. I’m pretty good at leaving work behind when I’m with my family. The kids are 11 now and great company.
I’m organised. We have two huge whiteboards in our kitchen showing a couple of weeks at a time. One of the best pieces of advice I received was when I was starting up Dress for Success. I’d never done any type of business development before and there I was taking a licence from a worldwide body. Fiona McHugh of Fallon and Byrne reminded me that the thought of doing something is usually 100 times worse than actually doing the thing itself.
We’re a cooking household. I love food and am mindful of what we eat. I do bikram yoga once or twice a week. If I could be someone else for a day I’d be Josephine Baker, in that heady, opulent, sexy world of the 1920s. My idea of misery is having to commute to work. I walk to the office.
I have three main businesses: Dress for Success — which offers services to women by maximising the possibility of success at their interviews — where part of what we do is tackling issues of self esteem; Lennon Courtney, our clothing range, where I can hold my hands up and say that the area we work in is grounded in reality - not in the Paris catwalks; and frockadvisor, an app designed to support independent boutiques to thrive in the face of global competition.
If I could dress anyone at all, I’d choose Tilda Swinton. The fashion industry has changed. It’s not about them anymore, it’s about the customer. It is based on the bottom line and giving the customer what they want. There used to be only four trends per season. Now, you can wear whatever you want to wear.
I’m not remotely religious but I am acutely morally aware. The big lesson so far is: it’s right now. Things cannot be deferred.