Photo by Barry McCall
I couldn’t imagine a better way to launch my website to the world than with an interview with the fabulous Sonya Lennon. She is by far the most stylish person I know.
Regarded as one of the top fashion stylists in Ireland, most people will recognize Sonya as stylist and co-host of Off The Rails, a fashion magazine show. The show features a trend report, makeovers, street style, an interactive fashion show with locals which travels to different regions of Ireland and a whole lot more. If you’re interested in fashion it’s what you need to watch to keep up to date and in the know of how to go about looking stylish.
I’ve wanted to interview Sonya ever since I met her at a fashion show a few months ago. As soon as I began chatting with her I thought wow this Lennon lady is an absolute gem! She has such a warm aura about her and is incredibly polite and fun. Then when she roared laughing I was sold. She officially has the greatest hearty laugh you’ve ever heard- fans of Off the Rails will already know this, as her co star Brendan Courtney often has her in stitches. I caught up with Sonya to see where all her stylishness originates from and to get to know her a little better..( I learnt some wonderful tips too!)
So here you have it.
1. What happened when you were young that made you realise you wanted to be a stylist?
I was always around clothes from a very young age. I just knew clothes. I had an instinct to make stuff. My Mom had a huge amount of vintage clothes so I was surrounded by clothes from a very early age. My first job was in retail in Blarney Woolen Mills. From there I went on to work in the most incredible high-end fashion boutiques stocking labels like Dolce&Gabbana. I was lucky to be around amazing designer pieces very early on. This is where my career in fashion started off.
2. Would you share with us some of your style tips?
Well first of all not everybody is supposed to be excited about fashion. Everybody is an individual. To me it’s about finding what’s right for you and what makes you feel good. The power of clothes is that they can make you feel more confident, sexier, more powerful. When clothes are at their best, that’s what they should be doing. It’s not about being on top of the latest trend or being a slave to whatever colour you think suits you. It’s not about that. There’s a bigger picture, that’s why I often say there are items in my wardrobe I’ve had for 20 years and I still pull them out. If you feel they have a value to you, you’ll hang on to them, not because you’re a hoarder but because they will come back around. The high street is absolutely fantastic but at the same time I do find myself not holding on to dispossable fashion. If I do succumb to it, I find it moves on. Whereas the things that I think about carefully, the items I place a value on, I will hold on to them. They’ll have a full and happy life and live on for years to come.
3. If you didn’t work in the fashion industry what would you do?
I’m fascinated by the world of interior as well as fashion. I don’t think you can compartmentalise one from the other. If you’re excited about that sort of aesthetic I think you’re excited about that in everything from the car you drive to the cushions on your couch! It infects everything.
4. How did you go from stylist to TV presenter?
Presenting was never really part of the plan, it just happened. I was asked to do it and I think when opportunities present themselves to you, if you have to think twice about them then you should probably say yes! If you turn your back on something and don’t do it, then it may not come back around again. Anything is worth a bite to see what happens and I love it! I never would have thought I’d be doing presenting but I really enjoy it.
5. What sort of a relationship do you have with Brendan Courtney, your co-host of Off The Rails?
I know it sounds corny but we genuinely have a great relationship. We’ve got each others backs. We respect each other and have a great laugh. I just said to my family recently how I feel so lucky that I’m doing the show with someone who’s company I can enjoy, three years later and we still get on great and can totally trust each other.
6. How do you like being a celebrity?
Well I would never call myself a celebrity. To me, a celebrity is someone who walks down a street of any city and gets recognized. We have very few of those in this country. I do get noticed a bit but the funny thing is, people recognise me for the person that I actually am. All they want to know is where to buy a pair of shoes to match their outfit or to find out what body shape they are. They recognise me from Off The Rails which is a feel good programme so they tend to be very upbeat when they approach me. Sometimes people will see me and say hi because they think they know me, I would always say hello back, then you can see their rising mortification as you see they’ve realised what they’ve done! (howls of laughter from the two of us!!!) I have to admit I’m very lucky that the reaction is all good.
7. When we met before, I was struck by how genuinely happy you are, what makes you so happy?
I have a brilliant therapist! (and there’s that wonderful laugh again!) I was raised by wonderful parents. I am happy. I’m very lucky. I have a family and a career. I have two families, the family that made me and the family that I made. I have a lot to be grateful for. I wake up every morning and say thank you, I’m not entirely sure who I’m saying thank you to but I think we have to appreciate what we’ve got minute by minute.
8. What particular time or era do you think was particularly bad for fashion?
There were parts of the 70’s that were very bad, but there were also part of the 70’s that were very good. The 80’s are very en vogue at the moment. I think each era can give us something to learn from and progress with. It’s interesting becasue the same types of clothing are recycled in different forms over and over again and again. There’s very little new out there at the moment. I do love vintage, there are elements from all eras that are interesting to me.
9. Do you think Ireland is limited for people in terms of being able to express their own sense of individual style? Or do people just need to know where to shop?
I think people have to try a little bit harder because it’s not as easy to get what you want. There’s not so much of a rigiourous idea of how you should dress in Ireland like there is in New York , Milan or Paris. We don’t have the pressure that there’s a way to dress and outside of that you’re wrong. We have scope to find our own individual style because we’re given that scope, we have more scope to make mistakes. Having said that I think things are starting to settle down and we’re growing into a national look . It’s calmed down significantly since the glory days of bling. I look around the streets today and I have to say I think people are looking great.
10. What are your secret stores that you like to shop in Dublin?
I love bow. It’s a lovely boutique. Also Dolls in Portobello is absolutely beautiful and I always love to go in for a good natter with the girls in Costume. I think Arnotts have done amazingly well in the changes that they’ve made in store. It’s really exciting in there at the moment. I don’t really shop that often, I tend to happen upon things through work!
11. Do you have a massive wardrobe? Is there anything you collect, like how I collect hats?
I have a lot of hats actually but I’m not very compulsive. I have a wardrobe that’s been built up over twenty years but it’s not enormous. I buy very carefully, more because I want to really enjoy it and make sure I’m making the right decision rather than just buying for a hit.
12. What item of clothing would you recommend people invest in?
Jackets. I think jackets are great because they can do so much in terms of sculpting the architecture of the body. If you are having one of those days where you’re not really feeling up to it, then throw on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and if the jacket is killer, then you’re done.
13. Speaking of off days ( also known as fat or ugly days!) do you have those days and what do you wear when you’re having an one?
Yes I do have these days but I don’t see the point getting too hung up on my body. Either like it or change it or just get on with it. I should have washed my hair this morning but I didn’t so I’m not terribly happy about that. It all went a bit lemony snicket this morning but sure look whatever, you just get on with it. Clothes wise, I have a couple of easy dresses that I know are fail safe. I know I can turn to these when I’m having a bad day.
14. Does Sonya Lennon ever wear tracksuits??
No! The only tracksuit I wear is to go to yoga, and that’s Stella McCartney! I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a tracksuit.
15. Do you have a strict fitness regime or follow a strict diet?
I’m quite routine in my eating habits. I would always have my breakfast and lunch. I like healthy food. I don’t eat a lot of meat. I eat a lot of vegetables.I don’t have a sweet tooth, my only vice would be crisps rather than chocolate. I love exercise. I go to Bikram Yoga at least twice a week, I like feeling healthy. It’s to do with a lifestyle rather than a desire to be any particular dress size.
16. What do you like to do to chill out on a day off?
I love hanging out with my friends, going out partying and just having a good time. I love my yoga and going for walks by the sea. Anything really!
17. So, what’s next for you?
I’m in the middle of setting up Dress For Success, which is an initiative to help disadvantage women gain and retain employment by offering them suiting which is donated and business mentoring which is also donated. I have superpartners on board for that which will launch in September. It’s great. It will be the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on. It’s very exciting stuff.
And with that all my questions have been answered. There are hundreds more I’d love to ask, and I could genuinely chat with Sonya till the cows came home, and if they didn’t come home I’d still be sat happily talking away with her. She’s someone who you’d want as a best friend,and she’d be the most stylish one you’d ever have! I can’t wait for our next catch up and to hear more of Dress For Success when it launches next month. The lady with the best laugh has a huge heart and does everything with a touch of class and always with style, even while sweating up a storm in her Stella McCartney tracksuit!
New season of Off The Rails coming soon on RTE.