Arts and Contemporary Studies ’10: Alannah O’Neill

Although O’Neill had trouble deciding on a career path in her early years at Ryerson, writing had always been her passion. Photo by Shanene Lau.

[T]here was something about the strange personalities in the fashion world that captivated the imagination of Alannah O’Neill – then fourth year Arts and Contemporary Studies student – and when she first walked into the offices of ELLE Canada Magazine, she knew at that moment that this was the world she wanted to live in. And for the past year and half, O’Neill has been living her dream.

Starting as an intern in 2010 and now an associate editor at one of the largest fashion magazines in the country, O’Neill has come a long way from her birthday in December 2009 where she celebrated by writing two exams for Ryerson, followed by an interview for the internship at ELLE Canada Magazine that she later received.

Her university career began at McGill – for general arts – where she later went on to Ryerson to study in the General Option for the Arts and Contemporary Studies program. “I could never make up my mind about anything, my parents are amazed that I chose fashion after everything.” And although O’Neill had trouble deciding on a career path in her early years at Ryerson, writing had always been her passion.

Looking back on the countless hours spent writing on the 9th floor of the library, with a boat load of coffee – as she describes it – O’Neill simply loved the feeling of putting her thoughts on to paper. But it wasn’t until her final year at Ryerson where the idea of fashion as a career began coming together.

“It was interesting because I was watching a lot of things, and reading a lot of things, but I never really kind of put it all together that it was all fashion.” With some of her favourite television shows at the time being Stylista, Running in Heels, The Rachel Zoe Project, America’s/Canada’s Next Top Model, and Project Runway, as well as reading biographies of fashion designers, O’Neill eventually began her own fashion blog, named Swagger and Grace, where it led her on a memorable streetcar ride to her first Fashion Week festivities in Toronto.

After an announced short turn by the driver on the way to the Fashion Week events, O’Neill explains, a fellow passenger asked her for directions, “…and I just started talking to her because she was really, really nice and we talked and talked and talked, and I told her all about my blog, and I told her I love fashion and I was just so eager.” It turned out that the fellow passenger happened to be going to the same place as O’Neill. And it turned out that the fellow passenger also happened to be Noreen Flanagan, the Executive Editor of ELLE Canada Magazine at the time, and now Editor-in-Chief.

[O]’Neill’s journey in the fashion world has taken her through countless experiences, including a recent trip to New York Fashion Week, where she encountered the likes of some of her fashion heroes including Anna Wintour (Editor-in-Chief of Vogue) and Grace Coddington (Creative Director of Vogue). But besides the experience of interviewing designers and stylists (such as Pat Field), being in the blizzard of celebrities and photographers in one of the biggest fashion cities in the world reaffirmed one feeling for Alannah O’Neill: she was meant to do this.

And it’s that natural feeling of being in this environment that encourages her to keep heading in the direction that she is heading.

But O’Neill has learned to not take it all too seriously. In an industry that can often be rife with affectation, O’Neill has learned the importance of being authentic and kind – values she attributes to learning from her editor-in-chief, Noreen Flanagan. “Noreen is the nicest editor-in-chief in the world… That’s the one thing that really comes through with her, is that she’s a very, very kind leader, and so it’s something that I strive to be in my day-to-day life.”

Ask O’Neill why she wound up in the fashion world after everything, and she fires off a few quick responses before pausing. “I don’t know why fashion, I feel like fashion chose me.”

You can follow Alannah O’Neill on:
Twitter: @alannahoneill

Photography by Shanene Lau: