Today, Grace O’Neill gives the House of Harrolds an exclusive glimpse into her world. A household name for any magazine romantics or voracious consumers of Australian fashion media, Grace cut her teeth at a young age on the journalism circuit in the halls of Sydney’s glossy magazine houses. There, she wrote for some of the stalwart mastheads that buoyed local and international designers through clever words on patinated pages, while establishing her own collection of bylines.
Now, Grace podcasts from England with best friend and fellow journalist Isabelle Truman, releasing considered-but-candid, thought-stirring musings and interviews over glasses of pinot noir (or coffee depending on the timezone), for After Work Drinks. She still waves her wordsmith wand over various print and digital talismans, offering very well-read and quippy-yet-relatable insights on some of the biggest issues facing us in fashion and life right now. The duo have a panache for provoking conversations on a vast spectrum of pop culture to political unrest.
I will always believe in print, and I think there are some fashion magazines that are doing remarkable work at the moment.
From sitting front row in faraway fashion shows as a sartorial correspondent for ELLE magazine, to plotting podcast episodes in the familiar and humble dents of her couch, we wanted to take a step inside Grace’s 2020 world. Her unrelenting affinities for style, the written word and things that matter to the Harrolds woman make her creative outputs so insatiable. Pour yourself something delicious as we recline with one of our favourite avant-garde girls to catch up on all things work, wear and play.
On what Grace misses the most about Australia, she validates the old adage that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
“God, [I miss] so much. I really didn’t appreciate how incredible the Australian lifestyle is until I moved to London. I was back in my hometown, Perth, recently, and being able to walk along the beach in a t-shirt in the middle of winter felt like a minor miracle. Everything back home is just… easy. It’s amazing.
When we asked her to relive some favourite rituals from her Sydney origins, she prescribes “Plunge in Summer Hill for coffee, ricotta pancakes and a Bloody Mary at Bills for brunch (what a bloody cliché, but it’s a great hangover cure) and 10 William Street, Fred’s or The Dolphin for dinner and cocktails.”
And for London liaisons, it’s “Gail’s in Notting Hill for coffee every morning. There sadly hasn’t been too much brunching or cocktail-having lately, but La Bodega Negra and Berner’s Tavern are great for cocktails and dinner. For brunch, Juicebaby in Notting Hill for an acai bowl – purely because the last time I was in there Phoebe Waller-Bridge was at the table across from me,” she says.
GRACE O’NEILL & ISABELLE TRUMAN
GRACE O’NEILL & ISABELLE TRUMAN
For some of us this year, style has devolved in the throes of lockdown. For others, spending time at home has prompted a revelatory bout of introspection of our habits of consumption, our outfitting choices and the sorts of garments we drape ourselves in when others aren’t watching. On the lifestyle change that London has leant her, Grace has evolved her wardrobe to match, and implores Harrolds’ readers to do the same.
“When you finish working at a job that consumed a huge part of your life, you tend to have a bit of an identity crisis afterwards. My crisis coincided with a global pandemic, so a lot of my evolving style happened behind closed doors, which was probably a good thing (there were a few questionable peasant blouses that needed to be returned). I think my style now is just a slightly more casual version of what it was before – it’s still basically just denim, blazers, T-shirts, loafers and big oversized jumpers.”
Much like rebooting a wardrobe, the most stubborn creative ruts in Grace’s professional life can take meticulous research, inspiration, season-changing and scrolling to shake. But how exactly does she break free from bouts of inevitable artistic paralysis?
“By listening to creative people talk about being creative. Early in lockdown I got into a routine where every morning I would listen to an interview with a writer I admire on the BBC Bookclub podcast (my favourites were Edward St. Aubyn, Donna Tartt and Colson Whitehead) before I sat down to work. I also love The Sex-Ed’s interviews, especially the episodes with Alia Shawkat and Natasha Lyonne, and the people we interview for After Work Drinks always inspire me,” she says.
I think the magazines offering a truthful version of the world in their pages are the ones that are surviving.
As a regular contributor to new-age international magazines, we questioned Grace on her feelings towards the traditional nine-to-five journalistic hustles versus the freedom to freelance, for those who might be facing the same conundrum.
“ I miss working with a big team of supremely talented people – everyone was the very best in their respective fields, which was very inspiring. It was also amazing to see big ideas be spitballed in a production meeting, and watch over six months as they turned into reality. I do think that the freedom that freelance work offers suits my personality a lot better, it’s fun to be working for different publications, doing something totally different every day. Now, with a handful of the biggest magazines in Australia closing, I get to work with a lot of those same talented people in a new capacity as people launch their own publications, which is really exciting.”
So, with that being said, what does the medium of podcasting over the modern conversationalist, writer and creative that magazines never could?
“There’s an agility to podcasting that can’t exist when you’re creating a product two or three months ahead of time. Izzy and I can literally read up on a news event that happened at 9AM, record the podcast at 10AM, then edit and release the episode by 2PM. We’re able to respond to things in an incredibly quick and dynamic way. I also think that the intimacy is a huge factor – Izzy and I are accompanying people while they take their babies for walks, when they’re in the shower or while they drive to work. Someone once DM’d us to tell us they listened to our whole back catalogue while they were recovering from a serious brain surgery. So that creates a kind of intimacy that allows you to be really open, honest and vulnerable with people, and have them be open, honest and vulnerable back – in many ways it’s the antithesis of what a magazine is,” says Grace.
In a recent episode of After Work Drinks, Grace and Isabelle debriefed on their earliest memories of glossies, the futures it carved for women like them and an ode to its many talented trailblazers. On the sombering closures of copious Australian print magazines earlier this year, Grace laments their loss, but has high hopes for a new frontier with gumption and substance.
“I will always believe in print, and I think there are some fashion magazines that are doing remarkable work at the moment. We’re seeing Munroe Bergdorf, Tourmaline and Chella Man in the pages of Vogue, Breonna Taylor covering a Vanity Fair edited by Ta-Nehasi Coates and Anthony Fauci on the cover of InStyle. I think the magazines offering a truthful version of the world in their pages are the ones that are surviving.”
Harper’s BAZAAR – CAROLYN MURPHY: BURNING BRIGHT
Harper’s BAZAAR – CAROLYN MURPHY: BURNING BRIGHT
For the well-read After Work Drinks listener, Grace’s book recommendations are considered sacred. We asked her what underrated tome should be obligatory for Harrolds readers to consume this spring and why.
“I think Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehasi Coates should be required reading for all non-Black people. The book is an extended letter Coates wrote to his 15-year-old son after the murder of Eric Garner in 2016, and it rings disturbingly true in 2020. While I was in hotel quarantine a friend dropped me off a copy of So Sad Today, a book of essays by Melissa Broder, which I also thought was fantastic.”
And while we’re at it, if there is one pertinent article for all of us to read right now, what would it be?
“I think Jia Tolentino’s article for The New Yorker on ‘Instagram Face’ encapsulates one of the biggest issues millennial women are facing right now. I’m a huge Naomi Wolf fan, and it’s so wild to me that the closer women move toward gender equity, the more oppressive the beauty standards enforced on us are. ‘Instagram Face’ is the insane logical conclusion of that idea, where we are now literally transforming our faces into this one weird, ageless, race-less aesthetic. It’s actually quite scary, and needs to stop,” says Grace.
Lastly, we mine Grace’s beauty cabinet for a must-try step in her daily regime to embrace this spring. It turns out that despite a UK postcode, her rituals are still anchored in a love for Australian elixirs and potions.
“I’ve been a devotee of Rationale for a couple of years now, so there isn’t much tweaking with my skincare routine. I love everything Ultra Violette does and have been using their sunscreen since they launched – their new tinted lip balms are fantastic, too.”