Profile head and shoulders photo of stylist Michelle Coughlan

From London to the US, Michelle Coughlan’s journey in the fashion world has been a global adventure.

Starting her studies as a fashion buyer at London College of Fashion, she later became a Fashion Stylist in the US, working with top brands like Converse, Reebok, and more. After returning to Ireland and starting a family, Michelle combined her talents, offering art direction, styling, and photography services for fashion, food, and interior-related projects. She now also offers personal styling to help clients look and feel their best. 

In this episode we discuss her path to becoming a stylist, working in the US and her return home to Ireland, the importance of networking, the different facets of her work and her future plans.

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About this podcast

Date:         25/10/2023

Duration:   40:49 mins

Michelle's Takeaway Tip

“Get your experience.”

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Geraldine Hennessy: Welcome to the Cork Creative Podcast. With this podcast, we hope to promote local creative businesses and people. I am your host, Geraldine Hennessy from Flux Learning, and today I am joined by stylist Michelle Coughlan in the fittingly stylish Mix Coworking in Clonakilty.

After studying in the London College of Fashion, Michelle became a fashion buyer for a large retailer. She then moved to the US and fashioned a career as a fashion stylist, where she worked with well known international brands such as Reebok and Timberland. After starting a family, Michelle returned to Ireland and created her own fully encompassing styling business where she provides brands with a tailored service of art direction, styling and photography for projects ranging from fashion to food and interiors.

She creates stunning images that capture the essence of her clients and their stories. Michelle also provides personal styling, drawing on her extensive knowledge of the fashion industry to ensure her clients look and feel their best. In this episode, we discuss her path to becoming a stylist, working in the U.S. and the return home to Ireland, the importance of networking, the different facets of her work and her future plans.

You’re very welcome to Cork Creation, Michelle.

Michelle Coughlan: Thanks for having me on here, Geraldine.

Geraldine Hennessy: Tell us a little about your background and how did you become a stylist?

Michelle Coughlan: Well, I suppose my love for fashion began from a really young age.

I remember like countless outfit changes as a child. My mother would kill me every day. Dragging boxes out of the attic and it was like shorts in winter. It didn’t matter as long as I had like three or four outfit changes a day. And then I remember like matching colors for mom and like planning her own outfits.

And it was kind of that era of like, you know, power dressing and, you know, the shoulder pads and, you know, the kind of one tone suit. And it was just, I loved it all. But then, you know, you get into school. And as I approached leaving cert. I realized there wasn’t really any like fashion degrees available and I was like, what am I going to do?

And I just went with like languages in UCC and I got a part time job in A-Wear. Do you remember A-Wear? Oh my God. Loved A-Wear. Yeah. Everyone still reminisces on it. Like it was just great. Great price point. Great quality. So, got a job there and I loved it, trained in visual merchandising and window dressing.

And then A-Wear did a collaboration with Irish designer Peter O’Brien and I got to go to head office as, you know, represent the Cork branch,and meet him and meet all the buying team. And then I kind of…

Geraldine Hennessy:Oh, cool. .

Michelle Coughlan: Yeah. And then I realized how many different jobs there were available in fashion. You know, not just retail, but I kind of really wanted to pursue the buying side of things.

But Ireland didn’t offer like a fashion buying degree at the time, so I saw London College of Fashion had one, buying and merchandising. Of course told mom and dad that I wanted a change from UCC to go study fashion, and they were like, absolutely not. But then I convinced them if I got a place, because it was an interview based degree and I was like, if I secure a place, will you let me go?

So off I went on like that early Ryanair flight, with the like mood board tucked under my arm, because that was part of your interview -you did the presentation, loved like where it was. It was like in the middle of Oxford Circus, so like surrounded by all the like big, big flagship stores. But then I secured a place and, you know, transitioned, like, that September went and moved, you know, up sticks to London and it was an amazing place to study.

All the lecturers were from industry, so they either were buyers or merchandisers and some were still working part time in the industry. So, like, all your projects, everything was just really, like, new information. And then I worked part time in Selfridges, you know, London’s like one of their largest department stores.

And then on the weekends or like, you know, when I used to come home at Christmas and summer, I worked here locally with Mary O’Regan and SuSu. Yes. Who like is now a client of mine.

Geraldine Hennessy:Isn’t it gas?

Michelle Coughlan: Yeah. So like came full circle. Yeah. So my next like proper job then was. With Dunnes Store’s buying office, I got a fashion buying job there with the Savida buying team.

And that was a really steep learning curve. I was there four years and it was amazing to see how a garment, you know, goes from being designed right to the shop floor. And it was all like dealing with, you know, critical paths with your suppliers in the Far East and Europe. You know, constant fit checks.

And I suppose that’s where I honed my eye for detail. You’re constantly checking what could be wrong. Are those buttons the buttons we approved on the last sample, you know, is the stitching correct? Because you’re approving huge shipments and it’s all like, you know, based on what sample you approved. So that was an amazing experience.

And I also got to assist on their kind of seasonal campaigns, So that’s where I kind of saw the role of a stylist and I was like that’s a really cool job and it was very different because they’re generally freelance so they’re working for, you know, a different brand every week. And then Paul, my husband, got offered a transfer to the States and it’s so rare now, like people go to Canada or Australia, but an opportunity to go to the States doesn’t come up a lot. So we knew we had to go. We had no ties, no babies yet, newly married. Although a lot of people were like, did you marry just for the visa? So off we went and I remember we arrived, it was like a Saturday in May. And the weather was just getting warm and Paul was straight into work come the Monday. And I was like, like three months to wait for a work permit. I was like, I have a summer off in Boston. It’s going to be amazing. But like after day three or four, I was so bored. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was like, what do I do? I went to yoga a lot in the city.

Yeah. Tried to like, be like, hi, you know, but everyone’s just getting to their next thing. And I remember like making fresh pasta. At like 11am on a Tuesday morning. Nearly lost my finger on the like, hand blender. And I was like, I really miss home. I miss my career. I was like, what have I done here? And then I was talking to home, obviously.And dad was like, you should really connect with my friend, Donal O’Leary from Clon They grew up on the same street. And I met with Donal and he was like, you know, what would you like to do? And I was telling him about, my experience in fashion so far, and I was like, I’d love to try styling. And he was like, I have the contact for you.

So he knew a lady called Maria Roseman, and she’s got her own agency in Boston. And she represents about 80 hair and makeup artists, fashion stylists, all for commercial shoots and working everywhere from New York to New Hampshire, like for all the big brands.

So it was like the really bad snowfall in Boston, their heaviest in years.So all of our meetings kept getting rescheduled. And I was dying to meet this woman, you know, but eventually we met and I remember I was getting a taxi out there and we were just stalled for so long because of the snow and like the fare was going up and up and I was like, it doesn’t matter, I think it was about $80 or something. I was like, I better get this gig, you know, offset this cost, but I met her and she was so lovely and warm and obviously having a shared connection was great. And she said “ I have one question, do you like steaming clothes”, you know, and I was like, “I’ll do anything”. You know, I was just so eager to get started on something again.

So anyway, she was just an amazing matchmaker and my first job was a really funny story. I’m like an hour outside of Boston, like I’d never really driven in the States and my biggest worry was actually trying to get to the job in one piece and I had to merge onto this massive highway and so I wasn’t nervous about the job till I actually got to the car park.

And I have to go in and meet this whole new crew. So I went in and the stylist that I was assisting, Kim was her name, and she was saying, Oh, my husband’s Irish. I was like, Oh, lovely. Because everyone says that they’ve got an Irish connection in the States, you know. But she had forgetter her purse and her husband walks in. And I hear his accent and he’s like, you’re from, you’re from Ireland, are you?

I said, yeah, Clonakilty. He goes, well, I’m from Timoleague. I couldn’t believe it, Geraldine. I was like, it was, it was just the nicest, like, first day ever. And I was like, well, this is super. And I ended up knowing his sister in law, who was my beautician growing up in Clonakilty And that was the start of a great friendship with us.

And we still meet them now back when they come home to Timoleague, they come home about twice a year. And it’s like, we reminisce on our time in Boston and it’s lovely to have a shared experience.

So I assisted a bunch of stylists then for, I suppose, the next year and a half. And those photo shoots opened up a whole world of styling.

So it’s not just styling models, you were, you know, assisting on food photography and interior photography. You’d be working like on brand campaigns for Reebok in New York or Converse, Timberland, uh, TK Maxx, all these big brands around the Boston area. And I just really wanted to be the lead on these gigs, you know, but that involved building your portfolio.

So every weekend, like I collabed with photographers, hair and make artists, budding models that just wanted to build their own portfolio. And we used to be on like, you know, Cape Cod shooting, like, you know, summer where it was just the best fun and a great way of networking. Yes. Yeah. And then you’d all of a sudden, if you know, you got on well with someone, you’d be hired the following week on like the job.

That was the nice thing about having the agency, your work was secure months out in advance as a freelancer, which is huge. So like having their backing was amazing. And then I built my book and I started getting my own gigs and one that led me to like Florida styling like swimwear. I was like, I get paid to be on the beach and you’ve seen part of like a new part of the States as well, you know.

So it was just so diverse and like, you’d be, you know, styling for an insurance commercial and you’d have to style a family of five, but also their home. So you’d be hiring U-haul’s Ger and like filling the whole thing, including the treadmill, the rowing machine, like the requests that you’d get would be outlandish.

And then the budgets were also massive, you know, but it was just like huge exposure. And yeah, like I went to New York fashion week a ton then because it was so close and like Paul, my husband, he’s great. He’s always saying, you’ll never be as close to New York again, you gotta go, and I had no ticket my first year, I was out with the media, they thought I was press, and I was just trying to like, get a ticket to get inside, but I was like, they were like, Gigi Hadid, all these models, I was calling them trying to get a little picture on my camera in like -15 you know, and I was like, and they were all the media that were like, are you going to milk studios for the press party? I was like, Oh, no, but the following like year, I suppose I had been, you know, my book and everything. And when I approached brands for a ticket to the fashion week, I got in.

Geraldine Hennessy:Oh super.

Michelle Coughlan: But it was never as exciting again.

Geraldine Hennessy:I know.

Michelle Coughlan: Because you were always thinking about what was going on inside those doors. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it was just another queue.

Geraldine Hennessy:Yeah, I know.

Michelle Coughlan: And then the show was over in seven minutes.

Geraldine Hennessy:Oh gosh.

Michelle Coughlan:  But it was fab and I attended every one. Yeah, the States was amazing.

The neighbours thought I had a shopping addiction because there was constant bags coming in and out of the car and, you know, boxes and then returns. That was a part of the job I hated. And I suppose then you got to hire assistants to do that because you’r….

And I remember Kim said that like she had a friend of Ted’s come over from Clonakilty.And the two lads did a return because they got away with it with the Irish accent.

Geraldine Hennessy:Oh my gosh.

Michelle Coughlan:  All the salespeople in the shop were like, Oh, no problem, honey.

Geraldine Hennessy:That’s so funny.

Michelle Coughlan:  So that was a part that, you know, wasn’t so good. But I knew a prop stylist who had a massive warehouse there. And she used to say that, like, you know, their wedding vows with her husband was to have and to hold, to load and unload.

Geraldine Hennessy:Oh jeez.

Michelle Coughlan:  Yeah. It was so much schlepping of product, you know.

One thing that was amazing in Boston, their networking events. There was this event every month called “Adhesive and Co. Sticking creatives together”, it was a tagline. And you’d go in and you’d literally put on a label, a sticker on your, on your shirt and you’d say I’m a stylist.

And then you’d meet photographers and I got so many jobs through that and again, being Irish in Boston was huge. They were like, Michelle, you’re great at what you do, but I could listen to you all day on set that, you know, it didn’t, didn’t hurt. Yeah. Still styling was a massive part of what I did over there because companies don’t have to pay for the model or the hair and makeup artist.

So there’s a lot of work in it. So you’re styling like a shirt to make it look like that there’s a body there. So you’re using tissue paper and pins. You’re putting it to a board or lying it flat. You could actually just create all day. It was really therapeutic actually type of work. And then you’d be building stack.

So I’ve actually also offered brands that side of things, because obviously, you know, people are trying to get online, but budgets aren’t massive, so you don’t have to go hiring the models. It’s a nice way to show your product without, you know, going to a ton of expense. So yeah, a lot of diverse styling going on in the States.

And then of course I had my first baby Isla there and everything changed, I suppose. We had bought a house. We thought we were set in the States for a good few years anyway. But I knew I wanted to raise my children, you know, with their grannies and cousins back in Clonakilty. So we put the house up for sale and…

We were home before Paul because of work and we were just back and COVID hit. Wow. Yeah.

[00:14:26] Geraldine Hennessy: Wow.

Michelle Coughlan: Yeah.

Geraldine Hennessy: Lucky timing though, isn’t it?

[00:14:27] Michelle Coughlan: Oh my God. Yeah. So we moved home to West Cork and, you know, we were in the midst of COVID and I was kind of thinking about what I was going to do now, you know, having a small baby and not wanting to be away from her, but also wanting to continue on my passion for like creating.

So I was thinking about how I could do all of that. And I started training up in photography and doing online courses. And I was in touch with photographer friends back in the States. And they were advising me on what camera to get and lenses that would be, I suppose, versatile. I suppose my thought was if I could offer clients the styling and the photography and have the whole one stop shop and I was like locally based. I wouldn’t have to travel to studios in Cork and Dublin and be away from my family. I could offer the whole package. So I used that time during COVID and I remember one of my first jobs was at the local distillery and it’s still one of my favorite images, one of the shots from that campaign.

So I suppose I was looking down the lens. For like years on set with photographers and they’re setting up a shot and giving you a live feed and then you’re setting the scene so it’s, you’re learning about photography all throughout the process as well so, you know, I was familiar with a lot of it but. It was necessary to kind of train myself and get all the equipment and yeah, so.

[00:16:02] Geraldine Hennessy: So I suppose being in set gave you the kind of basics, being around that exposure to photographers gave you the basics and you just kind of taught yourself the rest as such.

[00:16:11] Michelle Coughlan: Absolutely. Through the process.

[00:16:15] Geraldine Hennessy: Okay. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Isn’t it kind of funny though, it seems all the different connections and all, it’s almost like it was almost meant to be, wasn’t it? Like the way, like your dad knew, you know, that man, knew this, the perfect lady. And then it just seems like it’s a big circle that it was meant to be for you.

[00:16:32] Michelle Coughlan: Oh big time Ger

And like, again, it’s just. It all comes back to who you know, no matter where you go, you know, even like business now, it’s all through like word of mouth and people’s experience with you. And even in the States, you know, there’s so much work, but you have to be able to get on with who you’re working and work hard and make a good impression no matter where you go, you know.

But yeah, it was seven years there and it was the best time ever. And you could work every day, you could work on Sunday. There was so much opportunity. Okay.

[00:17:02] Geraldine Hennessy: So how does working in the U. S. differ from working in Ireland?

[00:17:06] Michelle Coughlan: I suppose it differs a lot, but there’s also similarities, uh, Geraldine. Obviously the sheer scale of projects and budgets and there was just a never ending supply of work in the States.

And they had the backing of the agency. So they chased every job. They negotiated all of the fees and chased all the money, and I suppose. Now that’s all me, you know, I market myself, I, you know, negotiate, you know, the different budgets and you know, you really have to wear all of the hats and like the crews on those photo shoots could be anything from like up to, you know, 30 people.

You’ve even got just a guy holding the tether cord for the photographer and very important job, you know, but now I am like my art director, stylist, photographer, I’ve added videography because of, you know, reels becoming so important on social media. So yeah, it’s lovely to be able to, you know, take a project from concept to delivery and be in charge of every aspect.

But you would sometimes miss the collaborative effort and that, you know, large team working with you. But my clients are great and they’re great to get involved on the day. So that makes it a fun experience. And then I suppose the similarities of Ireland and the U. S. No matter where you go, I’ve learned it’s all about who you know and the importance of networking and making that good impression and working really hard, you know, going out and doing your absolute best for your client.

It doesn’t matter where you go. That’s always been, you know, important.

[00:18:49] Geraldine Hennessy: So, can you tell us about the different types of services that you offer?

[00:18:53] Michelle Coughlan: Yeah, so for brands coming to me that are looking for their photography for their website or their social media. I will come in and have a walkthrough with you and hear about what you’re looking for.

And then I’ll come back and I’ll create, you know, the art direction for the photo shoot through mood boards. I’ll send you a proposal and then following that sign off, if there’s props required, I’ll source them. Um, on a lot of shoots I use, like to use like natural elements, so like, lots of greenery and flowers, and then I will, if the shoot is in my studio, if it’s a product, I can do a lot in studio, but somewhere on location, which I love because I get to go out and meet local businesses.And work with the team as well. And they’re also really excited about seeing how the whole process works. So I’ll always, I’m a natural light photographer,so I’ll work with the light. So we’ll start in the room that, you know, gets the most light and work our way around. It’s always, I suppose, going in and stripping back and then adding in and building it and adding the props and I suppose once the scene is set, getting all the various shots required. So you’re kind of wider angle for your banners and then for social media you’re looking for more kind of, uh, your square images for your Instagram grid and then also kind of your more longer vertical shots for your reel covers.

So I suppose. There’s a lot going on in the day. You know, you’re kind of trying to balance the styling with the photography and making sure that you’re getting all the shots required. And then of course videography comes in as well. So just trying to capture some movement throughout the shots as well.

And then trying to get all the shots on that day on location. So you move fairly quickly. But there’s a great buzz on shoot days and the client feeds off that too and it’s great to see their excitement and how proud they are of their business too and seeing it in like, you know, seeing it through fresh eyes.

And then comes the editing. I’m such a creative that like, I suppose the editing process for me is a bit, ughhhh. I did try and outsource it once or twice, but I’m such a perfectionist and probably a control freak, but it took so long to communicate what I wanted, Geraldine, that it wasn’t worth it. Yeah, I know, yeah.

So now I just do it and I suppose like sometimes a client will want reels made as well. Sometimes they’ll just want the clips. So that is kind of a lengthy process. You know, it’s part of it all, and it’s really exciting when you share it with the client. Okay, okay. And I suppose then they launch it on their website and social media, and I suppose seeing the reaction it gets from the public is great.

And then another type of styling that I offer is personal styling, so be it wardrobe edits or styling outfits with the clothes you already have or spotting bits that you might need to create those looks or if you have a special event. Luckily, I’ve been, you know, so busy on the branding side of things.

The personal styling thing is still something that I’m, I suppose, looking to expand on. But all in good time. I have two small girls and there doesn’t ever seem to be enough time. Lots of opportunity there and lots of time. Lots of room for expansion. Lots of room for expansion.

[00:22:18] Geraldine Hennessy: And how would you describe your style?

What do you take inspiration from?

[00:22:21] Michelle Coughlan: So I suppose when it comes to my own personal style, it’s changed a lot. And I think after having children it even changed again. I suppose, you know, you’re dealing with a whole new body shape and I must say I struggled a lot to try and find my style after kids and it just takes a while and it was happening all through COVID.

That’s when I kind of had my babies. So everyone lost their, their style. It was all like leggings and tracksuits. And I suppose now we’re a while out of it and we’re back to buying, I suppose more, you know, your staple pieces. So that’s what I’m kind of investing in now, like lovely jeans, a good blazer, good quality shoes and then I have fun with my accessories, which I’ve, I’ve really changed and gone for more of the kind of capsule dressing. And then I suppose weekend style, we’re living in West Cork, so it’s always going to be very like relaxed and kind of outdoor friendly. But I think you can still look, you know, fashionable through, you know, hat wear or you know, a nice kind of gilet or whatever over your hoodie or leggings, um, there’s ways to kind of have fun.

[00:23:42] Geraldine Hennessy: I’ve never seen you look bad anyway, even when you’re out walking, my gosh, look at her. She looks amazing.

[00:23:46] Michelle Coughlan: Thank you for that. But um, no, I just, I, I do love it and I suppose that’s what I’m trying to come back to more and more, I suppose, as you heard, it all began with fashion for me.

So I suppose I would just love to develop the personal styling even more because I suppose that’s where the passion for fashion begins.

Very good.

[00:24:10] Geraldine Hennessy: So yeah. And in terms of say, product styling, how would you describe your style for that?

[00:24:15] Michelle Coughlan: Yeah, I suppose for brand styling, I’m very natural in my approach. As I said, I’m a natural light photographer. I like to use, you know, lots of, you know, natural elements like greenery and flowers. And then my props always have lots of texture.

So, you know, be it mohair throws or like rattan baskets or nice wooden earthy tones, props like that, just to bring out the kind of natural elements and not to take, I suppose, too much of the shine off the product that you’re highlighting. You know, luckily, there’s just some amazing brands that I’ve worked with here in West Cork.

And I suppose after being away, you appreciate, you know, and what Ireland has to offer and the craftsmanship in these products and the quality of the products. I really like the brands that I can kind of focus on, the kind of heritage styling, you know, and tell that story of ,I suppose the experience you can have when staying in these private homes that I style.

And then for like, you know, product styling, I think it’s always less is more. It’s always, you know, using kind of more natural elements so that the product can really stand out. We’re so lucky that we’ve got so many amazing products here locally to, uh, to work with.

[00:25:35] Geraldine Hennessy: Very good. What is your process when working on a project?

You mentioned there that you use mood boards. Do you also veer towards digital side of things or is it mainly mood boards that you go to?

[00:25:44] Michelle Coughlan: Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely a mix. So I’ll begin with a walkthrough, figure out, you know, their wants and needs and then I’ll come back and I’ll start, you know, brainstorming on how I could see this photo shoot going and what could really highlight their business.

So I’ll begin mood boarding on Pinterest and just adding loads of shots and you can get carried away on that easily and I always try and like go back then and just cull images and really come back to like what I think is right for that client because the client can get overwhelmed by so many images too.

So then I’ll put that into like a media proposal that I’ll always use Canva for. Canva is a great tool even for planning your posts on social media. So I’ll put that forward for the client to review and it’s always met with great feedback. So that’ll be the plan for the photo shoot and then if there’s props, you know, needed to be sourced, you know, I’ll do that and the date set and, and that’s how it all begins.

[00:26:45] Geraldine Hennessy: And the relationship there with your customer, it’s obviously very important as they’re trusting you to visualize their products in the best possible light. What is your process for balancing a client’s existing brand identity with creating something new and fresh? Is your process negotiated with the client or dictated by the client?

[00:27:02] Michelle Coughlan: It’s very much a collaborative effort. You’re like, like you said, I meet with them and you know, a brand, someone’s brand is so personal. So, you know, you’re definitely, you know, all ears and listening to them on what’s important, what they want highlighted. But they’re also hiring you for your expertise and with a lot of these smaller brands, you know, they wouldn’t have the budget dedicated to a whole like marketing team.

So I suppose they’re looking to you to come up with everything that their marketing requires. That’s something that I’m happy to do for them. It’s very much collaboration as such. Yeah. And then they get involved on the shoot day. A lot of clients I know, especially on location, uh, they love to get involved on the shoot days and it’s, it’s great fun seeing it through their eyes.

[00:27:52] Geraldine Hennessy: Okay. Okay.

And can you share some behind the scene insights into how to plan and execute a branding photoshoot?

[00:27:58] Michelle Coughlan: Yeah, so I will, as I said, I use Pinterest to mood board and then I’ll use Canva for my client proposal and then it’ll, you know, I’ll go to my go to’s, like I have my own props kind of built up over the years, but sometimes it requires extra, so like for interior styling, the client may specify that they want, you know, new soft furnishings, so I’ll go and I’ll purchase them.

I actually recently reached out to an Irish brand and it’s something I want to do more and more of because I suppose in the States, you were just, you know, buying, buying, buying, but here I think there’s so many amazing brands that you could collaborate with and use on photo shoots. So I, I used John Hanley’s beautiful, uh, throws, he is based in Tipperary, on like a period home that we were styling and it just added like a beautiful, like again, natural element and texture to the shots and the fact that it was, you know, an Irish brand featured in another Irish brand. There was like a lovely collaboration there. So it’s definitely something I want to do more of because we’ve got some amazing producers here.

[00:29:09] Geraldine Hennessy: Make the most of them.

Michelle Coughlan: Yeah, absolutely.

Geraldine Hennessy: Okay, okay. And establishing a strong personal brand image on social media is crucial for business owners, especially ones in the creative field. Can you describe your process for defining and maintaining your own personal brand?

[00:29:24] Michelle Coughlan: It’s an area everyone struggles with.

But I suppose if I’m offering brands, you know, how to overhaul their social media, my own needs to look right. Yeah. So something that I started recently is batch making content and scheduling it in advance. And it’s a great tip. Like, I feel, you know, if you have a day or two between gigs, you need to focus on your marketing.

And i’ve started putting even a folder together in my phone of like behind the scenes content, anything that I could use to market my brand so that I’m not having to go back through a ton of photos on my phone and batch making content. And then Instagram allows you, I remember I used to buy all these apps for scheduling content, but Instagram has become so good at being able to offer all of that.

So yeah, scheduling your posts, you know, two and three weeks, you know, a month ideally ahead of time so that you’re consistently posting, not like too much, but I think, you know, once or twice a week. Obviously, Instagram wants you posting videos daily, but you know, that’s just hard to do.

Geraldine Hennessy: Yeah, exactly.

Michelle Coughlan: So I, that’s what I do.That’s my approach.

And I also recently divided my personal styling and brand styling. I think I’m kind of a perfectionist and it was nearly inhibiting me posting because I was like, if someone looking for brand styling, let’s say for their hotel, is coming onto my page and they see how to style a shirt. It was kind of like a mixed message. I think you need to be able to see what that person is selling very clearly in the first, you know, nine photos. So I moved the personal styling aside. And now I feel like there’s this freedom again, there’s no confusion and it’s not inhibiting me posting anymore and obviously staying cohesive in my aesthetic on social media, that kind of heritage, natural, you know, focusing on Irish designers and I suppose the beauty of West Cork.

It just I love to highlight all of that.

[00:31:32] Geraldine Hennessy: Very good.

And what do you think are the most common mistakes people make in styling, be it in personal style, brand styling or interior styling?

[00:31:39] Michelle Coughlan: I’m not one to like critique, you know, but I think it’s so personal, you know, and everyone is unique, but I will say, I suppose in this whole social media age where there’s influencers selling something every second minute.

I’ve seen so many clients fall down that rabbit hole of just buying something they saw Influencer Amy wear and they bring it back and they’ve nothing in their wardrobe that it goes with or it might not even suit them. Yeah. So I suppose a rule of thumb I always say is, you know, do two edits a season of your closet, get everything out and put all your like product, your light pieces together. So be it your tops and then pattern.And like a client recently had 12 stripy tops and she was like on her list to buy was stripy tops and I was like, well, now we clearly see you don’t need stripy tops. So there’s that and also I suppose. A good guide is, you know, whatever you want to purchase, can you make three outfits out of that piece?Okay. Without having to buy anything else. Is a good rule of thumb.

Geraldine Hennessy: And in terms of brand styling?

Michelle Coughlan: Brand styling, again, I suppose coming back to social media, it’s so important that, um, you kind of get a sense of that brand on their page. It’s, it’s your shop front these days. So just kind of keeping your, your look cohesive and consistent.

Be it your, you know, coloring, typography, whatever you use. That it just represents your brand well. And then I suppose in terms of interiors, clutter. You know, it’s, it’s free. It’s the biggest, you know, it has a huge impact without costing you anything. Just declutter and let the room speak. And then you can go back and add in, but always just strip back first.

[00:33:36] Geraldine Hennessy: Okay, good tip there. I agree with you 100%

And what kind of equipment do you use cameras, lights and lenses? You mentioned there that you, you got, you spoke to some photographer friends and they gave you some advice there and maybe getting stuff that was versatile.

[00:33:52] Michelle Coughlan: Yeah, absolutely. So I have a Canon, a mirrorless Canon EOS R and then my lens is a zoom lens 24 to 70 millimetres.

So it can do like, you know, your close up food photography with a lovely blurred background or it can take like your interior, photography, big rooms, also portraits, so you know, camera equipment is expensive, so this way I can shoot all different subjects, so yeah, great advice from them.

[00:34:21] Geraldine Hennessy: Very good, very good.

And with your photography, do you do post processing to get the look and feel that you want or is the look created in the setup with minimal editing done afterwards? You mentioned there you’re not a fan of the whole editing.

[00:34:33] Michelle Coughlan: Yeah, like it’s so important, especially when you’re a natural light photographer.

And if I’m at a location where I suppose the rooms are darker, you definitely need your kind of processing to kick in. And I use Adobe Lightroom for that. I’ll usually take three different exposures and then merge them afterwards. But I definitely try and like stay as natural as possible. I am a stylist first and foremost, so it’s all about setting up the scene from the beginning and getting the look and feel.And then I suppose tweaking the light afterwards.

[00:35:06] Geraldine Hennessy: Okay, okay. It’s all about the setup. Okay, very good.

And is Instagram and social media the most important tool at your disposal to get the word out about your business? Or does the more traditional route of word of mouth play a part?

[00:35:19] Michelle Coughlan: It’s funny. It’s, it’s definitely a mix.

But I think styling for brands, it’s definitely been word of mouth and referral based. And on the personal styling side of things, it’s definitely more social media. But you know, as I said, in the States, it was all about who you know and your relationships with people. So it’s just so important. It’s definitely something I want to focus more on -networking.

You know, so many of my clients have come on a referral basis and even other creatives in the industry who have, you know, been working with clients have recommended me. So that’s been lovely. So yeah, definitely. And I suppose when you’re from like a small community like Clon, you know, it’s, it’s very much about, you know your relationships and networking.

[00:36:04] Geraldine Hennessy: Okay, very good.

You’re currently in the middle of building your own house with effectively a blank canvas to style. Do you have to rein yourself in with a project like that or is it full steam ahead?

[00:36:12] Michelle Coughlan: Oh, I wish, I wish there was like a limitless budget. It’s a crazy time to be building and you know, I suppose what I’m concentrating on is getting, you know, the big things right. So I obsessed over the roof. We did like a standing seam roof and I obsessed over the windows, like slim black windows. And now that they’re all in, I suppose I’m moving on to the next, but getting, I suppose the things that will be there for a long time, right?

Yes, yeah. And I suppose all the soft furnishings, everything, that can be done down the line. Yeah, exactly, yeah. It’s been quite confronting, you know, I suppose, as a stylist with my eye for things, like my perfectionistic tendencies. Yeah. It’s been hard when it’s your own house. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

Yeah, yeah. But yeah, I’m just excited to get in there now and, and really start making it a home.

[00:37:04] Geraldine Hennessy: I suppose like, the most important thing is to get the big things right. As you say, the things that can’t be changed or would be difficult to change. And the rest, you can just add your flair as you go.

[00:37:13] Michelle Coughlan: Yeah, you know, we, we flipped a house in Boston and it was all about, you know, there’s ways to do things on a budget as well, you know, and that’s where I suppose you see your true talent come into play, you know, how you can make it look expensive on a smaller budget.

[00:37:33] Geraldine Hennessy: Exactly. Okay.

And if you were starting out again, what advice would the present you give the past you?

[00:37:38] Michelle Coughlan: I suppose when it comes to, you know, setting up my own business here, I suppose all those like self-doubt moments, it’s, I heard of something actually on social media and it was “take the actions of the person that you want to become ,would take and don’t wait for your feelings”. So like, you know, if you want to have your own styling and photography business, you know, start doing the work and the paid work will come. You know, I suppose I have the experience. It’s just, you know, that ego getting in the way, I suppose. Just, you know, believing in yourself.

And then it’s so hard as, you know, I suppose a female owned business. Every time you have a child and you go on your maternity leave. You know, it’s like starting all over again from scratch. So you’re off for nine, ten months. You know, there’s no one else to keep the show on the road. So it’s like you’re relaunching a business all over again.

Yeah. But there’s no more babies now for, ever. No, we’re full steam ahead now on Michelle Cochran Enterprises.

[00:38:39] Geraldine Hennessy: Very good, very good.

And could you share any advice or tips for individuals looking to pursue a career in styling, especially in a smaller market like Ireland?

[00:38:47] Michelle Coughlan: Well, I would say definitely just get your experience.

It’s always going to be unpaid, but if you’re really passionate about it, you know, get out and start assisting people on shoots and see, do you like it? Also like you can’t ignore the experience you can gain internationally working for these big brands, big budgets. Amazing exposure and experience and I credit so much of it to where I am now.

[00:39:19] Geraldine Hennessy: Okay. Um, what are your future plans?

[00:39:20] Michelle Coughlan: So I suppose my plans for the future. So I definitely want to work on networking more, you know, I suppose we’re long out of COVID now and I definitely need to integrate into more creative groups and seeing what’s out there. Um, because I really enjoyed that in the States, especially when you work for yourself.

I also want to upskill, there’s been a lot of clients asking for drone photography. So it’s something I want to add to my kit and skill set, and I suppose I also want to develop the personal styling side of the business. That’s where really my true passion lies. I think having the mix of both is fab.

You know, being able to help brands and learn about these amazing businesses, but also having that kind of intimate personal styling relationship. It’s kind of the best of both really.

[00:40:12] Geraldine Hennessy: That’s it. That’s great. Well, thank you so much, Michelle, for joining us on the Cork Creative Podcast. If you want to find more about Michelle and her styling services, you can find links to her socials and website on

[00:40:24] Michelle Coughlan: Thanks so much.