Words By Christopher A. Pape | Photos By Patrick McMullan
The old adage goes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But in the case of Morgan O’Connor, he entirely owns male beauty for himself; a form so perfect that Polo Ralph Lauren has been working with him for three years and yet he’s only 18. Mr. O’Connor, who is currently represented by Ford Models, is clearly destined not only to rise to the top of the heap in modeling (we can think of many more brands that will be interested in him), but has already become and will continue to be a heartthrob to young women.
Resident sat down with Morgan to pick his brain about who he is and what makes him tick. From his privileged upbringing in the haute communities of Palm Beach, Florida and Newport, Rhode Island with Pamela O’Connor, his glamorous, former ‘Town and Country’ cover girl mother. We covered all of the topics and pushed the envelope – to bring you the best.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Palm Beach at St. Mary’s Hospital, and was back and forth to New York; my Grandmother had a place on East 72nd Street right across from Ralph Lauren. Then in fifth grade I was in Deerfield, Massachusetts for school, and I also studied at The Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, CT where we had a house. I usually spend summers in Newport racing on the W Classic boats. On occasions I visit my Grandfather in Southampton and Aiken S.C horse country.
But you’re now spending a lot more time in New York now? Yes. I’m living downtown and loving every minute of it.
Before you were interested in modeling, you were sailing a lot? I sail and I race. I’ve been racing since I was a kid in Newport. I first started sailing with one of my mom’s friends, Peter Tyler, but I never wanted to do the programs with all the little kids. It didn’t interest me until he took me sailing when I was 10. He put me in the trapeze harness and since then I’ve wanted to sail.
Haven’t you been teaching sailing at Bill Koch’s school in Palm Beach? I am captain of a team he just started there to help younger kids who have never sailed before.
Are these underserved kids? There are teenagers from all different backgrounds being given a great opportunity to learn at the Oxbridge Academy. Bill Koch has given a lot of funding for schools for scholarships and the Arts.
Are you interested in philanthropy? Yes. I volunteer with CEPIA, a non-profit organization in Costa Rica dedicated to improving the lives of infants and children. I am also the Junior Chairman and Ambassador at Large for Billy4Kids, a charity that delivers shoes to children in underprivileged communities to stop them from being exposed to potentially fatal parasitic and bacterial diseases borne in soil and contracted through the feet. In fact, I am going to Costa Rica later this month and will bring shoes for kids with me. I also help my mother with SailingHeals.org where we ask people to donate their boats for a short time so sick patients and their caretakers can be taken out to sea for short journeys to provide healing and fresh air in Newport, Boston, Florida and NYC.
You started modeling at 15. Were you discovered at an ice cream shop or on the beach? I was sitting in The Clarke Cook House in Newport, Rhode Island. I was looking very preppy; I was 15 and wearing a blazer, a tie, and a pocket square - the whole thing, and the head of men’s styling for Ralph Lauren, Meryl Griffith, came up to me and asked me if I wanted to model. Two weeks later I was doing a shoot with Bruce Weber shooting the Big Pony Polo fragrance campaign.
What was Bruce Weber like to work with? He’s a very funny guy and great to work with. He gets everyone moving with music and sports to help the long days seem easy. I also have worked with Arnaldo Anaya Lucca for Ralph Lauren in Montana and Duxbury, Massachusetts. You make great lasting friendships working on these jobs.
How has being a top Ralph Lauren model changed your life? Working for Ralph Lauren is like a family. I was very lucky to be brought into it. Once you’re with them, you’re with them. They keep hiring the same people, which is great because everyone is a team and you work as a family would. You have fun together. I really respect his images of real life and enjoy being a part of the family.
Let’s talk about your dreadlocks. It was always a topic at school - a back and forth dilemma so it was great to have a valid excuse for them with my campaign with Ralph Lauren.
How hard is it to maintain this look? It’s not that hard. You just have to get it twisted every once in a while. My hair is especially hard, because I wash it a lot and it gets loose very quickly. I have to constantly go back and get it twisted at Salon Margrit in Palm Beach. They really don’t touch my hair on the set. They have the best team too.
Do you ever think about cutting it? I would cut it if an opportunity presented itself for a major campaign.
What are your goals with your modeling and who are your role models? I just want to be the very best that I can be. I’ve got role models like Tyson Beckford; he keeps a very clean-cut look and he looks out for me. Tyson started modeling in 1995 and although he’s 40 years old he’s still on top. You have to represent yourself positively outside of the company. Most companies you can do whatever you please outside and in your social life, but Ralph Lauren likes to keep it very clean-cut in whatever they’re doing, and I am happy with that.
Modeling doesn’t last forever. Do you have any other career goals? Eventually, I really want to get into the hospitality business and open cool boutique hotels where all my friends can stay. That’s my main long-term goal.
What’s drawn you to hospitality? When I came to New York, I saw the more exclusive boutique style of venues and I like that a lot. I’ve always liked restaurants; my mom’s friends owned a lot of different restaurants that I’d enjoy going to.
You’re living in a boutique hotel now? Yes, The Marlton opened up in September and has a cool, homey scene. It’s in the Village on West 8th Street. I also like the Margaux restaurant downstairs.
You have been linked to Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan and we all know how the supermarket tabloids can twist the truth. How difficult has it been to avoid the pitfalls of fame and the fast life? I think as an 18-year-old when Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan take an interest in you, you’re very excited and there’s a lot of hype around the whole thing. They’re cool and exciting people. I make friends easily but I have moved on so I can concentrate on my modeling career, education and giving back to people who haven’t been as lucky as I have.
At 18 you’ve traveled the world and met a lot of interesting people. Do you feel lucky? It’s insane. The people I’ve met and have been blessed to be around, I’ve been very lucky to get these opportunities. I’m very grateful.
Is your family supportive of your modeling? Yes. My mom was a commercial actress in the 80’s and 90’s, and played a big part in The Junior International Club, so she understands a lot of it. It also is what scares her, because she knows the dangers that come with it as she lived through the Studio 54 days. All and all, they have been very supportive because they trust the team at Ralph Lauren, and know that I’m very cautious.
What are the biggest dangers that come with modeling? The nightlife.
Because you have to get up and face the cameras? Yes, on a shooting day I have to be up at 8 o’clock, go into hair and makeup and shoot all morning, have lunch and then shoot again until dark.
Who’s dragging you out? The girls.
I hear you go to college in Switzerland. I was in Switzerland last semester, but I was getting a lot of work back in the United States and it didn’t make sense to stay. My career was blowing up with 21 international magazine ads in the month of October, so I came back to the States to continue my work here. Now, I’m making a schedule so I can work and go back to college. I really like my school and the friends I’ve made there.
Can you support yourself being a model? Yes, my family helps a lot but it’s definitely nice to have your own thing. I am also a guitarist but I am not in a band right now but I will be as soon as I find the right group of musicians.
What advice would you give to young people who want to become a model? Honestly, it’s hard but if it’s your dream, go for it. I got lucky and got picked up into a very lucky situation and started from there.
Is it a life you like? Yes. I love the photographers. They’re all my friends including Patrick McMullan, who did this shoot. Talk about fun and getting everyone involved. He even laughed about a broken camera! Patrick rolls with the punches.
Do you like the clothes you get to wear? I do like the clothes. Especially Ralph Lauren. I love to mix his vintage clothes with current designs.
How do you feel about becoming a heartthrob? It’s funny, and I don’t know how to say this in the right way, but a lot of girls who didn’t want to kiss me in eighth grade really want to kiss me now.
What’s next for you? I’m very excited about a new video I have coming out with Ralph Lauren for their spring/summer campaign 2014.
Do you have a designer or magazine that you would really like to shoot for? I’d love to shoot for L’Uomo Vogue and for Saint Laurent, as I really like their clothes.
Who are your other favorite designers? I like Balmain, Rag & Bone, Rick Owens, Raf Simons, Donna Karan, Givenchy and I like Chanel as well.
And so there you have it. It’s obvious that Mr. O’Connor is on a mission and we have every confidence in the world that he will succeed. With his looks, charm and smarts, he will, in fact, go a long way. Watch out for his new Polo Campaign. •