Lady McCoy: How I won the style stakes
Chanelle, Lady McCoy, talks to Bairbre Power about the fashion store she runs with among others the daughter of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, her love of a bargain and looking good in the business world
Rain and a looming thunderstorm threaten to put the kibosh on our photoshoot with Chanelle, Lady McCoy, at Soho Farmhouse - and the Galway firebrand is having none of it. The vivid pink Libelula dress boasts an elegant boho vibe that perfectly matches our location today.
Raining or not, the 41-year-old mother-of-two is up for doing the photographs outside. A dedication to getting the job done right courses through her veins, but then that's what I would expect of a woman whose entrepreneurial skills are very highly rated indeed.
Chanelle is meeting me at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire: a rural 'resort' an hour away from the Berkshire home she shares with her kids and husband of 12 years.
Known as Tony McCoy to the legions of racing fans who cheered him on to an astounding 4,358 winners, he was always listed on race cards under his initials, A.P. - but he is 'Anthony' to Chanelle and his family. Two years ago this month, the couple set off for Buckingham Palace with their daughter, Eve (10), and son Archie (4). There, the 20-time champion jockey became Sir Anthony, receiving a knighthood for services to horse racing; only the second jockey awarded a knighthood, after Sir Gordon Richards in 1953. The sporting legend from Moneyglass in Co Antrim joked that it was only his close friends that he was going to make call him Sir Anthony.
"Oh, he's got lots of names," Chanelle says as she lays out the colourful clothes she has brought for our shoot. She doesn't stand on ceremony and when I enquire about her own Lady McCoy title, batting it away with an easy charm. "It's handy when you want to book a table in a restaurant," she says, with a wide smile.
We're in the Cotswolds, in the members' club with its stress-busting, wilderness cabin vibe: no cars, no WiFi and mega celebrity appeal. Meghan Markle had her hen party here; the Beckhams are building a new home on the site, and Chanelle is staying overnight in a luxury rustic cottage with her five business partners from Mojo & McCoy, their boutique in Hungerford.
The girls are having one of their regular think-ins to talk business, fashion and the season ahead, and I pull up a chair and watch Chanelle in action as she straddles her twin interests: business and fashion.
So, what is Chanelle's fashion philosophy?
"Over the years, a lot of my fashion has been around racing," she explains. "It's about being comfortable at the races and being elegant and glamorous. For me, when I feel I look good on the outside, it gives me a lot of self-confidence and it makes me feel confident inside. So for me, it's about feeling good about yourself when you look in the mirror and being comfortable with what you're wearing."
Looking back to her childhood in Loughrea, Co Galway, Chanelle's mother Mary always had a fabulous eye for fashion (as well as having been an air hostess and a midwife). So Chanelle and her sister Hilary - who is one of the partners in the store - had a style icon of their own at home. During our shoot, they recall childhood trips with their mum and their other sister, Kelly (who ran the Style Jump pre-loved business), to the Olivia Danielle store in Athlone where Mary would buy style for the Irish Derby and Galway Races.
Chanelle says: "I always liked to dress up when I was growing up. I enjoyed wearing nice things, but am I good at fashion? Am I good at putting things together? I don't know - but I know what suits me. I wouldn't pride myself on knowing a lot about fashion. If you asked me now what is really on trend at the moment, what are the best colours and shapes at the moment according to Vogue, I wouldn't be sure."
She continues: "There's nothing apart from hanging out with my kids and my husband that gives me more pleasure than when I go and buy a really nice outfit. I put it together and I go racing, and I feel I look well. And I feel proud of myself. I feel happy - I'm not self-conscious and I don't feel insecure in what I'm wearing."
Chanelle, who is a star turn on RTE's Dragons' Den series, co-founded Chanelle Medical, part of the multi-million-pound global company Chanelle Pharmaceutical Group started by her vet dad, Michael, in Co Galway. It manufactures generic drugs, holding more than 1,500 medical product licences in more than 80 countries.
"Because I travel a lot with work, I'm always packing and unpacking. I do a number of 'women in business and leadership' speeches. Sometimes those events can be quite daunting. You can be standing talking to 500 people on effective leadership, but I always feel if I've had a blow-dry and if I have a nice, sharp dress on, and I'm not having a fat day, that gives me more confidence than practising my content.
"I think that for any woman, clothes have a great ability to bring out confidence and to make women self-confident. That's what our ethos in Mojo & McCoy is when a woman comes in. I hear the girls say, 'How do you feel in it?' It's all about how you feel in (the clothing)."
Chanelle is a firm believer in planning a look "and putting time aside the night before an event, or the week before. If I'm going on a work trip, I'm very conscious of what I will wear going into that meeting. What impression do I want to make to my client? I really think clothes should reflect your personality and if you are wearing clothes that are quite true to yourself, you'll feel confident and feel like yourself," she says.
"I used to have a bit of a stoop when I was a child because I wasn't that confident. I remember my Aunt Joss, who owns the Man Friday restaurant in Kinsale - she is the most elegant woman and has such presence when she walks into a room - she would always say to me, 'When you walk, you should walk tall and walk with presence, and nearly walk like you feel that you own the room'.
"There were often times when I would have gone to events over the years, especially when we were younger and I would have been a little bit insecure and a little bit intimidated by some of the very affluent English racing people, and her voice was always in my head going, 'Walk tall, keep your head up, walk as if you own the room', and it's amazing: it does work. Posture is so important. I often see a beautifully dressed woman at the races and I think, 'God, if only she stood taller, and proud'."
Was she fazed choosing an outfit for going to Buckingham Palace, where her husband was knighted by Princess Anne on behalf of the Queen?
"I had it well thought out and I wore an Alexander McQueen coat I got at Bicester Village and a hat by Rosie Olivia." The Liverpool milliner is one of Chanelle's favourites, now that Mark T Burke from Loughrea is no longer making hats.
"In general, I'm quite an organised, prepared person because I'm busy working and I don't have a lot of time, so it's all about best use of time. I like to prepare well in advance because I like to get a nice outfit. Sometimes I buy things at the Christmas sales that will do me and I like to try and get a bargain as well."
Just as the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, displayed at the recent Royal wedding, Chanelle is savvy at recycling. She will often put things away for up to four years and then reintroduce them back into her working and racing wardrobe. And yes, she does put limits on her spending.
"I absolutely do. I always feel it's a gut thing: that when you pick it up and you think, 'I really want this,' and then you look at the price tag, if it makes you feel a little bit of nausea in your tummy, then it goes back on the rail. I will have a limit and I know that if you go over a certain amount, if you do have that feeling of 'I can't spend that amount of money on it', you need to put it back. Because otherwise, you are not going to enjoy it and you're going to feel guilty that you spent that money.
"I appreciate the value of money," adds Chanelle, who, as well as shopping at her own boutique - which stocks labels like Temperley, DVF, Libelula, Rebecca Taylor, Samantha Sung and Edina Ronay - likes to go online too.
"I do quite a bit of shopping on a website called Hardlyeverwornit.co.uk and I think it's fantastic. You find stuff that's six or seven seasons old that has never been worn, or worn only once," says Chanelle. She likes the fact that it offers alternatives to the current-season clothes on other sites. She lists McQueen and Roksanda Ilincic as probably her two favourite designer labels but, in the mix of her wardrobe, you will find high street, such as Zara and LK Bennett, which she likes for work.
"When I buy Alexander McQueen, Bicester Village (designer outlet stores) is my first port of call because, for me, I've never really been into the importance of seasons and wearing stuff that is 'this season'.
I don't think I'm a person to wear things very on trend and I would not class myself as a very trendy, up-to-the-minute fashion person. So for me, it's about more timeless pieces that you can wear and it doesn't matter what season you wear them in."
I suggest a quick-fire round of questions as we wait for the rain to ease off, and she curls up on the couch wearing a lovely red Sandro skirt she bought at Brown Thomas in Dublin.
Favourite outfit of all time? That's easy for Chanelle and she quickly replies: "Roksanda neon orange and black dress that I wore at Royal Ascot."
Worst mistake? "Your hair when you were younger," Hilary suggests. Chanelle laughs as she recounts, "I got my hair cut up really short. I had a long rat's tail and that was definitely my worst fashion faux pas."
Favourite piece in your wardrobe? "Alice Temperley evening dress from this season. I absolutely love it and I can't wait to wear it - it's my fave piece at the moment. It's kind of a champagney colour."
When I probe about what she might wear to judge The g Hotel Galway's Best Dressed Ladies' Day at the Galway Races, she is, of course, fully organised.
"I am wearing an Alexander McQueen red dress with a belt and a little secret cape at the back. I haven't decided yet on the hat," she explains.
However, next day, back in Dublin, I get a WhatsApp message.
The hat's been sorted. It's black, and tall and wow. Ready with more than two months to spare.
And what does Chanelle remember of her win at the same event at the Ballybrit racetrack in 2005?
“Excitement and being overwhelmed. I had a Christian Lacroix suit on and I was so proud because it was on my home turf. It was a great day. My pals from Loughrea were there, and Anthony was there that day, so it was brilliant.”
Before going to Soho Farmhouse, I dropped into their house for some lunch and saw Chanelle’s enviable dressing room, with rows of streamlined, glass-fronted wardrobes. I had seen them first on Being A.P., the BBC documentary chronicling her husband’s last racing season, and applauded her level of organisation — with everything sitting under portraits of Audrey Hepburn, who is her big style icon. However, lest anyone think this fashion lover is playing at ‘fashion shop’, think again.
There’s no room for emotion affecting the bottom line and when two labels Chanelle chased for the shop did not perform, they were dropped from the mix.
“To be honest, I think the whole reason for the store probably wasn’t out of my love for fashion: it was more there was an opportunity in the market.
“There was a very successful boutique already there and when the lady closed it, I got a copy of her books from the Companies House because I thought she must have been doing really well.
“And then when I saw what she was turning over, I thought, ‘There’s definitely a really good business opportunity here to open a ladies’ clothes shop.’
“I said it to Hilary (who works for Goldman Sachs in London, where she is married and has a young son) and two or three days later, I was over with Emma (Harding), who had come from the fashion world. I don’t know if I was necessarily looking for investors,” says Chanelle, but the group grew with Mima Lopes, who was running a boutique in London. Mima came on board and she and Emma manage the shop day to day and send photos to the others of the proposed buys.
The group of six also includes Mima’s sister-in-law, Laura Lopes, one of the founders of Eleven Fine Art in London. Her mother is Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who is a fan of the tailored Edina Ronay brand they stock at the store. The final member of the group is Emily Hambro, who is across marketing and buying. Emma says their aim is to always try to have something ageless: catering for everyone from 18–80 with pieces across a total of 51 brands that are timeless, colourful and fun.
Watching them discuss upcoming buys, it is clear they all contribute to the conversation. They have different tastes, from the Burke sisters being more classical, others more boho, and there’s casual in between.
The arrangement works well and Chanelle says, “Everybody listens to everyone’s opinion, which is really important.It’s one thing having a friendship but when you’re in business with people, you have to respect them; you have to respect their views and you have to rate them.”
Chanelle and I have talked fashion all day and, as we are partnering up again at the Galway Races — to judge The g Hotel Galway’s Best Dressed Lady on Thursday August 2, joined by Mandy Maher of Catwalk Models — I can’t leave without enquiring about her tips. “This year at the Galway Races, I am looking for something elegant, not over-accessorised and not under-accessorised. No spaghetti straps, just something appropriate — and very chic.”