I remember, a couple of years ago, late one night while I was flipping through Flickr, on Skip Staheli’s stream I noticed one of his great pieces and the sweet-face model in it. A few days after that, I noticed the same model someplace else – could have been a magazine’s ad, or a photographer’s stream, can’t tell. What I can tell is how amazed I was that I would so easily recognize an avatar that I had seen only once before. Now now, please do not take this to heart that I mean there are no models who can achieve that. But, I am sure you would agree that it is not a trivial attribute. Anyhow, before I head out on a tangent as is my habit, let me get back to the point which is to tell you that’s how I found Caoimhe Lionheart.

Soon I was seeing her face everywhere. There are a couple of things you immediately notice about Cao. She has a delectable taste in styling and fashion. Her selected quotes for her photostream reflect a thoughtful and sensitive nature. Recently, when I realized we – at AVS – had never featured her as part of our Avatars With Style series, I thought it was a shame and contacted her to remedy that. She was kind enough to allow me to visit her at her home where we sat down for a chat, and she indulged me in a photograph of us too.

Leda Carter: Thank you for letting me visit you in your home!
Caoimhe Lionheart: Of course, any time.

Leda: I am always curious about the journey that took people to SL. How did you join the community?
Cao: In 2007, I took a computer class while at the university. The college I attended had a virtual campus, and we were required to create an avatar in order to, generally, get the “feel” of a virtual platform. I have been hooked ever since.

Leda: Before we get started, tell us whether you generally keep SL and RL separate?
Cao: I think, like most avatars, at first I was too enamored with our virtual playground and this brings a false sense of self-importance and can be unhealthy physically and emotionally. So, for myself, Ideleted my first avatar and created a new one with new rules. I always keep my real life above and beyond Second Life. I am not saying I don’t show my true face in Second Life. I do. What I mean is, always, I will put what is real first. This has made this avatar a more grounded, happier, real life person. I have a few really real friends in Second Life. But for the most part, when I turn off the computer, my Second Life hobby is done.

Leda: Have you had any friends who have crossed the SL boundary and have been allowed into your RL?
Cao: Yes, just a very few. I just love Mila Tatham, Nevery Lorakeet, and Draakje Dailey – best friends all to me. Federica Galtier as well. Have you?

Leda: Yes, I have very few that have done that with. In fact, two of my SL friends I have had dinner with, when they were in town. That’s a rarity though, not the norm.
Cao: yes, I have never met them face to face. They are very far away.

Leda: Typically, how do you spend your time in SL?
Cao: Well, for a person who says they refuse to work in a Second Life that is pretty much all I do. I am either styling for pictures, working with Mila Tatham (the incredibly gifted designer from *SoliDea FoliEs*), working on finding things for my column in Trend magazine, or working with one of the agency’s I am affiliated with. Oh, and did I say taking pics and blogging?

Leda: Woman, you sound like a busy beeeeee!
Cao: Oh nooooo, dont tell anyone! I am retired.

Leda Carter: Rrriiiiight. So, you have achieved this “unique” look really well. I am sure I am not the first one to tell you, eh?
Cao: There is one thing I very much believe in – a model should find their look and then keep it, because in a way, a model’s face is her “brand” or logo.

Leda: That makes me wonder whether you change hair, makeup or skins?
Cao: To me, Caoimhe is her own brand. She is marketed as a unique model, so I do not change her substantially. I may have to tweak her shape for certain designs – she is unbelievably slight, as most Asians are, and shorter then most models. The hairs, of course, I change lots, much as I change hair styles in real life. Cao has too many different styles to count. Makeup is another I have so many of, because as I said earlier, her skin is always the same. This means that in order to change settings, say from “girl next door” to Haute Couture, it takes an extreme change in makeup.

I sometimes even wear up to 5 different makeup layers. My interpretation of “Swan Lake” took five layers from three different designers. Every once in a while, I will sneak to some store and try a new skin; I just love Glam Affair, on other models. But for some reason, I can’t seem to transition Cao to another skin, it never looks “right.”

Leda: How would you describe your Skin, Shape and Hair? Is it a reflection of who you are in RL? Does it portray an image of who you want to be? Is it fantasy?
Cao: I will be honest with you; I never set out to be a model. I set out to document the styles, the designs, and the history of Second Life by creating pictures and creating what I think of as “art work” pictures. I always thought I would create a “coffee table” book of some of the pictures I’ve been in. So, in truth, I’ve never thought of Caoimhe (pronounced Keevah) as me at all, to me Caoimhe belongs to everyone in Second Life, not just me. She tries to reflect the best things in all of us.

Leda: Cao does that well, and as you mentioned she has her own brand. Though the issue is twofold, I think. One is your physical appearance, and the other is style. It is important to have your own voice, and that’s part of your “look”, no?
Cao: Well, that is true. But, to me, style is such a personal thing, what is stylish to me may be considered awful to someone else. I just did a photo for Scruplz and I had to dress casual. I asked Cao casual or other casual, and was told casual as mainstream avatars would dress. *laughs* I had to buy some jeans.

Leda: Speaking of shopping, what are some of your favorite vendors for skin, shape, clothing and/or hair?
Cao: Too many to name for sure, as I have so many in my inventory. If I ask the question of myself in another light, I would say my favorite vendors are the designers I have a friendship with. So, those would be first and foremost, Mila Tatham of *SoliDea FoliEs* and that would encompass what I call my entire big Italian family, including RiRi Bazar of H.M.A.E.M., Nevery Lorakeet of *LpD*, Aliza Karu, AD Creations, just to name a few. I can’t possibly live without Eshi, Gizza, Angel Dessous, Finesmith, Chantkare, and Azul – and, this is just a very short list of my favorites. When it comes to hairs, I can’t be caught without Vanity Hair (love Tabata Jewell), Osmose, Miamai and so on and so on.

Leda: Any tips or experiences you can share with other avatars that wish to upgrade their look, style, pictures?
Cao: I will be honest – I can’t really say I’ve ever upgraded my avatar. When I decided to create SL pictures, and created who is Caoimhe, I decided I would bind her by the same limitations of a real world supermodel. That meant I would change my skin only to change the tone and would change my looks with the use of makeup layers because, to me, having an easily recognized face is just as important, if not more important, than being beautiful. It is a lucky day when you have created an avatar that so keenly matches your personality. I love this very concept and see it in a few models, Applonia, Vikee, Draakje, Ammo, Dico, Mimmi, to name a few off the top of my head (I know there are more, sorry in advance. No hating the Cao). It’s a pivotal moment when someone looks at a picture and just knows who it is, and when you chat in IM, they would know who you are without the telltale name attached over your head.
Regarding style, I think if you have one focal point and build around it, keeping the focus on the one thing, it becomes stylish. For example, I saw this jacket/necklace and had to blog it.

Leda: It is a great look! I love that neckthing you have on! How much time and money have you/do you spend on your avatar?
Cao: I spend way too much time on my avatar. A majority of my time spent in Second Life is styling, snapping photos, or working. At this point in my “career”, I fear I am on the popularity decline; I spend just a moderate amount of Lindens. I, typically, purchase the items I blog and also the “props” in the pictures. But, on the flip side, since I do not compete in contests, I save a lot of money I used to use for photographers. My one consistent splurge is my good friend Skip Staheli, I just adore him so much. We have been in this together from the start, and I trust him with all my heart for my artistic pictures. Where I snap a picture, he takes a conceptual idea from me and creates a magical art piece. I have met so many incredible photographers and artists, but he is the one I am most in tune with.

Leda: Being a successful model, does it also mean you get a lot of free clothes and jewelry? *grin* That’s what makes us ordinary souls drool.
Cao: I think a lot of models do receive a lot of free things. But, honestly Leda, I do not really. Like all this I have on, I purchased to blog it, because to me I am often the voice of the consumer. As an instance, all this I have on, I purchased.
Related to the question of spending money, the best part of being semi-“retired” is I can now turn that camera toggle outwards and look at the beautiful and creative models now moving up through the ranks! I am just so in awe of the talents of models and non-models alike. It is an honor to watch as we all evolve and grow! I often wish I had half of the talent I see in others.

Leda: I think that some people know what they like and have a look that is so theirs; others just look around for pretty things and copy them. To me, your style is yours; it is expressive. Not everyone has that.
Cao: That is exactly how I look at style in SL, it is so much art.

Leda: How do you feel your avatar expresses the RL you?
Cao: Caoimhe IS me. She has my personality. I don’t feel I need to be someone else just because I can hide in anonymity. And, one of my main thoughts in life, any life, but especially in Second Life, is why be toxic? People have a hard enough time just living – why not make their virtual life a happy place? I was raised to help others, to be pleasing to others, especially if you live a life that is blessed with so much. Paying it forward, being a candle in the wind, shouldn’t be a vague concept; it should be a way of life. *Trips off the Soap Box*

Leda: I wonder if you would tell us a little something about the person behind the avatar.
Cao: I am a writer with a degree in marketing. I am painfully quiet and bookish, but have had a creative streak a mile wide, since early childhood. I am just as happy with my own company as I am with others. Some people I have met, in Second Life and Real Life, have made the comment that I have an “old soul” that is wise beyond its years, and, well, it kind of fit, so I wear that term about me like a cloak.

Leda: Do you have a philosophy about how style relates to your experience in SL?
Cao: Actually, that is why I am so drawn to Second Life modeling. First of all, the talent of these designers has become so incredible! To me, style, whether it’s in RL or SL, is an extension of your soul. It’s hard to explain, but I always tell other models to never follow, to create what expresses you and what delights you, to style one step beyond your comfort level and don’t fear color, texture, or the absurd – all of which, I touch on from time to time in my pictures. At least, I certainly hope so. Sometimes, even the whimsical is fashionable. If what I have done brings a smile to just one person, I am happy. When I was young, I wished to be a designer. In Second Life, though, I do not design. I get to create my own expression of the incredible things I see.

Leda: We all started as newbies, and not this glamorous! Any stories relating to previous avatar versions you care to share?
Cao: I have to smile on this one. I do not think I am glamorous. I am quirky perhaps, gawky just a bit, and clumsy most definitely. I am the model who once muted herself for a week before we figured it out. With my first avatar, I still only have one avatar, but I was someone different in the beginning. I had a very stiff learning curve. You have to remember, 2007 was back when skins weren’t always so wonderful and when you teleported places, sometimes you lost your clothes, or your hair attached to your arse. But, other than the obvious nuisance, I was just an average avatar with a feel for the eclectic. I think the thing to remember is that we have all been there, tweak here and there, put elements of definition of who you are into your avatar, and never let someone else define beauty for you.

Leda: I assume that is a desired quality in a model, eh? To be able to have their own voice.
Cao: I think so, yes, definitely.

Leda: Besides modeling, what do you enjoy in SL?
Cao: Wow, vast things. People, I simply love people. Fashion, fashion is a way for me to express what is in my soul. Words, I’ve always been in love with words and Second Life teaches me words, symbols, expressions, I love other people’s words. You people are so groovy! Creativity, there is so much creative genius in Second Life; I love to just sit back and watch. In all ways, Second Life gives a girl from a small fishing village on the coast of Florida, the entire World.

Leda: It is wonderful that SL allows us to reach beyond physical distances. Thank you so much for sharing your time and yourself with us. It has been a real pleasure getting to know you.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 caoimhe lionheart May 8, 2012 at 2:36 pm

this was such an honor! thank you! <33

2 Leda Carter May 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm

It was absolutely my pleasure, Cao! <3

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