Michael O’Connor: On the Red Carpet
Imagine being able to see your friend whenever you wanted to—simply by setting your TiVo! In fact, the first time I met Michael O’Connor, that’s exactly what I did. As a regular TV presenter on QVC, the Rehoboth Beach resident is not only the jewelry and style “guru” for the popular shopping channel, but also for numerous fashion-oriented TV shows.
As early as six years old, Canadian-born O’Connor was telling his parents (and anyone else within earshot) that he “wanted to be on TV.” Professionals in their own right, mom and dad were having none of it. They decided little Michael would be better off as a lawyer (like his father) or perhaps a dentist (like his uncle). Well, the youthful TV-personality wannabe was having none of that. You’d think that his parents would have figured that (and possibly a lot of other things) out as their nine year-old relentlessly critiqued—and rearranged—the furniture, paint colors, and window treatments in his bedroom.
In order to add a bit of respectability to his desire to perform, Michael enrolled as a student of piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in the early ‘70s. Shrewdly bridging the gap between his parents’ wishes and his own aspirations, he later enrolled at the University of Toronto to earn his B.A., signing up for plays, shows, reviews…pretty much anything that put him in front of an audience.
One fateful day, Michael’s father asked him to drop off some legal papers at the corporate headquarters of People’s Jewellers (yes, that’s how they spell it in Canada). The CEO of the huge firm (the parent company of Zales) mistook the outspoken messenger for a job applicant and hired him on the spot as a part-time salesperson. Even then, Michael was not shy about expressing his opinions on style, and his influence with customers and buyers quickly earned him a full-time position. After being promoted to the buying department, his design expertise with watches and pearl jewelry was sought-out by clients and suppliers alike. In the early ‘80s, O’Connor took a position designing custom jewelry, skillfully crafting pieces to compliment the facial features of his high-end clients.
In 1986, a vacation trip to Acapulco would change Michael’s life forever. While relaxing over a cocktail (or two), he ran into Lenny Parisi, Nursing Supervisor for the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. It wasn’t exactly “love at first sight,” but Lenny was nothing if not persistent. Michael loves telling the story about how the New Yorker called and informed him that there was a ticket to La Guardia waiting for him at the Toronto airport. Lenny said, “You don’t have to give me an answer now, but I will be meeting that flight, and I sure hope you’re on it.”
After making sure it was a round-trip ticket (Michael slyly emphasizes that part of the story), he went—and had a wonderful time. One thing led to another, and after endless weekend flights it came down to either claiming the airline as a dependent or moving full-time to the United States. The Canadian quit his job and took up residence in Manhattan. His first job lead to freelance work for Gucci; designing jewelry for well-to-do clients such as Mary Tyler Moore, Nell Carter, Jackie Kennedy, and the Queen of Thailand. His designs for Cartier earned him a position as Director of Merchandising for Frederick Goldman, Inc., one of the largest jewelry manufacturing firms in the country. It wasn’t long before the talented O’Connor was promoted to Director of Corporate Marketing for the prominent diamond lines Art Carved, Keepsake, and Diana.
Of course, when Michael vacationed, he insisted on The Hamptons (did you really expect anything else?). But Parisi’s long-time affection for the Delaware Shore eventually won out. The men bought a condo in Rehoboth Beach, and shortly thereafter, a beautiful house. They still do a lot of business travel, but this is their home base.
The kid who “wanted to be on TV” was about to have his dream come true. Goldman contracted to market their Promise diamond line on QVC, and for the next three years, Michael O’Connor’s unique brand of salesmanship and humor was beamed into millions of living rooms. He’s now QVC’s pitchman for Affinity diamonds, and appears regularly as style expert on shows such as Today, Access Hollywood, Extra, Entertainment Tonight, and on red carpets for the Academy Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, and the Golden Globes. He advises viewers and celebrities that “My recipe is simple: Great style is just good taste with a dash of daring.” Stars who have followed his guidance include Debra Messing, Nicollette Sheridan, Cheryl Hines, Jane Kaczmarek and even Desperate Housewives’ shirtless gardener, Jesse Metcalfe. On Academy Awards’ Fashion Wrap, Joan Rivers warned celebrities that they “…had better be nice to Michael, or he’d purposely dress them badly and then talk about them on TV.”
Rehoboth Beach resident Michael O’Connor never became the lawyer or dentist his parents wished for, but he loves to recount his late father’s proud reaction to his son’s success: “It’s amazing how you still managed to get on TV, all the while defying me by making me think you were doing what I wanted you to do.” Michael wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. He can be reached at Bob@RehobothFoodie.com.