Designer Emma Mulholland Makes Clothes That Smile For You
I’ve never been to Australia, but if Emma Mulholland’s clothes are any indication, I should probably work on changing that. Somewhere down in Sydney, in her utopian, scintillating world, Mulholland is the overlord—and a pretty chill one at that.
Characterized by an unbridled use of color, sequins, and zest, Mulholland’s clothing line, which she started in 2011, seems to exist in a sort of prolonged golden age—one that’s invigorating, laid-back, and populated by an otherworldliness, cute phrases and puns, Debi Mazar’s cat-eye sunglasses, and prints and patches that look straight out of Miley Cyrus’ pasty collection.
Her collections possess a certain unpretentious charm; where your average designer showing at Paris Fashion Week might claim a rare, Moroccan spice as the inspiration for their latest collection—or else a little known Greek island only accessible by charter jet—Mulholland is more likely to reference somewhere like Mars. She has a commendable sense of humor about her clothes, using honed design techniques like embroidering to make irradiant pieces for her creatively themed collections—”Heat Wave,” “Poison Paradise,” “Cry Birdy,” and “As Bad As I Guana Be,” to name a few. And she seems to relish the performative, costume-y side of fashion, which as you’ll notice below, is only underscored by Byron Spencer’s photos.
Her clothes are ones you’d imagine being worn by a young Milla Jovovich or a young Parker Posey—one part Jawbreaker, one part Saved by the Bell. They’re ebullient clothes that recall happier times—like when Keanu Reeves was young and kind of gay. Put differently: whatever it is Mulholland is taking, I’d like to take too.
A little over a year after winning the BT Emerging Designer Award, Mulholland, while on a recent trip out to LA, hopped on the phone for a little chit-chat. Read on to find out how she’s managed to make a successful career out of what is essentially playtime.
I love how creative you get with the themes for your collections. How do you normally come up with them?
[For] the next one, I really wanted to go to Hawaii, which didn’t end up happening, but I was listening to a lot of music and reading lot of zines and stuff like that that. So I thought [it’d] be cool to sort of [marry] Bikini Kill zine with a Hawaiian influence. I think combining two random themes that don’t normally get paired together kind of [sets my line apart from] everyone else’s.
“It’s a bit depressing how much [people] are buying into these influencers, rather than actually looking to brands and people who have been working really hard for a long time.”
What do you think is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the fashion industry in the past couple years since starting your line?
I think we’re all learning different things now with social media and everything, and I guess it’s just trying to find a good balance with that stuff because there are people that are just so wrapped up in it. It’s a bit depressing how much [people] are buying into these influencers, rather than actually looking to brands and people who have been working really hard for a long time. So I guess just working around that and trying to make it work for you. I have a strong social media presence, [but] that’s not 100 percent my focus. I guess what’s [so surprising] is seeing how much of a business it is now.
It’s definitely upsetting. Speaking of Instagram, what are some of your favorite handles?
I love Michel Gaubert. He always picks up a lot of stuff I love.
If you could describe your aesthetic in one song, what would it be?
“Modern Girl,” by Sleater Kinney.
If you had all of the money and resources in the world to go anywhere to research for your next collection, where do you think it would be and why?
I really want to go to Japan, to Tokyo. And a few other places in Japan would probably be a fun trip to go to next.
“Since I started, I don’t think I had enough belief in myself for awhile there; I didn’t really think that I’d be doing what I’ve been doing.”
Can you think of one moment in your career so far that’s made you think, “Holy shit I can’t believe this happened to me”?
[I was just so happy with] how [my last collection, Resort 2017,] came together. My other shows have been good, but there are [always] some things I would change. But [for] my last show, I was really stoked and had an amazing team. I think when that was done, I was like, that’s a nice feeling! It felt really positive and exciting. Since I started, I don’t think I had enough belief in myself for awhile there; I didn’t really think that I’d be doing what I’ve been doing. So it’s been pretty exciting.
What’s it like working with Byron? You guys obviously work so well together, and his photos seem to really complement your clothes.
It’s been really fun. Byron and I [have been] friends for a long time. So it’s been really fun watching us actually get a lot better than when we started out doing stuff together. [Laughs] He’s got a great energy, I’m sure you saw, and he kind of just reaches like he has no limits with ideas. He’s always a lot of fun to work with, he always keeps things funny, and you just always feel chilled out.
As I’m sure you know, your stuff is very vibrant and sunny—sort of anti New York, in a way. Do you feel like it’s taken some time for people to warm up to your aesthetic?
Yeah definitely, even just the style of the clothes as well is quite different. Australia has been pretty generous with the press and stuff that they’ve given me. Maybe [New York] would find it a little bit out there, but I think we’ll be fine!
I think, [since] adding in the denim and stuff like I have now, it’s getting a bit easier for people to understand how to wear it. And I think [the way we have been] styling it in the last couple of seasons is also giving people a bit more of an idea of how to put it together as opposed to [when we styled] it all crazy and theatrical. The last couple of campaigns, [we’ve used] cool girls from New York and LA, girls like Staz and Clem from Cherry Glazerr. They’re not crazy supermodels, and they’ve got a cool, laid-back style. So I think [using girls like that], and making it look like that, [helps] people to envision how to wear it.
I’ve read—and Byron mentioned it too—that you have a very dry sense of humor. Who are some of your favorite comedians?
I really love watching Amy Schumer—she reminds me of my sister, and a lot of my friends. I’m really liking her and Broad City at the moment. I just find them so hilarious, and I think it’s so cool to see girls talk the way we actually all do talk, as opposed to these Sex and the City [girls]—which is also hilarious in its own way, but like more in a dramatic, ridiculous way. I’m trying to think of a movie, but I can’t. It’s really hot here.
And lastly, who’s your idol or your style icon?
All photos taken exclusively for Milk by Byron Spencer.
Creative Direction: Byron Spencer
Styling: Peter Simon Phillips
Models: Valentina Ruby Sykes, Amalie Frijs, Paige (Work: Models), Mary Adut Akech Bior (Chadwick Models), Jimmy Freeman, Raina (Priscillas Model Management), Paris (Work Models), Anna (London Management Group)
Stay tuned to Milk for more of our favorite Australian designers.