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Naarm-based designer Emily Watson on her subversive swim and resort wear label

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROSE PURE AND EMILY WATSON

WORDS BY ELEANOR WILSON

Future-facing swimwear.

Like many trend-sensitive fashion fanatics, 2021 has seen me replacing my monochromatic collection of minimalist wardrobe basics with an assemblage of cut out, reconstructed and layered basics.

But as the subversive designs started to sink their gap-filled teeth into the Australian style scene, Naarm-based designer Emily Watson had already found her niche several years prior, contributing to the next wave of fashion innovation in the realm of swimwear and resort wear. 


Discover more up-and-coming local designers in our Fashion section. 


Established out of her 2019 graduate collection, Emily’s namesake label questions the fundamentals of swim and resort wear through asymmetric draping, experimental cuts and an abundance of reconstructed straps and ties.

Enlivened by a kaleidoscopic colour palette, the local label’s designs have found global success and been spotted on avant-garde artists like Rico Nasty, Benee, and most recently, actress Camila Mendes for Paper Magazine.

Intrigued by her contemporary alternative to your run-of-the-mill halter neck and cheeky bikini bottom combo, I wriggled my way into Emily’s busy schedule ahead of the launch of her Autumn Winter ’21 collection, eager to rack her brain about the creative process behind her unorthodox designs.

Thanks so much for chatting today, Emily! For those who are new to your brand, can you describe the quintessential Emily Watson customer?

Thank you as well! Happy to have a chat. I’d say the quintessential Emily Watson customer is creative, artistic and expressive. They are someone who values transparency and localised production, prefers exclusivity and considered, slow design over fast fashion, and aren’t limited by age or gender.

You’ve been developing your brand since 2019. Have your designs evolved a lot since the brand’s early days, or have you always had such a distinctive aesthetic in mind for your pieces?

I feel like my brand has been fairly distinctive since its launch, and before then when I imagined it in my honours year. I think the use of nylon, saturated colours, ruching and deconstruction makes my brand what it is, and has been since its inception. 

 

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A post shared by Emily Watson (@emmmmilywatson)

All of your pieces are designed, made and sourced locally in Naarm/Melbourne. Why is that important to you? 

So knowing how abstract my pieces were and the draped nature of them, I couldn’t see how large scale manufacturing would be possible. Everything, well, most pieces at this stage, differs slightly from the next. So I feel like I really need to have that intimate relationship with the garments as they are produced. I’ve now brought on a machinist to work in-house with me. We just moved into a new studio together which is exciting! It’s working really well being able to communicate in person, you’re really assured the quality of the products will be up to par this way! 

Besides that, I love how transparent this process is. I’m not sure I could trust a manufacturer to be fully ethical and as sustainable as we are here. Same goes with suppliers really, I can trust the materials are what I wanted. In saying that, localising my production and supply chain has been a challenge. 

Your designs draw on Australian nostalgia and new leisure dressing. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

Yeah! In my grad year my thesis was based on the ‘luxury of leisure’ – whether it is a luxury and what that means. I was intrigued by the fast growing market of high-end leisure and sportswear in Australia, and how synonymous with Australian culture it is now. You could say this is a new way of dressing for leisure – everyone’s wearing athleisure in their free time. During the developmental stage, I brainstormed ways of deconstructing that concept of leisure, luxury and Australian culture, and how I could bring a fresh take to it.

So for luxury, I thought of artisanal design and construction techniques, and leisure being the archetypes of deconstructed-swimwear, bikinis and track pants. Then for Australia, I brought in nostalgic motifs and symbols such as the Zoggs print, and the towel poncho I made at the time. The trademark technique that is kind of distinctive to my brand now also came from this brainstorming! The reconstructed bikini made into an abstracted patchwork dress, which has now been reimagined into the tankini set and bikini skirt for Autumn/Winter. 

 

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A post shared by Emily Watson (@emmmmilywatson)

What made you decide to base your brand around swim and resort wear specifically?

That, I actually don’t really know. I think it was an identity crisis I had in third year. Funnily enough I worked with mainly denim and tailoring back then. But later in that year I went to New York to study abroad for a semester, which gave me a break to rethink my design practice and get re-inspired. Later in my stay I was a little homesick and began to miss Australia, particularly the leisurely, relaxed lifestyle opposed to the fast paced hustle of NYC.

From there on I think I subconsciously designed with [the] Australian summer in mind. I wanted to really give it my all in my honours year and step out of my comfort zone a little, as I felt I couldn’t offer anything new or exciting to the denim and tailoring market anymore. So instead, I pursued the capsule collection I conceptualised during my trip in New York, and I’m so happy I did! 

Your AW21 collection is launching on Monday May 31. What can FJ readers expect from the new designs?

Yes! I’m so excited to be working on something new. So this collection was mostly inspired by mermaids and marine life. I didn’t want to steer away from the aquatic inspired designs my label is known for, even though its winter and swimming isn’t a desirable activity right now [laughs]. Instead, I wanted to bring in some layering pieces which are still swim and summer inspired, but are more wearable for winter. 

Going forward I want to aim towards transeasonal yearly collections, where each piece added onto the collection can be worn for either warm or cold climates, depending on the way they are styled and layered. I think it’s a much more sustainable and slow approach, and one which I’ve noticed has become more common within the fashion industry. I’ve also added a piece called the mini, which will be made mainly from remnants from the tankini set or offcuts. It’s also at a price point which is more accessible to a wider market which I like! And I’ve started donating the smaller fabric scraps which I can’t repurpose to a Naarm-based label called Clumsy Cooshions for cushion fillings. 

 

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A post shared by Emily Watson (@emmmmilywatson)

The brand has expanded to the international market recently with stockists in LA and New York. What are your hopes and future plans for Emily Watson?

Yes! So whilst I’m hoping to expand on a global scale, I’m still wanting to remain as a somewhat small, exclusive brand also. I like the thought of always playing a part in the creation of the products, not just the design of them, so being able to design as well as make in house is important to me, and I think it still will be in the coming years. Once COVID is over and travel is a thing again, I’d love to be able to go back to New York, London etc – there’s so many amazing creatives I want to connect with and work with over there!

Emily Watson’s AW21 collection launches at 6pm on Monday May 31. Check it out here.

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