The Next Big Thing: Emma Mulholland

“I guess I feel a bit, not like the underdog, but I am very different to everyone else here.”

The Tiffany and Co. National Designer Award is the most prestigious award for fashion design in the country. With a prize pool in excess of $100,000 not to mention unprecedented exposure and opportunities into the industry (previous winners include Romance Was Born, Dion Lee and Josh Goot), it’s definitely one to strive for. 

Not too long ago, we attended the final round of judging to catch up with finalists Macgraw, Búl, Emma Mulholland, Verner and Pageant as well as VAMFF CEO and creative director, Graeme Lewsey. This six part series will delve into the inner workings of some of the country’s top designers as they prepare for Fashion Week. 

Selected to present at Australian Fashion Week while still a student, Emma Mulholland is undoubtedly a serious up-and-comer. Her colourful designs are exploding with personality and have been featured in various fashion events across the country while attracting the attention of international buyers. We chatted with the young designer about the differences between Melbourne and Sydney and the stresses of waiting to see the judging panel. 

FJ: How are you going this morning?

EM: Good, a bit stressed out. I’ve been in Bali so it’s been a bit different coming straight from there and a different direction to everyone else. I rocked up and everyone was all beautifully prepared and I’ve sort of been unpacking all my stuff from suitcases and looking for a steamer. 

FJ: Apparently last year a steamer set off the fire alarms, so be careful with that. How are you feeling about the competition?

EM: I haven’t really had a chance to think about it. I’m happy to be involved and everything. I guess I feel a bit, not like the underdog, but I am very different to everyone else here. Just looking around you’ll see my collection in comparison is quite street. There is also that big difference between Melbourne and Sydney style.

FJ: Well that could be an advantage…  

EM: I guess it depends on the judges. It’s not often they include a streetwear label. Obviously I’m not completely streetwear, but it’s a lot more laid back then some of the other collections, which are amazing by the way. 

FJ: Your silhouettes and use of colour are quite unique, where do you get your inspirations from?

EM: A lot of pop culture, music and my icons from past decades. You’ll find a lot of movie references in my work. My new collection is kind of a combination of Australiana kitsch with John Waters’ Cry Baby. I watch lots of movies, I love all the old John Hughes films and stuff like that so I get a lot of inspiration from there.

FJ: You have quite an international following, notably among American hip hop artists, was this always a target market for you? 

EM: It’s always really cool when that happens, I don’t know why, it seems so much more exciting that a famous person is wearing it compared to anyone on the street. It’s not my main focus, celebrity fashion. It is cool, but it isn’t like a main focus of mine. 

FJ: You have quite a presence in the US, do you have any plans to extend there?

EM: We are about to launch on Nasty Gal in the next couple of weeks, so it will be cool to be on such a huge platform. I just came back from America and we are just planning on a few different things to focus on there and expand into the market. So we will see what happens, it’s going to take a few more seasons until I’ve got that all under control. The market in Australia is quite small so there is much more of a market over there. There are just so many more people. But it’s kind of like starting your label again, when I went over there I thought people might at least know a bit about my label, but most didn’t. It was a bit of a reality check. 

FJ: Can you tell me about the look you are showing today?

EM: It is a really fluffy outfit. It’s called the Major Mitchell trousers and top. The Major Mitchell is a big Australian bird so the outfit also has a silk bomber, which is something I’ve been doing since I started. It’s quite a fun look. 

I try to design transeasonally to appeal to more of an international market. I also don’t think people want to buy heavy coats from a label like mine; we are more focused on the signature pieces you can layer. The collection has a few knits and jackets but I’m not as focused on using knits and wool as other labels.

FJ: I guess the climate is a lot nicer in Sydney.

EM: Yeah I haven’t worn a proper winter coat since I was in New York last year. I don’t really wear coats, we just layer in Sydney. I know it’s different in Melbourne, but its something I need to get my head around if I’m going to do more diverse collections. 

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