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Graduating from the University of Westminster in 2004, designer Emma Charles began her journey rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in the fashion world. Not bad for a recent grad! Before launching her namesake label, Charles gained experiences at Tom Ford and Stella McCartney, whilst also undertaking an internship with Preen, later becoming their Archivist Manager. During this time, she developed thirteen looks for influential women in the business, marking the start of her typically feminine designs. Fully immersing herself in professional design and production, Charles was able to establish methods for sampling and selling on an electronic level. She used this knowledge to lift her own brand off the Launchpad and into the world of top class fashion.
Founding her first collection in 2016, Charles’ position in the fashion panorama is very fresh, having only released four collections in total. However, her first collection embodies the entire philosophy of her intentions in styling. Charles crafts with a keen interest in dressing her ideal woman; this woman being someone who adores the arts and fashion itself, whilst playing with the boundaries of inventiveness and sophistication. Every one of her garments seeks balance, as Charles aims for an aesthetic that synthesises chic tailoring and modern femininity.
Finding inspiration in traditional dressmaking, Charles fascination with the androgynous manifests itself in her interest in the menswear of ages past, her designs scattered with tributes to classic 1920’s and 1950’s suits. Concentrating on luxury fabrics and tidy embellishment, Charles manages to blend aspects of femininity and masculinity throughout her designs, giving some much needed fluidity to the womenswear sector.
From stepping out of famous fashion houses, to registering her own brand, Charles has always had high ambitions. In an interview with ‘Twin’ in 2016, Charles stated that her goals included a showcase of her collections on a runway – and here we are, two years after her declaration, having just exhibited her Spring/Summer collection for 2018 in London Fashion Week.
Within this body of work, Charles considers the beauty of a post-industrial Britain. Her pieces explore the world of juxtapositions; not only does she blend masculinity and femininity within her work, but the juxtaposition between untouched settings found in once bustling industrial sites represent the remains what was once an active space for the steelmaking industry. In photographing the looks, Charles collaborated with Max Barnett, setting her items against the backdrop of worn-down industrial buuldings and grassier planes of Redcar, North Yorkshire. Utilising this setting granted Charles a sharp contrast to the lightness and elegance of her clothes, yet ingeniously played into the hands of the artist; bringing her obsession with the industrial landscape into focus within the photos.
The presentation of the collection at LFW took a modern and creative turn, as Barnett who photographed the couture, developed his work into a film and lookbook. In addition to this, live models also demonstrated key pieces, as well as a voiceover being played of a young, northern girl recounting tales of post-industrial life. This added a sense clarity and depth when conveying Charles’ true inspiration behind the final show. Her artistic talents were evidenced to their full, developing an exciting fashion presentation with all the dynamism that today’s technology offers.
Charles tells ‘PYLOT’, that she wanted SS18 to be a ‘very personal collection’ for her, being something close to her heart. She states that the opportunity to not only e
xhibit her line physically, but also demonstrate it using the medium of film, was an ideal method to fulfil her dream to highlight beautiful parts of the UK outside of our capital. With an appreciation for delicate fabrics and bold colour statements throughout her tailoring, Charles’ pride in her heritage is clear to see. The designer explains how the land surrounding a disused blast furnace in Redcar was now safely populated, while wild flowers and grass have taken over the furnace itself. Taking inspiration from the rusty shades of the infrastructure, Charles again found her focus in the contradictions between the dilapidation of the buildings and the attractive flora that grew in the surrounding area. Transferring this landscape into something wearable, Charles found herself experimenting with floral prints, paring them with garments in simpler whites, red and chocolates browns.
Extending her theme of contrasts and oppositions, the performance at LFW itself was held at Two Temple Palace – an institute built by one of the world’s richest men. Though at first it may seem inappropriate to premier such a collection in such a lavish setting, it certainly reflects Charles’ fascination with juxtaposition. “I wanted to play on the emotions the area provokes”, the designer states. Certainly, the softness and grace of the clothes hint at her interest in luxury, yet her explorative colour palette adds notions of controversies and unease.
Above all, Charles aims to develop of apparel for the independent woman. We see this too is weaved throughout the SS18 designs, as she subtly introduces hints of femininity in a manner that avoids being obvious or overbearing, while the more masculine tailoring, exemplified through the and combination of sheers and leather, gives her label the edge it needs in order for the business to succeed in an industry craving originality.
A brilliant mind for exploring ideas and running with them and a keen eye for chic design, Emma Charles is certainly one to watch in the next few years. Her ability to envisage a perfect equilibrium between colour, pattern, tailoring and notion will ensure that Charles’ namesake label is just about to get started.