Emma Mulholland: Crystal Waters

Photographer Sandy Kim
May 04, 2012

For her debut collection, Emma Mulholland makes clothes inspired by sea creatures.

Emma Mulholland’s debut collection is filled with neon macramé, poison dart frog-patterned beading, digital prints, buffalo teeth, crowns, shells carved into tusks and backpacks with straps made out of giant friendship bracelets from a monkey temple in Bali. But even with such insanity, Mulholland—who grew up with a surfer father in a tiny village on the south coast of Australia—points to everyday surfwear as her main inspiration, hoping to push boundaries when it comes to imagining the common beach clothes that she sees as being stuck in a stripes-and-solid-color rut. “We could be doing something different, and instead we’re just copying trends,” she says. “We’ve got so much here that we can draw inspiration from. I don’t understand why everyone wants to make stuff that looks like Topshop.”

Mulholland, who studied fashion design at Sydney’s Ultimo College at TAFE, is now on the verge of moving to Bali and purchasing a pet iguana, and, except for a short stint in Vancouver, has never been far from a warm beach. Plenty of designers in isolated Australia might look across the sea for inspiration, but Mulholland looks directly into it. “I went snorkeling in Bali and saw a lot of parrotfish, which is one of my main embellishments,” she says. “Fish are freaking insane, like the colors and patterns that are on them are just out of this world. I really do get into different animals. I am looking into lizards at the moment, and they’re just like aliens.”

Though the fun and fauna of her debut has kept her creatively inspired, she’s also looking to balance some of her more far-out ideas with a practical sense of what will sell. Mulholland is developing a retail-friendly capsule collection of jeans, mini-skirts and T-shirts called Tropical Rebel that will be sold exclusively through Australian online shop The Grand Social this autumn. Even with her madcap vision slightly tempered, she still managed to sneak in some beautiful incandescent-blue shark motifs. “I still wanted to do something that was tied to my past work. I had made some jeans in my last collection that had little sharks around the knees,” she says. “And I was always wearing those jeans thinking, How much cooler would it be if there was more shark?”

Styling Mobolaji Dawodu, model Collete LaPorta.

Emma Mulholland: Crystal Waters