Emma Mulholland creates a fashion winner with Holiday The Label

Focused: Fashion designer Emma Mulholland in her Sydney studio in Surry Hills. She's wearing a T-shirt  from her Holiday collection. Picture: Jessica Hromas
Focused: Fashion designer Emma Mulholland in her Sydney studio in Surry Hills. She's wearing a T-shirt from her Holiday collection. Picture: Jessica Hromas

EMMA Mulholland has come a long way from customising clothes at a vintage store on Darby Street.

At 30, the Newcastle-raised fashion designer is now the name – and creative brain –  behind one of the most in-demand labels in the country.

Her work has featured in the pages of fashion magazines Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Nylon.

She has collaborated with the likes of Mambo, Baby G, Mecedez Benz and even McDonald’s (who enlisted her to design a range of “brekkiewear” pyjamas that sold out in 10 minutes).

Despite the accolades and a cult following, Mulholland, 30, says it has not always been an easy ride.

Her entrance into the Australian fashion industry in 2011 could not be ignored. Incorporating tie dye, neon colours, sequinned details and digital prints into her designs, the then 23-year-old was picked as one of four students in her graduate year at the TAFE NSW Fashion Design Institute in Sydney to present her pieces at The Innovators Show as part of Australian Fashion Week 2011.

An original, playful and attention-grabbing approach to design has remained her signature throughout a nearly decade-long career in the Australian fashion industry with the success of her label, Emma Mulholland.

Despite the accolades and a cult following, Mulholland says it has not always been an easy ride.

After showcasing her space age-inspired Resort 17 collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in 2016, she questioned where to go next in her career and knew that in order to survive, she either had to find work elsewhere or change direction.

The label: The range of vintage-inspired street wear includes slogan T-shirts, hoodies, denim, bowling shirts and retro print beach dresses – palm trees, beach umbrellas and hibiscus.

The label: The range of vintage-inspired street wear includes slogan T-shirts, hoodies, denim, bowling shirts and retro print beach dresses – palm trees, beach umbrellas and hibiscus.

“I had done another big collection and lookbook and campaign and everything, and I was just struggling so much by myself still,” Mulholland tells Weekender from her shared studio space in Sydney.

“The industry has changed so much now with Instagram and everything, so I was getting a bit sick of the way I was doing so many pieces and half of them wouldn’t go into production, and then it was just such a big amount of work to be doing such big collections.

“So I kind of decided at the end of 2016 that I was a bit sick of all that.

“I was so young when I started and I just wanted to do something that was a little bit less stressful and maybe a bit more easier.”

The answer came last year in the form of a new label, Holiday.

While she was always committed to creating functional and wearable fashion, Mulholland began to discover that the T-shirts and ready-to-wear pieces she designed for her Emma Mulholland range were the ones that worked best, as opposed to the more elaborate designs.

Focused: Fashion designer Emma Mulholland in her Sydney studio in Surry Hills. She's wearing a T-shirt  from her Holiday collection. Picture: Jessica Hromas

Focused: Fashion designer Emma Mulholland in her Sydney studio in Surry Hills. She's wearing a T-shirt from her Holiday collection. Picture: Jessica Hromas

Her quirky and colourful pieces attracted strong press coverage and backing from high profile celebrities such as Kanye West, M.I.A, Azealia Banks and Grimes, but that didn’t necessarily translate into sales.

“In terms of making any money or seeing things go into production, it didn’t go anywhere. I was a bit sick and tired of that.

“I thought instead of continuing with my name, I wanted a logo brand instead, because having your name everywhere, it gets a bit daunting sometimes.

“I wanted something I could have as a logo rather than my name on T-shirts, so I didn’t always have to be coming up with different things on a T-shirt.

“I could just have ‘Holiday’.”

Holiday is a perfect fit for Mulholland. Like the name suggests, Holiday is laid-back fashion with a fun approach.

The throwback designs are a nostalgic nod to her days growing up near the beach and taking family holidays to Hawaii and Queensland.

The range of vintage-inspired street wear includes slogan T-shirts, hoodies, denim, bowling shirts and retro print beach dresses – palm trees, beach umbrellas and hibiscus.

The range of vintage-inspired street wear includes slogan T-shirts, hoodies, denim, bowling shirts and retro print beach dresses – palm trees, beach umbrellas and hibiscus.

“A lot of the inspiration came from family holidays when I was younger, so there’s still a little bit of Australiana tied in as well and the logo is a bit caravan park vibe I feel,” Mulholland says with laugh.

“I feel like the brand is a bit more ‘70s and a bit more toned down colours-wise as opposed to the hyper bright colours that we used to do.

“The designs are a lot more simple.”

The Holiday Label: “I feel like the brand is a bit more ‘70s and a bit more toned down colours-wise as opposed to the hyper bright colours that we used to do.

The Holiday Label: “I feel like the brand is a bit more ‘70s and a bit more toned down colours-wise as opposed to the hyper bright colours that we used to do.

Holiday debuted during Fashion Week in May 2017. But rather than present the label at a runway show, Mulholland launched it in the form of an 86-page zine which featured vacation-style photographs of models wearing the pieces in various exotic locations around the world.

The influence of the beach and a passion for Australian surf culture and ’80s pop culture have remained at the heart of her vision since she popped up as a emerging designer at Fashion Week in 2011 with the Queen Aurelia collection.

Mulholland cited ’90s surf culture as the inspiration.

Two years later, she presented her debut solo show at Australian Fashion Week with Spring Break which, she says, was inspired by growing up living near the beach.

The beach, surfing, holidays ... it’s a theme that has stuck throughout her career.

Raised in the NSW coastal town of Ulladulla, the self-described tomboy was 12 when her parents moved the family – her,  and sisters Ashleigh and Sarah – to Newcastle to set up home in Adamstown Heights.

The family was always “beach obsessed” and her father, Gary, still hits the surf every day - even in winter - while her mum, Lyn, would walk their beloved pet dog Molly along Redhead Beach (where they now live) every day.

“My mum is a PE teacher and my dad was a solicitor, so me deciding deciding to do fashion was a bit of a wild card for them,” Mulholland says.

As a student at Waratah’s St Philips Christian College, Mulholland was already marching to the beat of her own drum.

“When I was in school, no one really cared about fashion that much,” Mulholland recalls.

“I remember I used to buy all the magazines and come down to Sydney all the time and try to get fashion stuff. That made me a bit unusual at school.

“I liked all these weird ’80s movies that none of my friends were ever that interested in watching. But I always loved that era. I think that really sparked my interest - what those people were wearing and why they were wearing that stuff.

“I started to do a lot of vintage shopping and I guess that’s how the brand developed.”

After high school, she decided to enrol at Tighes Hill TAFE after she didn’t get straight into the course she wanted to study in Sydney.

As a student, she spent her first year scouring the city’s op-shops with friends, customising clothes to wear on nights out to gigs the Cambridge Hotel and Civic Hotel.

Distinct: The beach, surfing, holidays ... it’s a theme that has stuck throughout her career.

Distinct: The beach, surfing, holidays ... it’s a theme that has stuck throughout her career.

“This was before Instagram, so nothing was as stylised or as cool as it is now,” she says. “It was a very fun and creative time in my life before I moved to Sydney.”

The following year she headed to Sydney when she scored a spot at the TAFE NSW Fashion Design Institute whose alumni includes the likes of Alex Perry, Akira Isogawa and Wayne Cooper.

Despite failing her first year (she says she didn’t pick up patternmaking easily), Mulholland persevered and put the work in - completing internships with labels Dion Lee and Romance Was Born - and achieved her dream of being picked to show at Australian Fashion Week.

THE rise of Instagram has played a big role in Holiday’s growing success. Mulholland has the freedom to design new pieces, put them into production and promote them online with confidence that the social media platform will boost sales.

“When I started, there was no Instagram,” Mulholland says. “I remember in my first season it was kind of starting to take off and since then it has become bigger and bigger.

“It has definitely become a big part of the business now, so a lot of my following and a lot of the hits on the website do come from Instagram, from influencers and things like that.

“I think that’s why Holiday is working a bit better . . . people want more ready-to-wear [fashion] now because that’s what they’re shooting in everything these days.”

It also means the pressure to design and produce a big collection isn’t hanging over her head.

“I’m not doing so much seasonal - we work more on pieces, so we’re introducing a skirt and top in a couple of weeks, and then we’ve got new prints coming out. We’ve got new stuff coming out all the time and I guess because I work online a lot more, we can launch pieces whenever we want to.”

The success of Holiday does not mean the end of the Emma Mulholland brand.

While the label is “on the back burner” at the moment so she can concentrate on Holiday, a new range of eyewear is set to launch in October through the label in collaboration with brand Local Supply.

She is also contemplating a Holiday kids range since becoming an aunty to her sister Ashleigh’s two children.

“I’ve still got the name and the website, and there will be a time when I hopefully I come back to that sort of stuff when things are a bit different,” Mulholland says. “I didn’t think Holiday was going to keep me as busy as it has, but it’s definitely a full-time job now, which is good.”

On instagram: emmamulholland

Online: holidaythelabel.com.au