Emma Mul­hol­land’s new la­bel Hol­i­day re­turns to the retro beach­side style that launched her ca­reer, writes Alyx Gor­man.

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When Emma Mul­hol­land was search­ing for ref­er­ences for her just-launched la­bel Hol­i­day, there was one thing she kept run­ning into: her­self. The Syd­ney-based de­signer has been cre­at­ing clothes un­der her own name since grad­u­at­ing from Fash­ion Design Stu­dio in 2011. “When you Google ’80s and ’90s surf fash­ion … my re­ally early stuff comes up,” she says. Mul­hol­land wasn’t even alive dur­ing some of the pe­ri­ods her work ref­er­ences, but her grad­u­ate col­lec­tion – a mix of play­ful se­quins, goo­gly-eye mo­tifs and oceanic ruf­fles in faded flu­oro and trop­i­cal lapis lazuli – is still search en­gine-op­ti­mised, and pop­u­lar on Pin­ter­est. “It was what I started with, then I was try­ing to move away from it. Now Hol­i­day is keep­ing that vibe go­ing.”

Though the look has been honed since those early days, Mul­hol­land’s main-line work is still com­plex – in­tri­cate prints, se­quins, cro­chet – all ex­e­cuted with a sense of off­beat hu­mour. Hol­i­day is com­par­a­tively sim­ple: tees, hood­ies, denim, linen pants, aloha shirts and an elas­ti­cised tube top that re­quires such unadul­ter­ated con­fi­dence from its wearer, any­one brave enough to try it in the first place will likely pull it off.

The com­plex cuts and em­bel­lish­ments are gone. “This is a bit more re­laxed. [It’s] eas­ier to see how to tie it into your wardrobe. With this brand [ev­ery col­lec­tion] will be a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Hol­i­day idea,” Mul­hol­land says. Hol­i­day is a re­jec­tion of the idea that fash­ion has to con­stantly spin through cy­cles. In pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions, “I had to worry about all new shapes” ev­ery sea­son. The Hol­i­day of­fer­ing will be more con­sis­tent, with sta­ple shapes “so peo­ple can start to know how things will fit them, and the siz­ing ”.

The brand is not, how­ever, a ba­sics la­bel. The cuts may be sim­ple, but the pal­ette of cad­mium yel­low, mil­len­nial pink and scar­let, washed-out peach and fern green will frighten away any would-be KonMaris. And that’s be­fore you get to the prints. A yel­low hi­bis­cus with a ’90s raver smi­ley face in its ovary is the brand’s de­but mo­tif. Else­where, a buxom trout (“She’s pretty se­duc­tive”) re­clines on a “Hol­i­day Fish­ing Club” T-shirt – the club­house motto is “Off the hook”. There’s no sneer­ing irony to the work Mul­hol­land is do­ing – it comes from a place of af­fec­tion.

“I don’t want ev­ery­thing to be funny, but I like an el­e­ment of just – ‘not nor­mal’ … I start off with an orig­i­nal plan and then tweak ev­ery­thing to make it a lit­tle bit off. Be­cause I think, oth­er­wise, any­one could do it.”

Aloha shirts are a case in point. They’ve be­come very pop­u­lar again, very quickly, but few brands are ac­tively ex­per­i­ment­ing with prints. Mul­hol­land’s takes have elec­tric gui­tars with palm-tree heads. She ad­mits it feels strange to see an aes­thetic she’s al­ways mined hit the main­stream. “I’m ex­cited by it. But also, I see what’s go­ing on and it’s a bit hard to feel like you’re be­hind, when I was do­ing it be­fore…” She’s quick to ac­knowl­edge that she has no par­tic­u­lar claim on the re­laxed, sun­bleached sur­fwear, of course. “It’s al­ways been there.”

But she has no­ticed a few less-than-rig­or­ous takes. “It’s cool to see these surf labels come back in ... but you need to get the right peo­ple in … It has to be authen­tic. [Now] it’s not look­ing like it did when it was orig­i­nally so cool.”

Hol­i­day sits com­fort­ably within two con­tem­po­rary fash­ion move­ments: the hunger for more laid-back, escapist clothing, but also that for street-driven ap­parel such as hood­ies and T-shirts. The word for labels such as Hol­i­day is “mer­chy”: the ap­parel looks like mer­chan­dise for a band, not a brand. The first col­lec­tion even con­tains a T-shirt for fake band “The Hol­i­days”. Mer­chy fash­ion is more af­ford­able than de­signer la­bel clothing, but it’s much more valu­able than high street. The trend has found its zenith in Demna Gvasalia’s Paris-based la­bel Vete­ments, which sells $4000 dresses, but also in­spires young adults to wait in line for many hours at pop-ups, from Los An­ge­les to Seoul, in or­der to get their hands on highly lim­ited, much more af­ford­able T-shirts. The as­sump­tion is that pur­chasers have a gen­uine res­o­nance with, and af­fec­tion for, the brand they’re buy­ing. This means they need to be­lieve in the la­bel’s artistry and phi­los­o­phy. It has to seem authen­tic.

“I like be­ing able to have ‘Hol­i­day’ rather than my name,” Mul­hol­land says. “That’s an­other rea­son to do a new brand – be­cause I would never put my name on a T-shirt.”

To launch her brand, Mul­hol­land re­cruited a small army of her fash­ion­able friends. Some helped her dec­o­rate a pop-up shop on the stylish drag of Crown Street, in Syd­ney’s Surry Hills. For the fash­ion­week-timed open­ing, they turned it into “a Bar­bie Dream­house” with pink card­board walls, a large Hawai­ian back­drop and va­ca­tion tchotchkes such as snow globes and shells lit­tered through­out the space. Oth­ers con­trib­uted to an 86-page Hol­i­day pho­to­graphic zine. The zine took “all the peo­ple I work with a lot”, and asked them to “shoot the clothes in their own way”.

“I just made heaps of dif­fer­ent sets of the sam­ples, which you can never nor­mally do if it’s big ex­pen­sive pieces.” Then she sent them around the world. The zine fea­tures pho­to­graphs from Mex­ico, Los An­ge­les, Syd­ney and more, shot by es­tab­lished Aus­tralian stylists such as Imo­gene Bar­ron and promis­ing new­com­ers such as art pho­tog­ra­phers Prue Stent and Honey Long. Mul­hol­land de­signed and as­sem­bled the pub­li­ca­tion her­self.

“I think that’s what every­one’s start­ing to work out – we can do it our­selves. Kym Ellery is shoot­ing her own look­book. Every­one’s do­ing their own prints … We’re just all try­ing to find ways to sur­vive. Do­ing it your­self is one way to go.” This ap­plies to man­u­fac­tur­ing, too. Af­ter years of work­ing in Bali for her main line, Mul­hol­land de­cided to move the en­tire pro­duc­tion process on­shore to Aus­tralia. “Here ev­ery­thing’s un­der my con­trol. I’ve got in­dus­trial ma­chines back in my stu­dio for the first time in years.”

Of­ten the fash­ion that is cel­e­brated lo­cally has noth­ing about it that is ob­vi­ously Aus­tralian. Hol­i­day suf­fers from no such cul­tural cringe. Even when she’s mak­ing aloha shirts, Mul­hol­land’s im­agery owes more to Reg Mom­bassa and Richard Allen’s work for Mambo than clas­sic Hawai­ian brands such as Tori Richard. Ref­er­ences to Los An­ge­les, Honolulu, Seminyak and Mi­ami all melt to­gether into a universal “beach­side par­adise” look, but it’s Syd­ney, Surfers Par­adise and Mul­hol­land’s child­hood haunts of New­cas­tle and Ul­ladulla that al­ways win out. “The fad­ed­ness of the prints and things like that are kind of rem­i­nis­cent of my grand­par­ents’ car­a­van park.”

Lo­cally, independent bou­tiques are van­ish­ing or de­fault­ing on ac­counts. It has been e-com­merce – par­tic­u­larly from in­ter­na­tional cus­tomers look­ing to buy a slice of the Aus­tralian fan­tasy – that has sus­tained Mul­hol­land so far, and for Hol­i­day, on­line shop­pers will be even more im­por­tant. That Hol­i­day has a sense of place and char­ac­ter – backed by lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing – will, Mul­hol­land hopes, help the brand stand out.

“I like Aus­tralian stuff. You’ve just got to re­move your­self from the fact that [em­bar­rass­ment] is what Aus­tralian peo­ple think. But out­side of Aus­tralia, peo­ple aren’t fa­mil­iar with it. They just think it’s cool … Like how peo­ple from Paris don’t like the Eif­fel Tower. It’s still

• the Eif­fel Tower.”

T-shirts and swim­suits from Hol­i­day.

ALYX GOR­MAN is The Satur­day Pa­per’s fash­ion edi­tor.

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