It is not easy finding someone in the creative industry that understands your vision, and when a successful creative partnership is formed it will often last for years. Melbourne-based stylist Emily Ward and Geraldine Frater-Wyeth, director of Event Gallery, have this rare shared understanding.
The pair met while working on L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival in 2009 and have been collaborating ever since. Their latest project together is Frater-Wyeth’s upcoming Royal Botanic Runway; a fashion show set in the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens featuring designs by Australian labels Martin Grant, Collette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa and Aurelio Costarella. “I think that it’s really important in this industry that you have a bit of a shared vision and can work with people,” says Ward. “There’s nothing more powerful than when you are working in the same direction. It’s a pretty important recipe for success in a very tough industry.”
Ward began styling a decade ago when her friend Nadia Barbaro asked her to do some work for the 2002 community television show Sesame, which featured interviews with Melbourne labels Gorman, Obus and Alpha60, among others. “[Styling] wasn’t such an obvious and proliferated profession back then,” says Ward. “I just did a shoot and thought ‘oh, I love this. This is something I want to do.’” Her then-boyfriend (now husband) had a contact at The Age and she has been writing and styling for Fairfax ever since, regularly contributing to weekend supplements M Magazine, Life & Style and Sunday Life.
More recently, Ward has branched out into interior styling. This, along with her fashion background, is why Frater-Wyeth thought she was a perfect fit for the inaugural Royal Botanic Runway, which is as much about the iconic setting of the garden’s Guilfoyle’s Volcano as it is about the clothes. “I am first and foremost a fashion stylist but I guess my work with interiors has maybe changed my outlook a little bit,” says Ward. “Rather than it being an individual garment, and how that might fall on a runway, I started looking at the context in which a garment is shown – that is the whole point of interiors; that you’re looking at a whole space rather than a single entity within it. I kind of take that paradigm and use that when I’m looking at runway.”
Ward attends Paris Fashion Week each year and one of the things she loves most about the presentations is how designers make use of spaces. “Fashion Week in Paris is about using all of the amazing built landscapes and environments and city,” she says. “I think that’s why it’s so amazing – whether it’s a car park or a gilded palace, they use the buildings, and that can be so powerful and imbue so much more meaning to a collection…The idea of doing a runway in a bespoke environment is something I’ve been keen on doing a long time.” Attending Paris Fashion Week has also given Ward the to opportunity to get to know Martin Grant, who lives and shows there, and really familiarise herself with his work and ideas. “He trusts me,” says Ward, “which is a big thing I guess for him as an international designer that shows at the premium fashion week. It’s a big thing for him to pass the collection over. There has to be a lot of trust there.”
For Ward, research is a vital part of her styling process. She makes sure she reads as much as possible on designers so that when she puts their clothes in a new context, she honours their concepts. This is particularly important for the Royal Botanic Runway, which has four very different designers who are each known for their signature styles. “You don’t want to synthesise them and make them look all the same, you want them to sing and stand out on their own,” says Ward. “That’s where you need to come in with an overarching creative narrative that kind of ties all those subtle connections together.”
The Royal Botanic Runway is a special project for Ward. Having grown up in a family very in tune with nature, Ward spent a lot of her childhood exploring the gardens. “It’s a place I go to often. I find it extremely relaxing, and it’s a bit of a meditative space in the middle of the city,’ she says. “For me [this project] is just a great chance to work with some iconic Australian labels and present for the first time a really unique event, which is showcasing things that I love: flowers and fashion, and in that environment.”
The Royal Botanic Runway takes place January 30. Gates open at 4pm for a 5:30pm start. Tickets vary from general admission, to reserved runway seating with dinner packages available.