For the past 25 years, Emma Trask, who originally hails from Waitārere Beach, Horowhenua, has been slaying it as a stylist in the US, working with A-list celebrities including Scarlett Johansson, Beyonce, Cameron Diaz, Kiera Knightly, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Jared Leto and Carrie Underwood.
Aside from making her clients look good, her mantra as a stylist is to create an individual look, and the same concept threads through her newest venture, The Chrysalis Lab in Malibu, Los Angeles.
Trask’s upcycle atelier is a unique art studio-meets-retail space where she and her team transform vintage clothing into wearable art. The kind you want to wear.
She also works with pieces from her clients’ wardrobes – things no longer worn, stained or torn – and upcycles them into something new, fabulous and unique. Her mission is to foster sustainability and conscious consumption while celebrating individuality and self-expression.
It’s a model and way of thinking of how fashion should be, believes Trask, which is opposite to the current model where trends are often spawned by what celebrities wear and mass produced.
“By aspiring to be like these celebrities, consumers are all wearing the same thing, which is missing the point,” says Trask. “For me, pieces lose their specialness when they get mass produced. I’ve always liked unique things and I saw an opportunity to create that and educate people that you don’t need to keep buying and disposing, and buying and disposing. You can rework them.”
Trask runs practical workshops from The Chrysalis Lab, too, hosted by artisans to teach people how to upcycle their own garments at home. A recent workshop, Bling It Up, by experienced rhinestone artist Randall Byers showed participants how to upcycle items from sunglasses, clothing and home décor using rhinestones and imagination.
“Chrystalisation means transformation,” explains Trask, who began upcycling in her teens. A big influence was her mum’s friend who was an artist and amazing sewer. “I used to shop at the Salvation Army and together we would recreate these things and that’s where I learned the artistry of it. She always gave me the freedom to think anything was possible and that has stuck with me my whole career.”
Another influence growing up was seeing her aunts spin yarn and make homespun jerseys. Trask doesn’t knit herself but works with a network of knitters to get the deconstructed look she wants “because they are used to following a pattern and it’s freestyle, there is no pattern”.
Other techniques she employs, with the help of her network of artisans around the world, include crochet, rope art, macramé and sashiko stitching, working with homespun wool, upcycled sari yarn and denim, and banana silk yarn. She also collects costume jewellery, cushions and blankets to have on hand if something will benefit from patching.
A gorgeous example of Trask’s “chrystalisation” is a cream vintage Dior men’s sweater (pictured) that a boyfriend gave her years ago. It had some stains on the arms which she removed and replaced with billowing knitted butterfly sleeves (pictured, left).
And gone are the days when she used to stress about a garment getting damaged – like when a photographer suggests the model jump into a pool – she knows that if something gets damaged, she can fix it. “That attitude is moving away from, ‘oh something’s ruined, I have to get rid of it’, to ‘you can recreate it’.
Just like in the movies, Trask got her lucky break in New York, after accompanying her Kiwi boyfriend to New York in 1997 when he landed a job in finance in The Big Apple.
Initially she struggled to make it work in the field she knew best – event marketing. With all the rules and liability issues, it just wasn’t fun so she started working as a personal shopper.
Then a chance meeting with a pair of fashion stylists, who were setting up in business, was her in. One worked with photographer Annie Leibovitz and both had worked at Vogue. She helped them set up office and worked for them for a year before going out on her own.
Back then, celebrity styling was a new thing. “It used to be models who were consistently on the cover of magazines and the celebrities were in the inside, and they’d fly to New York to be in a magazine. Now everyone comes here to LA for them,” she laughs.
When she moved to Los Angeles five years later, the timing couldn’t have been better. There weren’t many stylists on the ground and she was in hot demand. And it hasn’t slowed down. Most recently she styled Carrie Underwood’s Vegas residency as well as her music video: “It’s been a great career and I never thought I’d be doing it for 20 plus years, but there’s just so many facets to it, from music videos, advertising, red carpet, stage shows, it’s unlimited.”
Currently Trask chooses to only work with the Grammy award-winning country singer, and The Chrysalis Lab, where she’s also putting to good use her collection of vintage garments that she has amassed over the years. And she doesn’t angst about cutting into and upcycling designer garments.
Nature is also a big inspiration. “I live at the beach and being in nature allows me to feel creative and things kind of come to me… it’s like a feeling.”