From Matamata to Milan, our Autumn 2017 cover model, Emily Baker, talks us through her career trajectory and the forces that continue to drive her.
FQ: What is your current living situation?
Emily Baker: Out of a suitcase! I’ve been living in New York City for the past five years, on and off, but I travel a lot so need to be really flexible, and things often happen at the last minute so I’ve always got to be ready to go. I still can’t seem to pack!
Where did you grow up and what was life like before you were discovered?
I grew up in Matamata. Before being discovered, I was just a normal teenager who was going to high school. I spent a lot of time in the Coromandel, fishing.
At 17, you went from being a small-town teenager to an overnight success on the world modelling stage. When you think back to that time, what goes through your head?
Firstly, just how much of a whirlwind it was. Going straight from Matamata to the Big Apple, I was really naive. I had no idea that modelling was even a career option. Looking back now, it actually makes me laugh. I think a lot about how grateful I was (and still am) to have such a strong support system. I was lucky to be there, to have an opportunity like that, and to have my family supporting me through it all. Dad came around to all four cities with me [New York, Milan, London, Paris] for my first Fashion Month. I was a zombie because of the lack of sleep — parts of it I don’t even remember, and Dad still tells me stories I don’t have any recollection of. At one point my mum also travelled 48 hours to join us. Without my family and friends, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
On the cover of Australian Harper’s Bazaar; Walking for (left to right) Chanel, Max Mara, Fendi and Carolina Herrera.
How have the past five or six years changed you, and how have you stayed the same?
I’ve learnt a lot. Travelling and spending time in foreign countries alone certainly changes you. I grew up extremely fast; matured from all the life experiences I was having. It’s shaped me from being a girl to becoming a woman. I’ve come out of my shell, and learnt a lot about myself. I value time more and appreciate home. I’m still very independent and my passion for photography hasn’t changed. If anything, I’ve become even more passionate about it and it’s something I want to do more of. Friends and family keep me grounded, but at the end of the day, I’m still Em and nothing will change that.
Tell us about your passion for photography…
I’ve always had an eye for photography, but working as a model inspired me to take it up as a hobby. I enjoy doing it on my days off. When I’m home or around family and friends, I annoy them by taking photos. I like to shoot very raw, mostly black and white portraits, landscapes and textures. I love using film and capturing those in-between moments. There is something special about an untouched image, not being able to fix the imperfections. Photography is purely a passion project for me, I don’t have any formal training but I’m always learning something new on shoots. I am loving the learning process — it’s something I’m excited about. It’s actually almost scarier for me to be behind the camera as opposed to in front of it, but it’s exciting too! Having an understanding of both sides has given me really valuable insight. The fashion industry is full of creative and driven people.
Are there any in particular who inspire you?
Not one person in particular. I can certainly acknowledge someone who’s incredibly talented, but my sources of inspiration change every day. Often it’s not a person but a place, or piece of music. Photography plays a huge part — those famous Peter Lindbergh pictures, for example.
Beautiful clothes and flawless makeup are your work uniform, so to speak, but are you a fashion and beauty obsessive when you’re off the clock, or do you prefer a laid-back look?
Both. I’m fashion-obsessed and love keeping up with the trends. My style is dark, elegant, very masculine but also relaxed and most importantly, comfortable. I don’t wear much makeup outside of work, but then again, no one makes you look better than the talented hair and makeup teams I’ve been lucky enough to work with. At the end of the day, though, nothing beats coming home to my dressing gown.
The model from Matamata has appeared in shoots for Russian Vogue; and with Abbey Lee Kershaw in Gucci’s autumn/winter 2011-2012 campaign.
What’s a key purchase you’ll be making this season?
I’ll maybe invest in a good leather jacket — or a film camera. I could also use a new wetsuit for spear fishing in New Zealand.
What beauty indulgence can you not live without?
Does salt water count? It cures everything.
From walking international runways, to fronting a Gucci campaign and shooting with Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue, you’ve had some major career moments over the years. What have been the biggest highlights?
I couldn’t pick one. Every one of those moments has taught me something. I’m just lucky to be a part of the industry, lucky to do something I love, and be a part of something creative.
What has been the most challenging moment of your career to date and how did you push through it?
It’s all been a challenge, from the start until now. I guess when I was starting out, having no clue about the industry, I had to take every day with a grain of salt and the only way I was going to learn was just to go with the flow and be a part of it. I travelled to four cities in one month, ran around to castings and fittings and operated on less than two hours of sleep a day. It was crazy. But I’m still challenged, and I still make sacrifices and have to be flexible. Modelling is tough. It’s perceived as glamorous but no one sees all the hard work and time that goes into it. They only ever see the final product. Some of the most hard-working people I know are in this industry, and I think you have to be in order to survive. And although my job comes with a lot of responsibility, I love what I do. I’m humbled by and grateful for all the challenges because they only make me grow. I was raised within a strong family — the Kiwi ‘you’ll be right’ attitude was always around and has stuck with me through everything.
You were a staple of the international Fashion Week circuit for several seasons, but in recent years your focus seems to have shifted towards editorial. What do you enjoy more and why?
They are both completely different, and each has its own aspects that I enjoy. But I like that with editorial, I can become a character and no day is ever the same. It’s also a nice way to express myself, acting in silence, in a way.
Emily says the secret to a great photo is the talented and creative people she gets to work with. Harman Grubisa dress, $349. Taylor belt, $130. Stylist’s own rings.
What’s your secret to getting a great photo?
There is no secret. I believe it’s about working with passionate and talented people. Great work is produced when everyone comes together and creates something as a team. I’m only one piece of the puzzle. Being inspired and passionate and loving what I do just makes it a hell of a lot easier.
What’s the best work perk you’ve ever received?
The greatest perk of my job is that it allows me to travel. I’ve shot at some of the dreamiest locations and I’ve seen places I would have never dreamt of seeing. There is nothing better than exploring a new city and embracing a completely different culture to your own.
You’re at the airport and your plane is delayed. How do you entertain yourself?
I’m really used to this! I always come prepared when I’m flying. I take snacks, I’ll read a book, look at a magazine, listen to music. And there’s always friends and family awake somewhere in the world who I can catch up with on FaceTime.
What’s your favourite city in the world to kill time in?
There really is no place like home.
What was your New Year’s resolution?
I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions. Why wait all year when you could be doing it now?
What are your words to live by?
Attitude is everything. I can, I will.
Words: Phoebe Watt
Photos: Marissa Findlay
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 issue of Fashion Quarterly.