Tea Parties and Soirees

The 15-minute hike from Kilburn Park tube station to Emma Summerton‘s new apartment was a walk down memory lane. Only my memory didn’t serve me as well as I thought it would or should. During my post-graduate year in London, I lived at the very top of Abbey Road on the first floor of a white townhouse and then moved down the street to a ground floor garden apartment on West End Lane for the last couple of months. But as I walked past the houses, I couldn’t make out with certainty which ones I had lived in. Granted it was 14 years ago, but the 10 months I spent in London were the most forming and definitive of my life. At the risk of sounding corny, I can honestly say I not only discovered myself but also a freedom that would become the driving force behind all my future decisions. London changed everything. But enough about me.

Emma has been unpacking all week. She moved down from Swiss Cottage – not too far – with over a decade worth of accumulated stuff in boxes. Most of her things have already found a spot in their new home but the frames, mirrors and the large dining table she ordered – new but old – have yet to be sorted and could end up messing with the feng shui she created. The second bedroom that she had imagined or hoped to be much larger and the future home of her vast vintage collection, has been taken over by towers of black suitcases with photo gear. The coat rack has temporarily moved into the luscious boudoir bedroom but overall the second floor apartment is turning into a cozy, bohemian utopia. “I have had a lot of help from friends thank god,” she says as she sinks into her colorful couch, “before and after the move, with many tea parties and drinks nights during the process. I kept opening boxes saying “Oh my god’ there’s MORE coats???? MORE shoes??? How can this be!! How many of me are there!!! Haha!”

Looking at Emma, you’d think she’s a stylist rather than a fashion photographer. On set she wears nothing but black with boots, but outside of work she’s a vision of iconoclast perfection. From her Piers Atkinson hats, down to her grandmother’s handbags, down to her vintage Terry de Havillands shoes, she does not leave an inch of her look to coincidence. Her mile long Irish red hair, romantic frocks and artistic life style emulate a sexy Rapunzel.  “I LOVE vintage!” she admits. “And I get attached to things. I’m very sentimental.” She doesn’t regret any faux-pas purchases because “it’s all part of the journey and part of the fun of dressing up. Making fantastic fashion mistakes is part of discovering your style and in a way yourself too”. And she doesn’t throw out anything, hence the bulging closet. “My friends think I’m verging on being a crazy hoarder but I think it’s OK because it’s ‘organised hoarding’ haha!”

At 41, Emma Summerton’s a far way from the beach in Wollongong, Australia where she grew up. She abandoned her horse, surf board and wild child oats when she was 16, to explore the wider world. After assisting in Sydney for 6 years she ended up in London – she has a British passport – and has since moved to the top shelf of fashion photographers. She’s shot everyone from Gisele for i-D to Karen Elson for W but her most memorable shoot was her first for Italian Vogue because “it was the only magazine I ever wanted to shoot for.” Once a hairdresser’s apprentice, she’s now one of the most sought-after and exclusive photographers on the planet. And I had the honor and absolute pleasure of shooting her at her new home. “Many of my friends were surprised I was doing this. I HATE having my picture taken. I find it nerve wrecking, but it was fun with you. It just felt like hanging out with a girlfriend, trying on clothes and taking a few pics.”


September 28, 2011

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