Emma’s fashion empire was born out of a love of Cleveland’s industrial heritage, with her debut handbag collection taking to the stores of London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo and beyond. Luxe checks in…


I started my journey into the fashion world…

at Prior Pursglove College in Guisborough. I fell in love with textiles and instantly knew I wanted to follow that dream.

During my time there it was clear that in order to get into a good university I would need to do a one-year Art Foundation course.

I did this at CCAD (Cleveland College of Art and Design), which was absolutely amazing.

I met some of my closest friends there, who all had the same interest in the arts.

CCAD was the first time I was able to experiment – nothing was incorrect. I then went on to my undergrad at the University of Westminster. It was there where I fully crossed over from textiles to fashion design.

While at university, I completed three vital internships at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Tom Ford and Stella McCartney. Once I graduated, the designers at Preen offered me a job.

It was during my time at Preen when I decided to create my own brand…

I learnt a lot at Preen. I worked on the show pieces, as well as in the press, sales, e-com, social media and production teams.

During this time, I was debating going back to university to work on a master’s degree, but after speaking with my course leader, Andrew Groves, he encouraged me to think about what it was I wanted to achieve.

Ultimately, it was to have my own brand; so I took a chance, found a sales team in Paris and debuted a small 12-look collection for AW16.

My first collection gained interest from Italian Vogue…

naming me as one of their Vogue Talents for the season, which also caught the attention on the BFC (British Fashion Council).

Season after season, the ready-to-wear collections continued to grow, and by SS18, I was on the London Fashion Week schedule with solo presentations.

This was a huge achievement for me!

Eventually, I turned my focus to handbags…

and after gaining recognition from industry experts, Paper Mache Tiger approached me and I decided to streamline my collections to focus mainly on the handbag range.

The bag, which has been in every collection since the brand launched, has now become the ‘Emma Charles signature piece’ and I couldn’t be happier with where it’s at, as I’m now sat next to the brands I have aimed for since 2016.

My main inspiration for Emma Charles is…

1920s and 1930s menswear-meets-femininity. I loved the little grab bags of that era. Architecture, art and the culture also really sing to me.

When choosing new detailing or colourways, I always look to 20s and 30s style. I think this is mainly because it was such a modern movement in history.

Teesside’s iconic industrial landscape is evident in my designs…

SS18 was the first solo presentation I had on the London Fashion Week schedule.

My brief from the BFC was to create a digital element to showcase the collection. It was a very vague brief, but it gave me the opportunity to present a personal element. I saw it as the chance to show the audience where I am from.

The South Gare is an area of breakwater at the mouth of the River Tees in Redcar – I have always found this place beautiful – and it has always reminded me of home.

After moving away from the North East, I’ve found that when I come back, it’s more and more attractive. The steelworks closures in recent years has only drawn me closer to the subject.

The blast furnace now sits on the coastline as a ghost overlooking us.

It’s very powerful – particularly to a local person. It’s important for me to showcase the beauty I see in this area – and the industrial landscape is a big part of that.

I am very proud to be from the North East…

Generally, we are very hardworking people, and I think that is evident in what we do. Even though I have moved away from the area, I have a strong work ethic and I fully believe that I have my upbringing to thank for that.

Next season, you’ll see…

more emphasis on embellished variations of my classic.

There’s a lot of research that goes into putting together a new collection…

I always start with a wander around inspiring places – to help trigger my imagination.

In the past, I have drawn lots of inspiration from historical houses such as Eltham Palace, The Homewood and Charleston Farmhouse – all buildings from the 20s or 30s.

My mood board comes to life when I try to imagine the parties that would have once been held in such places.

I look at the colours, prints, carpets, wall designs and ceramics.

Once I have the inspiration, the development begins with myself and the factory I work with in Spain, a three- hour drive from Malaga up into the mountains. I spend a lot of time here with the artisans to perfect the design.

Once the product and look-book is perfected, I then take the collection to Paris for sales during Paris Fashion Week. Here is where I meet with buyers from all over the world.

Last season saw the brand being picked up by some of the world’s best stores…

and it still feels a little surreal! Currently in the UK, we’re exclusively stocked in Selfridges.

They have positioned the brand within the area they call ‘the classics’ at their Oxford Street store, right as you step through the door. With a footfall of 250,000 people every month, it truly is an amazing opportunity to build brand awareness.

Other locations include Printemps in Paris, Rinascente in Milan, The Webster in Miami and Los Angeles, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, Stunning Lure in Tokyo, Market in Dallas and Republique in Chengdu.

London is my base at the moment, but the North East will always be home…

My family are still up in the North East and there’s nothing I love more than exploring what’s new in the area.

I love meeting friends for a lovely catch up – one of my favourite spots being The Impeccable Pig in Sedgefield.

You can’t beat a day out in Whitby. I make sure I visit every time I am home. I’m a massive antique- lover and Whitby is my favourite place to search for treats and trinkets.

I also love to walk the dog along the headlands in Marske and along the beach in Saltburn. I also love the independent shops such as LillianDaph, Grasers and Hey Ho Print Co.

My three Luxe things in life…

Le Labo Santal 33 Eau de parfum, Chanel Rouge Allure Lip Colour and 100% silk dresses.

emmacharles.co.uk, Photography by Ben Benoliel benbenoliel.com