Emma Trask, the new Malibu's Ambassador of Slow and Green Fashion
From New Zealand to Malibu. After spending a few years in the Big Apple where she moved in the '90s to start a successful career as a fashion and celebrity stylist, Emma Trask has finally found her happiness in Los Angeles, like lots of her talented countrymen. The winner of a Hollywood Style Award for her work on the TV series Melrose Place's reboot in 2009 and long-time stylist of American Country Singer Carrie Underwood, is also a talented Fashion designer, founder of her own brand called The Chrysalis Lab. Since 2021, she is the proud owner of a Malibu-Based innovative Upcycling atelier named after her brand. A one-of-a-kind shopping place with a special focus on creativity and sustainability. Let's meet a talented creative woman, mum of two teenagers, on a mission: bringing new sustainable and Chrysalized vibes into the fashion industry and fighting against the waste. A committed Californian woman who is trying her best to show the way to reduce, recycle and reuse. Because it's never too late to make a difference.
By Hélène Battaglia
In the late '90s having moved to NYC from NZ with a boyfriend who was in finance I ended up helping him and his finance peers with their nightlife wardrobes. I was working in event marketing at the time but wanted a change and a friend suggested I turn this personal shopping I was doing into a business. I originally went the corporate image consulting route but then was by chance introduced to a fashion and celebrity stylist who had been at Vogue. I assisted her and another stylist she shared an office with who did all of Annie Leibovitz shoots at the time. I ran their office and assisted them both for about a year and learnt the styling ropes made designer/showroom, magazine, and photographer connections then went out on my own.
How did you become a renowned fashion and celebrity stylist?
After freelance fashion styling in NYC for a couple of years I had a desire to move to LA and live by the beach. It happened to be a very strategically timed move career wise as it was right around the time the celebrity in fashion explosion began. Celebrities started replacing models on the covers of fashion magazines and most of these covers were being shot in LA. Having good connections with all the designers/showrooms and magazines in NYC made me an excellent choice to style these shoots and a lot of the A List actors being shot didn’t have personal stylists like they do today so I accumulated quite the celebrity fashion editorial portfolio which enabled me to get more and more styling work out here.
Among all the celebrities you’ve styled, you have a close and long collab with Singer Carrie Underwood. How did it start?
I first styled Carrie not long after she had won American Idol for an Entertainment Weekly cover shoot in Nashville. She had a local stylist at the time but really liked the pieces I pulled for her and how the editorial came out so her management started booking me on advertising jobs with her when she was in LA. I eventually started to do all her music videos and album packaging shoots and related press events. I love collaborating with Carrie as she is not only obviously incredibly talented but she is true to herself in all aspects of her life and career. And being a style icon is no exception. We most recently collaborated on her Las Vegas Residency of which I am very proud and honored to have been a part of.
When did you came up with the idea of opening your own atelier?
Last year as my brand was growing quickly I realized I needed an actual studio space to design from. I discovered and fell in love with an open and airy space with beautiful courtyards set in the trees in Malibu, not far from my home, that used to be a popular sushi restaurant. Throughout my styling career and in my years costume designing TV shows I had noticed people were intrigued by the process and always wanted to see behind the scenes. So I decided to make my studio work space open to the public by retailing my brand and featuring other like minded upcycling and sustainable designers/artisans. Having just launched my custom service online, it also made sense to have a physical space where clients could come and be a part of our upcycling design process in person.
I came up with the name for my brand The Chrysalis Lab as it represents transformation and experimentation. Our upcycling process transforms existing pieces and gives them a new life much like the metamorphis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. We are constantly experimenting with new ways of doing this by applying different artisan techniques to the garments such as knitting, crochet, rope art, and macrame which is where the Lab part comes in. On a deeper level, I believe that wearing unique one-of-a-kind pieces that are representative of your own individual style, can be a powerful transformative experience and bring a sense of joy to the wearer and those around them much like the feeling you get when you see a beautiful butterfly flutter by.
What is it exactly about?
Our Upcycle Atelier is a unique art studio-meets-retail space where customers can bring in their garments to be upcycled or “Chrysalized” as we like to call it. In addition to retailing our gallery collection of creatively curated vintage pieces which have been chrysalized we also feature sustainable eco-friendly homewares from Ecoist.World and showcase a rotation of other designers and artisans who are doing interesting things in the upcycling and sustainable realm. We also offer experiential workshops and thoughtful experiences that aim to bring beauty, appreciation, and self-expression. We recently launched a regular series of Events called Taste + Makers which aims to enhance the sense of community in Malibu, and provide us with the opportunity to let people know what we are all about and show them how they can literally do their piece for a more sustainable fashion future.
Our custom CoLab service aims to give new life to our customers own garments and provides them with the opportunity to participate first hand in our transformative upcycling process. Currently I consult directly with each client to reimagine their piece and my team of artisans execute the transformation plan.
On a personal level, I love Malibu and it has been my home for the past 8 years however I never really spent as much time here as I would have liked to due to my hectic styling schedule. Having a studio space so close to my home is such a blessing and allows me to spend more time in and really feel more a part of this amazing community. From a business perspective, I feel the Malibu market is less fast fashion driven than many other areas in LA and that the people who live here are connected with and concerned about the environment so therefore would be more open to a new and unique sustainably driven retail experience. I also saw an opportunity to create a space in Malibu to showcase and inspire local artisans of which we are constantly discovering there are many and this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of opening our Upcycle Atelier here.
When did you start caring for sustainable fashion?
Having worked in fashion for over 20 years I have witnessed first hand the amount of waste that amasses, not to mention the product pollution created in order to feed the ravenous fashion industry lifecycle. I think the pause of the world in 2020, during the pandemic, allowed me to reassess my role in the fashion industry. My belief is we don’t really need to keep creating new fashion at the levels we are and a more sustainable approach would be to reinvent what we already have instead of it ending up in landfills. The ever increasingly popularity of vintage shopping shows there is a movement by consumers towards a more sustainable approach to fashion retail but I also understand vintage shopping is not for everyone and people still wish to be inspired with new design. Transforming vintage pieces through artistic design, I feel, satisfies this desire. Currently I have chosen to focus on knitting, crochet, macrame, Sashiko mending and rope artistry as the main means of transformation at The Chrysalis Lab but the creative possibilities in this space really are endless. I’m constantly inspired by designers and brands who are coming up with new ways of upcycling. To me, this kind of work is much more interesting than the traditional fashion process and bringing a much needed breath of fresh air into the fashion industry.
Who are the members of the Chrysalis Lab’s community?
Our community is made up of like minded artisans, designers, clients who are interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle and appreciate unique, beautiful and thoughtfully created design.
What can we find visiting the Chrysalis Lab?
Everyday is different at The Chrysalis Lab, vintage pieces are being reimagined in our studio to feature as part of our gallery collection; clients are coming in for consultations as part of our Custom CoLab service; guests are wandering in and being inspired by and shopping our gallery collection and eco-friendly homewares. We tend to find guests like to stay longer than is typical in a normal retail environment, as we have created such a warm and inviting indoor outdoor space and they are usually very interested in learning more about our unique approach to fashion and how they can participate to create a more sustainable lifestyle.
Among all your experiences as a stylist, in 2009, you worked on the set of Nineties’ famous TV series ‘Melrose Place’ reboot. Is there any anecdote you would love to share with us?
I do remember spending a lot of time and effort convincing the Executive Producers to let me put Ella, the lead character, in thigh high boots when they were having a big moment on all the runways. They had some very old fashioned “Pretty Woman” influenced notions about this type of boot and I had to argue they were soon to become very mainstream which they did and Ella rocked them on the show at just the right moment. I was always pushing the fashion envelope when costume designing for TV and ,in this case, it paid off as I won a Hollywood Style Award for my work on this show.
3 tips to become a good stylist
1. Your number one focus should be on understanding your client. To be a good stylist you not only need to be creative and work hard but you need to have a certain level of skill in psychology. I believe everyone has a style unique to them and it’s a stylist job to help a client harness and express this individuality.
2. Stay informed but be inspired by things outside of the fashion realm also so you are not just following trends but creating them. And if you can’t find the right piece, reimagine something vintage to create a look that no one has ever seen before.
3. Constantly update and expand your network of designers, showrooms and artisans so you are always bringing something new and unique to the table when styling clients. That way you will ensure you will be invited back!