Emma Breschi is a model represented by Models 1 and a photographer based in London. Apart from being the face of Vivienne Westwood’s latest campaign – shot by none other than Juergen Teller – and having participated in campaigns of international brands such as Carhartt, she also advocates for womanhood and a positive body image. For her, being both behind and in front of the camera is equally enjoyable, making her job a career path, but also a passion. Today we speak with her about social media, nudity and self-image.
First of all, I’d like to ask you a bit about your origins and how you ended up being a referent in fashion. You grew up in Thailand but moved to England after some years, where you are mostly based nowadays. Do you think your multicultural background influenced your artistic and fashion skills and interests?
My parents are Italian and Filipino. I spent the majority of my childhood in Thailand, but I’ve lived in several countries across Europe and Asia growing up. I am very lucky to have had such a multicultural upbringing, and yes, it most definitely has influenced me as a creative. Travelling and diving into different cultures is my way of life. Even within Thailand, I had moved schools and cities multiple times.
Constantly living in change and experiencing new beginnings is something I’m used to. Growing up, I would always have a journal and write stories about my experiences or make up stories based on characters I’d imagined. Storytelling has always been something I enjoyed, whether it was in writing, music or performing in drama classes. So when I left Thailand to finish school in the United Kingdom, I discovered photography. It opened up my eyes and gave me a new perspective on the art of storytelling. When I found photography, my dream for the longest time was to be a portrait photographer for National Geographic, travel and discover the people of the world.
That seems exciting!
So in order for my dreams to come true, I spent my entire gap year (when I was eighteen) travelling around to places like Hong Kong and Scandinavia on my own to photograph whoever I came across. I then applied to University of the Arts London, hoping to get into London College of Communication and join their Documentary Photography degree, only to be rejected. My heart was broken and my dreams shattered before me. 
So what did you do then?
I had to turn to my other options, which included London College of Fashion (a university I literally thought wouldn’t bother with me as I had no fashion within my portfolio or any knowledge about fashion whatsoever). With very little hope, I went to my interview and met Mark Lebon. I sat down, simply said, “I know nothing about fashion, so all I can do is tell you the stories behind my photographs.”
To my surprise, I got accepted and that was the beginning of my fashion journey. I don’t know how, but I always end up doing the thing I never expected I’d be doing. Which is similar to how I grew up I guess, being thrown into environments I didn’t know but embraced to become part of. This is the exact same way as to how I became a model.
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You were discovered through Instagram, a platform where millions of users and pictures are added every day. What was your reaction like when Models 1 contacted you?
When I finished my degree at London College of Fashion, I had plans to assist, dive straight into the industry and prepared myself for the climb ahead of me as a young photographer. Never once in my life did I think I’d end up in front of the camera! Even as a kid, I never had a moment where I even dreamed about being a model. So when I was discovered on Instagram by Carhartt to feature in one of their Fall/Winter campaigns, my literal words were, “Is this a joke?” (Laughs). After that, I was recommended to go see a few agencies and I connected most with Models 1.
How has it been so far?
I went into this whole thing with absolutely no expectations. My agents were on the same page as me, in the sense we’d all agreed to not add any pressure and just see how it goes. I feel as though things happen for a reason, and even though it was never my plan to end up in fashion, I did. And now, almost two years in… I’ve been living an absolute dream, submerged in creativity and surrounded by some of the industry’s most creative minds. Sometimes, things happen in life and we don’t know how or why they did, but all I can do is express how grateful I am of the experiences I’ve had so far. I owe it to the people who believe in me and myself to just fully embrace this crazy beautiful world of fashion!
Although you seem to be mostly focused on your modelling career, you are also a photographer and filmmaker. Are you pursuing any projects these days? Anything we should be expectant for?
This past year and a half, modelling has taken up the majority of my time. However, because of modelling and the friends I’ve made whilst being a model, I have been given great opportunities to create as a photographer. I’ve done some editorials for some publications (such as Hunger Magazine and Wonderland), collaborated in projects with the brand House of Holland, and the most recent project I’m working on at the moment is in collaboration with the love of my life, Vivienne Westwood. I can’t wait to share it with you all really soon!
“I hope that my work will be able to help women and the industry see that we are all real women and we all have real bodies. No woman is any more or any less of a woman than the other. It’s about trying to be diverse and inclusive to all because that’s how it should be!”
Self-confidence and natural beauty are two terms that come to my mind when looking at your work. It is a perfect example of the switch that has been going on these past years in the fashion industry, where more ‘real bodies’ are portrayed, creating a necessary debate on beauty standards. How do you think your work can help democratise art and fashion?
I think naturally, as an outspoken individual, my focus is mostly on female identity, where I tend to explore key themes surrounding womanhood, body image and discovering the true meaning of ‘what it is to be a woman’.  I like to think the work that I do and the different things I talk about around various social constructs are insightful and liberating towards all women. The one thing that disappoints me with the ‘body positivity’ movement to a certain extent is how it has created a sort of divide between women with all the labelling, categorising and use of ‘real body/real woman’ terms.
Although I know the majority of the time these terms are coming from a good place, I think it doesn’t do much good for the movement whatsoever. I hope that my work will be able to help women and the industry see that we are all real women and we all have real bodies. No woman is any more or any less of a woman than the other. It’s about trying to be diverse and inclusive to all because that’s how it should be! We are all different, in terms of our backgrounds, image, bodies and very own livelihood. The most beautiful thing, in my opinion, is a positively healthy person in their own body.
You’ve worked with Vivienne Westwood, Dazed, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, among many others. Your name seems to be everywhere! But you never dreamed of being a ‘fashion girl’ or working in the industry, as you were telling me before. So you didn’t apply to agencies or did previous work to get where you are – not that you haven’t worked or keep working now that you’re in it, of course. Now that you’re here though, have you set new professional and personal goals for yourself? Anything you’d like to achieve now that you’re inside the fashion industry?
I’m sure by now you can tell that I’m very much a ‘go with the flow’ kind of person. I don’t really look too far ahead into my future because I honestly never know where my life is going to take me. I enjoy being both behind and in front of the camera, so I’m intrigued by how I might be able to take that further in my career and life. I want to tell stories, create imagery that speaks out and challenges the status quo. I believe if I continue to challenge myself, my future will be bright. Perhaps, I’ll be making and directing feature films alongside many talented people within the industry.
Also, what would your advice be for young people wanting to work as models? Is ‘white and skinny’ still the norm, and people outside this standard must work harder to achieve their goal?
Vivienne once told me, “Forget yourself and focus on what really matters to you”. That’s the best advice really. If you put it into a different perspective, you’ll understand that being the most beautiful person aesthetically doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be the most successful model. I think we have to accept that the industry is challenging, some of us do have to work harder, but ‘hard work’ applies to us all no matter who you are. Having dreams is important, but dreams are nothing if you’re not willing to work hard in turning them into realities. I try to let go of my self-doubts and focus on being a good person and doing well in the work that I do.
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What are your style referents? Who do you look up to?
I look up to a lot of people that are important to me, from all of my friends, the creatives within the industry, to just people who are unapologetically true to themselves. I’m always excited to meet people, hear their stories, get to know their character, sense of humour and imagination. It all depends on who I come across that day, but I’m inspired by people from all walks of life, whether it’s the guy with amazing dreads who delivers my Amazon Prime packages every other day, to the women of Jumbo’s Clown Room (who are absolutely the most mesmerising women I have ever seen), or the people closest to me like my friends.
As said previously, you’re also pursuing an artistic career as a photographer. How do you combine both professions/passions? Do you feel they influence each other?
For me personally, photography and modelling go hand in hand. Based on my experiences, they have definitely complemented one another and influenced me into being better in both roles. I can honestly say that becoming a model has allowed me to see things from a different point of view and made me a better photographer because of it. In order to create something, you have to understand the importance of all the different roles involved; everyone plays a part in creating something.
As creatives, we have to respect and appreciate the importance of our fashion designers, set designers, stylists, makeup artists, beauty teams, designers, production teams, assistants and all the people involved in any creative project. Without one another, we couldn’t exist in this industry. We have to inspire and collaborate with one another in order to push boundaries in creativity. If I hadn’t started modelling, I don’t think I would be the image-maker that I am today or aspiring to be.
The debate on social media and the effects on society, mostly teenagers and young adults, has become a worrying discussion on how our lives revolve around the images and lives of others, to the point where many people are feeling discomfort, mental health problems and bad attitudes towards their minds and bodies. Have you ever felt the need to shut it all down? What is your personal experience with working with social media?
Social media exists, that’s something we can’t control. However, we can control how we utilise it and spend our time on it. I don’t allow social media to take over my wellbeing, I use it a lot for the work that I do, but I don’t let it live my life for me (if that makes sense?). Everything in life for me is about balance. I treat social media as a tool that allows me to connect and engage with people on a creative level, but when it’s time to live my life, I put the phone down. You begin to realise that you can’t just live your life staring at a screen and scrolling through a feed all hours of the day.
There is nothing wrong with capturing/sharing moments and memories, but what is a photo (or post) if you don’t even know what the story behind is? I think social media is a great thing when used with the right intentions because it allows us to communicate and push for positive change (when used properly and safely). However, because almost everyone and anyone can use it, I see the dangers in it. There is danger in everything in life and what we do, so it’s down to the choices we make as individuals.
“I want to tell stories, create imagery that speaks out and challenges the status quo.”
That’s very true.
I have no control over what other people say or do towards me on social media, but I have the power to control how I receive or deal with it myself. If for whatever reason one can’t handle that, then there’s nothing wrong in knowing that social media isn’t for you. I just don’t allow other people to make me feel any less or any more because I choose to be secure in myself (even more so on social media). I made the choice to be on social media, putting myself out there and allowing people into my life (online), and doing that means I’ve had to accept that I might not be everyone’s cup of tea. So if someone is so bothered by what I do, say or post, then I’m willing to have a conversation about it. But at the end of the day, if you’re just being a hater, that really is not my problem.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about Instagram and censorship, on nudity and the #FreeTheNipple movement. You’ve been a victim of it, seeing pictures being deleted because of their ‘explicit’ content, while they were only portraying your body. What is your take on nudity and social media?
I explore nudity for myself to promote positive change in body image and not for the validation of others (especially men). It took my entire childhood to try to understand the importance of my body and what it is to be a woman. My nipples aren’t explicit or the problem. The naked body is part of being human; the body is something we shouldn’t be treating as explicit but as something we admire and respect. I think nudity isn’t something we should be ashamed of or judged by. The naked body isn’t dangerous. It’s those who objectify and respond negatively towards it that are!
If you’re exploring nudity in a positive and respectful way, which empowers society and yourself, I don’t understand why we can’t share that. Young girls and boys already feel insecure about their bodies because of what they’re being told or experiencing in today’s society, so if my imagery helps them with their own lack of confidence, I know I’m doing something right. So again, my nudity isn’t the problem, it’s people creating such a stir behind it that do.
What about censorship?
I understand why we have censorship; I agree that everyone’s genitals should be kept censored for obvious reasons online (the children), but it’s just a shame that a woman’s nipples are considered inappropriate, yet a man’s nipples are not. Just proves that those who sexualise bodies are the problem, not our actual bodies.
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