How one Irish woman became the creative director for one of the biggest DJs in LA
If you’ve been in a bar or at a house party at any stage over the last six years, you’ve probably heard songs by chart-topping American electronic artist ZHU. But did you know, the award-winning music producer and singer’s righthand woman is a fashion graduate from Ireland?
If you ask Emmy Slattery how she ended up in LA working alongside the Faded and Cocaine Model singer, she will tell you herself: “I moved here almost eight years ago with a one year visa, a suitcase and that cliché ‘American dream.'”
With the determination to combine her love for fashion and music, she parlayed her passion for both into a role which sees her flexing her creative muscles on everything from designing the top DJ’s merchandise and stage costumes to storyboarding music videos.
The Malahide-native (who, no biggie, has had her designs featured in Forbes, Billboard and Flaunt magazine) tells IMAGE about her career trajectory; from giving up a steady job as a designer for Dunnes Stores to work alongside music’s coolest names, and why her dad will always be a reliable collaborator.
Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion?
I was always obsessed with art and drawing as a kid. I used to draw pictures and send them to Irish musicians and performers (cringe!) so I guess I was always fascinated by fame too. Both Twink and Neil Jordan were just a few lucky names who received my early work. Once I realised that I was spending far more time drawing details on clothing, I discovered that fashion was a thing. I didn’t learn to sew until much later. Growing up though, I wholeheartedly believed that I was destined to be a soccer player. A couple of years ago I designed a soccer jersey for ZHU in the FIFA 18 video game so that was a nice 360 moment!
In a nutshell, what do you do in your role working with ZHU?
I have worked with ZHU for five years or so. My role is really to ensure that the fashion component in his brand is unique and at a level that pushes boundaries within electronic dance music and beyond. ZHU has a very clear vision of how you should feel when listening to his music, whether it be listening to a song at home or at a live show experience. I play with creating clothing and content that amplifies this, overall ensuring all of the creative elements in the brand are cohesive.
What was your most formative work experience?
One summer when I was still in college, I interned with a London-based stylist called Nova Dando. Nova worked mostly with music acts such as La Roux, M.I.A. and The Klaxons. Shadowing her totally opened my eyes up to being able to fuse music with fashion, versus working with a strictly fashion brand.
What was your first ‘real job’?
Literally a few days after I finished at NCAD, I started my first real job as an Assistant Womenswear Designer at Dunnes Stores. I realised quite quickly that I wasn’t suited to working in a typical office environment. Despite what others thought I should do, I handed in my notice and moved to London with my mates from college, believing in an unpaid internship with one of my favourite designers — Gareth Pugh — over a job with a salary.
What was the most invaluable thing you learned early on in your career?
To go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. And that hard work always pays off…. although not always financially at the start!
Can you name a favourite project you worked on?
Last spring, we put out a call to ZHU’s fanbase to send us their old festival wristbands (which many people collect as memories) to donate to a secret project we were working on. Hundreds of fans from all over the world sent us their wristbands, along with stories of how much ZHU’s music meant to them and how excited they were to be part of the creation. The goal was always to make a jacket for ZHU to wear at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. When the jacket was revealed on stage it was a truly epic moment for both us and the dance music community.
Do you travel a lot for work?
It varies! I’m fortunate enough to be able to travel often for music festivals and shows. It really depends on what shows I need to be at to oversee various activations. Some of my favourite shows last year were EDC Las Vegas, Governor’s Ball in NYC and Bonnaroo in Tennessee. It’s always extremely rewarding to see what you have created being worn by fans or on stage in front of thousands of people. This year, I have spent most of my time cooped up in the studio — but being in sunny LA also feels like I’m on vacation half of the time anyway.
Could you describe an average work week?
At the moment, I am working on the creative for ZHU’s new album and merch collections at our fashion studio in Downtown LA; right in the heart of the fashion district. Visiting factories, dye houses, sourcing fabrics, planning photo shoots and music videos along with team meetings are all part of my weekly to do list. Once a tour or album release is in motion, the word ‘average’ becomes a very distant memory.
What’s your main responsibility?
When I started working with ZHU, it was just us working on fashion projects from a small room beside his music studio. As things have grown over the years so has our space and resources. We have a small, tight team, but always bring in new creatives based on what project is being worked on. I love being able to work with such a diverse spectrum of collaborators ranging from musicians, photographers, directors, production and lighting designers, and crew depending on each project. It keeps ideas a-flowin’.
Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to?
I have one of my best friends who also went to NCAD, Amanda Grogan on speed dial for career and life chats. Amanda has built her own company called Make It Black in New York City. Make It Black is an innovative dye service that transforms clothing waste for luxury brands by making them black. It is invaluable to have somebody who shares the same ambition as you on hand. Creating and building a brand always comes with some self doubt and “WTF am I doing” moments at the peak of pressure, but being able to laugh about it and persevere is key. My dad has also always been incredibly supportive and has been roped into helping me with the most obscure projects over the years.
Biggest risk you have taken in your career so far?
Definitely moving to LA. I somehow convinced a music merchandising company to hire me from afar and really took a chance on how that would pan out but thankfully now I can confidently say that it worked out just fine. Moving to LA over New York definitely raised some eyebrows, but I was always passionate about music, so for me it was the obvious place to go.
For people who want to get into your line of work, what’s your parting advice?
Go for it and don’t take no for an answer. For where I am and what I am doing right now, there is really no right way of getting there. Having a great attitude and treating everybody with respect will stand to you. No idea is too ridiculous and there’s always a way to make something you believe in happen. Once you find a team that values that crazy idea higher than you did, the rest will be history.
Read more: Meet the Irish woman who runs New York’s coolest vintage furniture shop