Let me tell you about the very first time I met Alycia Hirani of luxury lingerie brand Emiah Couture. It was August of 2015 and I was setting up for a day of photography at Oxford Conference of Corsetry. Alycia had booked her bespoke corset masterpiece, affectionately referred to as the ‘Pearled Beast’, in for an editorial photoshoot. It was the corset that everyone was talking about that year – a dove grey coutil overbust corset featuring approximately 7,000 hand-sewn freshwater and glass pearls. I literally gasped. Taking over 200 hours to complete, this extravagant corset body is a thing of absolute beauty. However as there are three photographers on the Oxford Conference of Corsetry creative team, the pleasure landed in the hands of another photographer.
I’d always hoped that one day I’d have the opportunity to shoot Alycia’s work, and that first opportunity came two years later with Karolina Laskowska and The Underpinnings Museum for our Modern Corset Renaissance exhibition. I’ve always had an obsession with corsetry, so you can imagine how exciting a day this was for me already, surrounded by corsets from some of the best designers in the world right now. Most of the pieces had been delivered to Karolina the night before, but there was one left to be delivered that morning… and that happened to be Alycia’s ‘Weeping Hydra’. Known as the dark sister of The Pearled Beast, this hand-dyed blue coutil is also covered in approximately 6,500 hand-sewn freshwater, glass and glittering goldstone pearls and taking over 170 hours to complete, this opulent corset matches its sister perfectly. You can see some detail shots of the Weeping Hydra in the Underpinnings exhibition.
With the above in mind, you can probably imagine just how thrilled I was when she asked if I was available to create a fashion editorial photoshoot for the full Emiah Couture No Grit, No Pearl collection!
Perfectly timed to coincide with the re-launch of Emiah Couture and her new website, I caught up with Alycia this month to talk more about her work, this No Grit No Pearl collection, and what inspired her to book a brand shoot with me. You can also find some glorious #BTS video footage at the end of this post from our shoot day…
Bespoke Designer Emiah Couture
Name: Alycia Hirani
Occupation: Bespoke Designer and owner of Emiah Couture
Tell us your brand elevator pitch! I create elegant designs for those that desire a lavish experience, featuring expertly handsewn textured embellishments. Emiah crafts unique works of art with highly detailed craftsmanship and exquisite textiles to create beautiful heirloom pieces that can be cherished for years to come.
What inspired you to start Emiah Couture? I have always loved art and making things in whatever capacity and once I started sewing in high school, I just never stopped. My love for corsetry however blossomed whilst I was interning with Jenni of Sparklewren whilst in university (She got me hooked!). I just love how corsetry can provide such a wonderful silhouette and act as an amazing canvas for me to work on top of. As I came from an artistic background, stitching and embellishing became my chosen medium and this developed into me creating Emiah. It’s my outlet to express myself through beautiful textures and meticulously handcrafted embellishments.
How would your best friend describe you? Well, I would describe myself as an introverted extrovert, an oxymoron for sure, but definitely true! I’ll be so shy when you first meet me, but then once I get started, you’ll not be able to stop me from chatting! I also asked a good friend to see what she would say, and she said ‘Like a little unicorn! Beautiful, pure and brings magic and joy wherever she goes… Also short.’ Which was so sweet and made me laugh out loud! I am quite short, but great things definitely come in small packages!
Name three things that you always carry with you? Might be a bit predictable, but back when I used to actually leave the house, I always carried my phone, a mini sewing kit (you just never know when there will have a sewing emergency) and lastly, I’d have to say lip balm/lipstick, I’m not normally one for make up, but I love a good lip colour.
What was the last book you read? I tend to mostly listen to audiobooks these days as I can listen to them as I sew, but the last physical book I read was ‘Goldworks’ by Hazel Everett. I love learning new embroidery techniques and goldwork is something I’ve wanted to learn more about for a while, so I can’t wait to incorporate these new ideas into future designs.
Do you remember how you originally found me? Oh gosh, I feel like I’ve followed your work on social media for ages! A stand out moment for me was meeting you at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015, by that point I already admired your work, but after seeing a behind the scenes shot that you took of my Pearled Beast corset and the other photoshoots you did that day, I was utterly captivated!
What inspired you to book an editorial photoshoot? The way you play with light is just so breath taking, you have such a polished style that oozes glamour and sophistication, so I just had to ask you to shoot my No Grit, No Pearl collection. As mentioned before, the first time we met was when you saw the Pearled Beast corset, so it just seemed poetic to have you shoot the collection that was made around that original pearled creation. I also knew that you loved this collection just as much as I do and working with someone that is just as excited as you are is an amazing experience!
Who is your dream client? I don’t think I have just one dream client as each one would be so unique, that’s what I love about bespoke work. However, overarching themes that I like to see clients would be someone that appreciates couture craft and trusts in my creative vision, this helps make the whole process work so smoothly so is very much appreciated. I want to help their true beauty shine through and give them an exquisite object that they can treasure, so communication between us is also key to making sure we create something truly special and distinctive.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that the internet doesn’t know about you? I think some people know this already, but I’ll share it anyway. My favourite animals are penguins! It started out as a nickname that I was given when I was young and grew from there. The name Emiah even comes from the initials of the scientific name for the smallest breed of penguin, and if you look closely at my logo (which is a cursive E) it also echo’s a stylised profile of a penguin… yes it may be a bit over board at this point, but they are just such cute little birds!
Tell us about the lingerie you designed for the No Grit, No Pearl collection – what was your inspiration? This collection started out as just the Pearled Beast corset, but as often happens with me, I had too many ideas that just had to be made!
My main influence was the delicate and organic way sea foam crashes up onto the shore. In the light it looks soft and fluffy, leaving gleaming, frothy trails as it rolls onto the sand, and in the dark, it is glistening and shimmering under the moonlight, like a dark shadow creeping back and fore.
I just loved the idea of contrast between the light and dark element, the juxtapositions between sweet and sultry which is followed on with the shapes I used in my designs. This echoed in the fact that all of the lighter pieces feature softer shapes and romantic tones, whilst its dark counterparts feature sharper lines and more sensual silhouettes.
Tell us about your favourite photo from the shoot – why do you love it? Oh that’s tough, narrowing the images down for the collection itself was so difficult, so just choosing the one is very challenging! But if I have to, I think the shot that stands out most for me is of both Liv and Jolie wearing my beaded lingerie sets whilst lounging on the bed [pictured above]. It totally encapsulates my concept for this shoot and collection as a whole. The dark and sultry Jolie and the innocent and soft Liv, their poses juxtaposing each other and yet there is still such a lovely harmony between the two of them.
Describe your editorial photoshoot experience? Tigz is amazing to work with, she is so friendly and creates such a fun atmosphere to shoot in! At the same time though she is so professional, knows what she wants out of each set up and easily guides us through the whole process, making everything so relaxed. Her eye for detail is brilliant and she is just full of creative ideas. If I could, I would steal her away and shoot with her constantly!
What are you most proud of in your career so far? I still feel like I’m at the beginning of my journey, but being included in The Underpinnings Museum is definitely up there for me. One of my all-time goals is to be in a museum so that I can physically leave behind my mark on the world, so being a part of this online archive was such a win for me!
What is your top brand shoot tip? Plan ahead and make sure everyone is on the same page. I like to make sure of this beforehand so that on the day everything can go as smoothly as possible as shoot days can get hectic. Also, always have safety pins, bobby pins and baby wipes on you, they are always come in handy on a shoot!
What will your autobiography be called? Even though it’s the name of my last collection, No grit, No Pearl still really resonates with me. It’s such a meaningful statement, there is no sweeter reward than that which comes from tough experiences and hard work.
If you could collaborate with any other fashion brand, past or present, which brand would it be and why? I think that would have to be Mister Pearl. I have admired his work for years, he is a true craftsman and his creations are just exquisite, so being able to work with him to create a piece of art would be absolutely amazing!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about booking an editorial photoshoot of their own? Make sure your vision aligns with the rest of the team and that you communicate what you want out of the shoot. This just clears up a lot of issues that could come up so that the experience can be as good as possible for everyone involved.
What exciting project are you working on right now? I have a few coming up actually! This year I am hitting the ground running. Firstly, I have recently launched my bespoke services, this means that you can book in a consultation with me to design your own bespoke creation, tailor made for you.
Secondly, during the first lockdown last year, I ended up playing with some beautiful embroidered fabric from my stash and created a mini collection, the photos of which I can’t wait to release in the next month or so, when they are ready.
Thirdly, I am in the design process of a few new made-to-order garments that will be coming out this year! If you’d like to keep up with this and get sneak peeks at what I’m up to, make sure to sign up to my newsletter.
Photographer – Tigz Rice | Cinematography – Richard Wakefield | MUA – Gemma Howell | Hair – Jodie Austen | Models Liv Free & Jolie Papillon
Feeling inspired by Emiah Couture’s editorial photoshoot? Thinking about booking your own?
Let’s work together to create a portfolio of luxe brand imagery to show off your most iconic work. Get in touch right now via the contact page – I can’t wait to hear from you!