Emmelie Björnsdotter: Malmö Calling

Words and Photos: Reef Gaha | Hair and Makeup: Jeanette Rodriguez-Wallner | Models:  Sweden Models, Malmö |

This story is about a reunion. It’s also a story about travel and fashion. Mostly though, it’s a story about taking creative chances and the unbelievable things that can happen when you do.

We begin some 8 or 9 years ago.

I met Emmelie Björnsdotter in Sydney during the early spring of 2006. Like thousands of others that year, she and her sister were international visitors in Bondi. On a sabbatical from their native Sweden, they were here to escape the northern winter and enjoy the temperate Australian lifestyle. This was during a time when every day I’d hungrily, almost impatiently take to the streets with a camera. With any shred of spare time I could muster, I’d seek out subjects. I had the gall to approach and lens anyone I found interesting, at any hour of the day (or night).

Fashion has always been a central premise for my wanting to photograph a person. At times, I’ve felt what can only be described as an urgency around the documentation of emerging style; exploring the apex of where people and fashion (and the subcultures from which it constantly re-emerges) meet. Whilst rudimentary and carefree, Emmelie’s approach to clothing at that time was definitely one of ‘vintage modification’, changing found jeans into skirts and loose shorts, dresses into gypsy-like tops or halters. As the season and holiday climes dictated, her look was born of ease and simplicity rather than a high street aesthetic. Even so, it spoke of a certain joy in textile based creativity. At the time, she supplemented her income in Sydney by working in fashion retail, while making alterations to off-the-rack garments for store customers.

Fast forwarding through several years and the next I hear of Emmelie, she’s in New York assisting Helena Fredrikkson in her Brooklyn design studio. Having spent the ensuing years studying fashion and product design (as well as the technical side of garment making) she’s followed her dreams to the United States. ‘Since I was a child, I´ve always equated happiness with three things; fabric, needle and thread. If you’ve got these, you’re able to make magical things’ she says.

‘The philosophy of finding happiness through creativity is something I always try to live by.’

In the academic mix along with all the creative swotting, there’s also a smattering of business, and it’s not long before she returns to Sweden to open her own concept retail store. Here, she combines eclectic vintage garments found on buying trips to London, Manchester and Paris with a finely honed curation of new European ‘ready to wear’ lines.

Skip a few chapters. It’s 2014. I’m running to catch an overnight train from Berlin to Malmö on what seems a balmy German summer evening. The journey is to begin at Hauptbahnhoff, but there’s a false start; the train will instead depart from a small station around 40 minutes outside Berlin. Passengers hurriedly change platforms and ride to the connecting ‘hoff in what becomes pouring midnight rain. Before long we’re in the middle of nowhere and little of our surroundings are visible but for dim lamp posts lightly illuminating the drizzle. Impressions of how the German landscape might have seemed to an allied soldier behind enemy lines in WWII. At a whistle stop station, we disembark from the suburban train and bodies cram into all available couchettes on the sleeping car to Sweden. We begin the chug toward the Baltic Sea, then stop dead. After a 4 hour layover the entire train rolls onto a commuter ferry in Rostock and begins the crossing toward Malmö. Morning breaks over the water. A shower and buffet breakfast amidst ship and we’re nearing the Skane capital. My cellphone battery is all but dead, but I’m meeting with Emmelie. I make my last attempts to telecommunicate and arrangements are made.

Emmelie is at the end of a 3 year stint running her own store ‘eMMIT Mode’ when we’re reunited in Malmö, an adopted home in her native Sweden. We meet with her sister at a small pub close to the centre of town. Reminiscence and deep hugs. It’s not until the following day that I get to see her store. I arrive and take a look around. Emmelie’s minimal style is in evidence throughout the space, but it’s not long before I’m lead to a room at rear of the shop, where she begins assembling hangers bearing her own design and needlework onto racks.

More curation, but this time every stitch is of her own creation. It’s this collection of garments that we’ll lay out and arrange in running order for a photo shoot planned to take place in Malmö over the following days, the results of which you see here.

My Swedish Airbnb sourced digs are so perfectly Scandinavian that I never want to leave; warm, minimally well decorated and hewn with solidity in a way that Anglo-built residential structures are generally not. My host is Swedish by way of Argentina, so among all the scandic charm are South American flourishes like small cacti and bed coverings reminiscent of Bolivian weaving. It’s temporarily raining in Malmö, and Gustavo offers me the loan of wet weather gear. The Wi-Fi password is left welcomingly on my bedside table. Thoughtful, considered. Appreciated.

Location scouting and casting for talent in a new city can be difficult. You might not speak the language, the geography is unfamiliar and convenient personal transport is usually traded for the utility of buses, trains and cabs. Days are planned with Google maps and slightly nervous phone calls. All the same, it’s hugely inspiring. There’s something magical about working on the other side of the world, and somehow finding yourself at home. I email Therese from Sweden Models, then call. I’m due back in Berlin within days, so everything is very last minute. She looks over my portfolio and mood boards before showing me comp cards of models for Emmelie’s shoot. We choose Linnea and are happily informed she’ll be available for the shoot date.

This leaves me with a day or so to find a hair stylist and makeup artist. I head straight for Makeupstudion on Amiralesgatan and hand over my book and email address. Within hours, the school puts me in touch with Jeanette Wallner, and a crucial piece falls into place.

The weather in Malmö leading up to the shoot date is wet and windy. I curb my ambitions regarding location slightly. Sweeping grasslands along the Øresund shoreline are traded for the post-industrial brick-out of the environs immediately surrounding the office of Sweden Models. Here I’m greeted by a disused shipping lock flanked by old factory buildings on one side, and newer glass and steel buildings on the other. It’s not the open Swedish moorland I’d imagined, but it’s sheltered, sparse and affords gorgeous late afternoon sunlight, so it’s in. On the day of the shoot, a new girl arrives for a go-see at Sweden Models’ offices, with a limited number of photos. Therese suggests I work her into the shoot with Linnea, and I agree.

What transpired is what you see here.

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