If every story has two sides, on this occasion they come together, two pairs of sisters that successfully have created their brands in Australia and make them grow further their borders. First, we have the MacGraw sisters, Beth and Tessa, that have created their brand 'macgraw' back in 2012, it has been a privilege to watch them conquer the Australian fashion market and win the Australian Fashion Laureate for Best Emerging Designer in 2020. We discussed their complicity around some questions on sisterhood.
On the other side, while most of us were watching Netflix and learning some new cooking skills in early 2020 the Pillemer sisters Emma and Ashley decided to create their own jewellery brand, 'Emma Pills'. A year after its birth, the brand is worn by every Sydney it-girl and just landed in Los Angeles. We interviewed the sisters about their successful collaboration where business and family are not completely separated.
Words by Charlotte Coquelin.
Photography by Daniel Nadel. Styled by Charlotte Coquelin.
Model, Elle Ngo at Priscillas Models. Makeup and hair by Jessica Yang at The Uncommon Agency.
All clothes by macgraw. All jewellery and accessories by Emma Pills.
Whose idea was it to create a brand first?
Tessa MacGraw: We’re both creative and growing up we just kind of knew this was the dream.
For as long as I can remember, it was just something we did - sketching, styling, photoshoots - there were lots of new looks for Barbie!
Beth MacGraw: If we had to pinpoint a real moment for conceptualising the brand, it would have to be New York City in 2009. We took a year-long hiatus spending most of our time in our beloved NYC. On hot sweltering days, we would head up to our Soho apartment rooftop and flesh out our plans. We spent lots of time up there hanging out, taking in the city and sketching.
Have you both always loved fashion?
TM: Absolutely. For me, I love the storytelling ability of fashion. I love creating a macgraw world and bringing it to life… illustrating that idea through music, colour and character. We always give our models a character to play.
BM: I love that beautiful clothes can inspire people and create a sense of occasion and memories. Nothing makes me happier than positive stories from our customers - finding out we’ve created a little bit of joy and magic in their world.
Did you always get along when you were younger? And do you ever fight over work matters?
BM: We have always gotten along annoyingly well.
TM: When it comes to working matters, we are most often on the same page which is one of the reasons this works. If both of us aren’t into an idea - it won’t make it in. We are sisters though, so I’d be lying if I said we never bicker. It is usually over stupid stuff, but we never hold a grudge and get over it very quickly.
Did you always think you would be work partners growing up?
TM: Yeah we did. I think we told just about everyone too!
Do you see yourself as Yin and Yang or are you more of the same personality?
BM: We are quite different personality-wise, but our characteristics complement each other.
Your work is always happy and colourful. Where do you usually find your inspiration?
BM: So many places. We are definitely inspired by Australia and its beautiful nature, colours and wide-open space. I think we are most inspired when we disconnect. For me, that’s when we head up to our family beach house with dodgy internet. We also have a soft spot for all things Parisian, particularly the rich history.
TM: I’m inspired by storytelling and creating our idea of a macgraw world. That’s probably why we love doing shows. We were dancers as kids so we love the theatrics of weaving a story with sites and sounds, giving people a feeling. I think that comes from that showmanship.
Who are your muses for this collection?
BM: Our muse for this collection is more of a character we channelled. We shot the collection and show in one of Sydney’s grandest gothic revival mansions. Imagining the woman who would have lived there, amongst the grand drawing rooms and croquet lawns. A place of beauty and optimism, completely immersed in the colours of nature.
Describe the macgraw woman.
TM: Our woman has a youthful wit, a thing for detail-oriented design…and she’s a lady, albeit an irreverent one. She’s not a pleaser - she dresses for herself and certainly not for trends. She’s not overtly sexy, so she is very open to our rebellious play on femininity, high-Victorian necklines, ruffles, flat shoes and matching sets.
BM: Quality is important to her, so our use of natural fibres resonates. So does the fact we make the line in Australia and in thoughtful and small runs. I like to think of our woman as comfy in her own skin and comfortable standing out - she is empowered. Our favourite macgraw ladies to date would be Lorde, Coco Rocha, Julianne Moore and Pandora Sykes.
What is your next big project?
BM: We are really focused on the US market at the moment - this has become a growing space for us. It’s really exciting to see some tangible traction happening too. We recently dressed Paris Hilton and Andie MacDowell as well as St Vincent and Rose Byrne. We also dressed Leslie Grossman at our first Emmy’s which was pretty special.
TM: Our next big project would be celebrating our 10th anniversary next year! I can’t believe that we’ve been doing this for almost a decade now. It’s crazy how time flies! It’s a proud moment to still be here and grow and love every bit of it.
Find out more at www.macgraw.com
Who came up with the idea of creating a brand first?
Emma Pillemer: I have always wanted to create some sort of brand whether it was fashion, jewellery, or something in between. I have always been obsessed with jewellery, I would never leave the house without my bling. So when my gap year plans fell through, I knew that this was my chance to not waste my year and create the brand I have always wanted, Emma Pills. I started designing and working on my first collection and realised the best person who could help me build it would be my nº 1 from day 1, Ash, whose talents totally complement mine.
Have you both always loved fashion?
Ash Pillemer: We have definitely always loved fashion and design but in ways that complement each other. We do have different tastes. Emma is very ‘out there' and challenges the rules of fashion and almost creates the trends. I love simple fashion. I think since starting Emma Pills, I have become much more adventurous and confident in style.
EP: Our conversations from a young age were always about design. Ash was always obsessed with art and graphic design, and I have always been obsessed with fashion, accessories design, and creating my own style. Together we are kind of the perfect combination. Although we have different styles, our brand aesthetic for Emma Pills is very strong and similar.
Did you always get along when you were younger? Do you fight over work matters sometimes?
AP: Since I can remember, my sister has been my best friend. Sounds cheesy, but it's true. Of course, we argue sometimes but never hold grudges and I actually think the older we get the closer we become. Working together has taught us to understand each other more which makes it easy to work together and push each other. People can’t believe Emma is three years younger. Makes me proud of how much she’s done already at such a young age.
EP: It was definitely interesting initially to create a business and professional relationship while still maintaining a sisterly one. At first, it was difficult to separate the two sides, but now we totally respect each other’s point of view and push the other. Our responsibilities in the business are quite different but it's great we can trust each other. Our fights are more like debates, they are about the love for the brand.
AP: We do make sure we have sister time, so working out together is a big thing we do to let off steam and to just be sisters. We also go to events and we are definitely having fun together.
Did you always think you would be working partners growing up?
AP: In some ways, yes - but never like this. I used to always manifest working for myself and working with Emma in an ideal world - doing something together in the fashion/ creative world. When I got older, obviously the realization of how hard that is settled in and I presumed it was a future plan. I was creating graphics for a few clients after university when Afterpay Australian Fashion Week happened. Never did I think we would actually be working on something so soon and something we created, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
EP: I always knew that Ash’s skills and my skills were a perfect match. Growing up we witnessed both our parents working so hard and creating something they were passionate about. I think that had a huge impact, especially seeing our parents work closely with their siblings. It was a dream and something we always hoped for. Now that it has happened, I know it was always our destiny.
Do you see yourself as Yin and Yang or you are more of the same personality?
AP: That's a really hard question. I feel like Emma and I have the same morals, ethics and values and many similar passions but personality-wise we are quite different which I think is great for sisters. Many people think we are so similar. However, I think we are Yin and Yang and balance each other out. Emma is so strong and confident in life and owns who she is in the best way possible. I am more confident because of Emma and I think I push her in many ways for her and for the brand.
EP: We have grown up in the same house, so our beliefs, goals, and morals are aligned! We both love fun, but I’m more of the crazy sister while Ash is calmer.
Your work is always happy and colorful, where do you usually find your inspiration?
AP: Life is about hard work and hard play so we want Emma Pills to be with people during their fun, happy times.
EP: That moment on a dance floor when you feel free, the perfect vacation day, the laughter at dinner with friends. It's those times we take inspiration from. We want jewellery that makes people feel confident while having fun.
Who are your muses for this collection?
EP: Think Diana Ross meets Carrie Bradshaw. 70s icons mixed with 90s retro fashion - making sexy, statement good-quality party pieces. They are all made for layering for any age, and at a great price point.
Describe the Emma Pill woman.
EP: Strong, fun, confident, and not afraid to make her mark on this world and change it for the better.
What is your next big project?
EP: We have recently launched Emma Pills' global website as many of our customers are in the USA. Tash Oakley has recently become CEO. She is amazing and it’s so exciting working and learning from her. We have some huge plans.
AP: We are always looking at growing Emma Pills and taking on every opportunity. We have just gotten started. Emma Pills is only a year old and there is so much coming!
Find out more at www.shopemmapills.com