Bay Area designer + stylist Emily Sue Payne has been a creative fixture in the fashion world since the 90’s. Her humble demeanor is the yang to her impeccable super talented ying. As art and creativity is quickly fading from San Francisco, she has remained strong and true reaching so many heights including being a favorite on Project Runway Season 13. If you were in the underground music/fashion scene in SF back in the day and shopped on Haight/Ashbury you were for sure to see her work in the Villian’s storefront window. Dark Beauty is thrilled to share an intimate look into her world as we bring you the PAYNE!
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where were you born?
I was born in Jackson, Michigan. I grew up in Temple, Texas (central Texas).
Tell us about the early days of your design career in San Francisco:
Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s I had a street wear line called BRICK, there was one design in particular that people really caught onto very quickly that I called the “Ewok Hoody”. The manager of a shop on Haight Street LOVED it so much he created this crazy/artistic window display just for the Hoody, and then later he created a huge rotating BRICK logo. Right during that time, I ended up getting connected with the stylist for Paper Magazine, Walter Cessna who threw me the most amazing fashion show that was heavily promoted by a company called NiteVibe and it just launched me as a fore runner into the fashion scene in SF. We were constantly throwing fashion shows and doing photo shoots with all the local magazines. We were on the cover of the Guardian, we had company articles in 7×7, Soma, and editorials in San Francisco Magazine, Paper Magazine, Nylon plus International magazines like I-look in Hong Kong and Olive in Japan. We were even dubbed “the SF brand” in Sportswear International 2002. BRICK was also invited and participated in the Gen Art Fresh Faces show covered by Women’s Wear Daily, NY. Divorce caused me to shut down BRICK in 2004, and I moved to LA to design for other companies (Lip-Service/Kill City).
What is your opinion of the San Francisco fashion scene?
I find the street fashion very uninteresting in SF for the most part. It’s usually Asian fashion design students that catch my eye now… although most of those kids just seem to have disposable money and they are buying super expensive luxury brands, and so of course they look amazing! I miss the days when I first moved here in the late 90’s, when there were crazy “artistic types” everywhere, unfortunately, those people have been slowly pushed out.
You were on a season 13 of Project Runway, how was that experience for you?
It was pretty positive. I knew halfway into the competition that I wouldn’t be able to win because the judges just didn’t appreciate my aesthetic. But I also knew I had to just keep doing me because my main goal was to get my real work out in the public eye and get orders. I ended up getting overloaded with requests for the hoody that I got eliminated for, and it ended up auctioning off with the highest bid for any of the designs that season so I’m happy.
What was your favorite challenge on Project Runway?
I would have to say the “Mary Kay Make-over challenge” I totally lucked out finding my muse in the park. She was gorgeous and her favorite designer just so happened to be one of my all- time favorites, Thierry Mugler, so it was easy to be inspired to create something special for her. I loved the way that dress came out, and she totally worked it on the runway. We made a great team.
Leathertongue is your clothing line, what does this line consist of?
My women’s line “Leathertongue” is very hard versus soft. It’s tough, but still has a femininity to it. I like minimal, sleek and sculptural looks. I use very expensive fabrics with a lot of texture and sheen and pay attention to all the little details of construction to make every piece special.
You also have a line Devon Rose, let our readers know more about this:
The kids line “Devon Rose”is the mini version of my women’s but with a quirky/colorful edge to it.
What other designers do you draw inspiration from?
I am totally all about Haider Ackermann right now, he’s so street and romantic at the same time. In the past it’s been Isabel Marant, Jean Paul Gaultier and in the beginning, Thierry Mugler and Pam Hogg.
Tell our readers something personal about yourself you’d like to share:
The tattoos on my chest are the Chinese symbols for “Lion” and “Dragon”. The Lion represents my Sun sign and my Rising sign, I’m a double Leo. The Dragon is a symbol of strength and re-birth of the soul and is representative of a very special time in my life when I changed everything.
Favorite food and drink?
Wine, cheese and southern comfort food! One of my favorite places to eat in SF is Southpaw in the Mission.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Iman or Grace Jones! It’s a beautiful work of art, and I’m so happy to be a part of the magazine…
Credits: Dark Beauty Music (creative director), Attic Floc Photography + lighting by Jonathan Saunders, Lance Victor Moore Masks