What does it mean to be a woman in a place where you can be anything? Vivienne Westwood muse, UK changemaker, advocate, and rising creative EMMA BRESCHI ponders in a home built by three generations of Filipino women.
When Emma first began forging her career path, she had always pictured herself behind the camera. The aspiring photographer grew up in a home where many cultural values flourished. She was born to an Italian father, a Filipino mother, had lived in Thailand for a good part of her life, and moved to London with her family including her aunt, and grandmother.
She set her eyes on fashion photography at the London College of Fashion. When Emma couldn’t afford to pay for models, she took her own portraits as an alternative. Upon posting her works online, she was then scouted for a Carhartt campaign. “And it’s funny because, at first, I thought they asked me to take the photos for the campaign,” she says, “and they were like, no, we want you to model it.”
Growing up in Thailand, the 29-year-old shares that it was never her dream to be a model. “I never thought I could be one, you know?” she says. “When you look at some of the magazines and models in Asia, the beauty standards sometimes in Asia were not seen as like a big, curvy girl with Double Ds.” And yet, the woman she didn’t picture in those pages would be the same one that fit right in them.
Her stint later brought her to signing with Europe’s leading modeling agency, Models 1. She then had a test shoot with German photographer Juergen Teller, who has captured portraits from the likes of Kate Moss, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West. Because of her time with Teller, she was discovered by the late, famed designer Vivienne Westwood. Emma would later be recognized as the first plus-size model to be chosen by Westwood and work for publications like Vogue Italia, and brands including Calvin Klein, H&M, and Dior, to name a few.
Emma had different notions of beauty, having grown up in a matriarchal Filipino household. “Growing up, I was always surrounded by Filipino women,” she says about her sister Elena, her mother Marites, her tita (aunt) Dennisa, and her lola (grandmother) Tess. “Growing up, everyone always says, even all the dads are like, the most beautiful women are Filipino women.”
When her mother was 18, she was a runner-up in a Miss Philippines pageant held in London, a win that continues to resound in their home. “Looking up to my mom, I was always like wow, she’s so beautiful. I’m never going to be like that because my body’s so different,” Breschi shares. She had felt a strong need to rebel growing up; rejecting the clothes her mother would insist her to wear and trading them instead with baggy jeans and loose shirts.
“I think with me, it’s why I was hard on her… I tried to, I guess stop any bullying because she’s different,” Marites explains. “You know, she’s half-Italian. She’s got this curve.” But that difference only drove Emma to discover herself more through her proud trans aunt Dennisa or “Isa,” as she is fondly referred.
“Growing up with Isa, I learned so much about womanhood and I think even as a child, like Isa and I have always had this super close bond, because even Isa knew that I felt different, too,” Emma says. The two had confided, understood, and supported each other.
“I remember Isa being the first one teaching me how to walk in heels. I remember going to my first club with Isa… she got me all dolled up. She helped me with my makeup. It was like the first time that I was growing up, ‘cause I was such a tomboy that seeing Isa meant I could embrace my femininity,” Breschi recalls. “Even when I walked the runway, I always think about Isa.
At present, her aunt Isa makes terrariums and donates a part of her earnings to Mermaid Gender, a charity that advocates for trans youth. Emma’s mother Marites posts content online as a bag enthusiast, while her sister Elena has earned her spot in Broadway as the first ever Filipino to star as Catherine Parr in the award-winning musical, 6. Meanwhile, Lola Tess, who had migrated to London to be with her family, would join Emma in some of her creative productions. To Emma, her success means nothing unless it’s also her family’s success.
Her mother taught her that the beautiful thing about their family is the fact that everyone is different. “We all have our strengths, we all have our weaknesses, and that’s what it needs to be a family,” Emma elaborates, “That’s what you need in a band, right? You can’t have a whole band of everyone playing the guitar. We’re all playing our different instruments and we make beautiful music together as a family.”
Makeup: Adam De Cruz of One Represents using ADC Beauty. Hair: Marcia Lee of One Represents using Hair by Sam McKnight. Nails: Christie Huseyin of David Artist’s using Chanel Le Vernis & Herlum Hand Care. Producer: Anz Hizon. Talents: Dennisa Villalobos, Elena Breschi, Emma Breschi, Maria Theresa Villalobos-Breschi, Teresita Villalobos- Taylor. Director of Photography: Louis Mackay. Photographer’s Assistants: Klaudija Avotina, Sam Robbins. Stylist’s Assistant: Imogen Moore. Makeup Assistant: Roro Cuenca.