If Jayne Mansfield and Shirley Temple had a lovechild, it would be Emi. Born in East Hollywood, this whimsical, first-name-only gal was raised by her single mother who taught her that creativity has no limits. When she’s not busy making her own clothes, Emi can be found with a big bow in her hair behind the counter of her cute novelty gift shop, Pygmy Hippo. She talked to WORN about beetle jewelry, her astroturf obsession, and sharing clothes with her best friend.
How did you dress in high school? How has your style changed?
I just wore what I liked and dressed to suit my moods, but I didn’t really learn to sew until I was 17, so I was just stapling and glue-gunning all kinds of shit together. Back then I had dreadlocks (it was the ’90s, okay?) that I’d dye a different colour of the rainbow every month and I had these insane 8” tall stacked sneakers that had fake Adidas stripes on the sides, which I’d paint with nail polish to match my hair colour! I feel like I was a lot more adventurous when I was a teen. I used to wear my grandma’s hospital gowns backwards with huge baby diaper safety pins to keep it shut down the front! I was also really into astroturf and covered everything from shoes to bags in it, and when I finally learned to sew, I made an astroturf bustier with a gingham tablecloth skirt that I was really proud of. I still have it in my closet!
You’re a good friend of Marie (AKA Agent Lover) who we also have a mega crush on. Do you ever swap clothes with her? Or even coordinate outfits?
RieRie’s my #1 boo! We definitely go over our outfits when we have an event we’re both going to, especially when there is a theme involved (love a theme!), but we haven’t coordinated our outfits to match like the Doublemint Twins or anything…YET. Luckily, we’re pretty much the same size so we can borrow each other’s clothes when we want and we also share custody of a lot of our shoes. Something I love that Marie started doing is buying little accessories in duplicate! If there is something I’m really crazy about, I can guarantee Marie will love it too and vice versa, so we’ll just buy two of whatever item we’re fawning over. I know this seems weird, but I promise it’s not—it totally works for us!
Tell me about the garment you love the most.
I don’t have just one favourite garment, but I do have a small collection of Alfred Shaheen maxi dresses that I adore. They are like works of art that I only wear on rare occasions.
Where did the name for your shop come from?
It came from one of my favourite animals in the whole world! Have you ever seen a pygmy hippo?! They’re unreal! My English bulldog Lucy Pearl looks a lot like a pygmy hippo, so the name is also a secret homage to her.
If you could dress like a pygmy hippo, what would you wear?
Well, if I could dress like a pygmy hippo, I guess I’d be nude! Nude and covered in pieces of moss? Okay but let’s say, like, a wizard turned me into a pygmy hippo so that it was still me and for some reason I had access to a sewing machine and could sew with my pygmy webbed feet, I’d make little bloomers and matching tube tops.
You have a line of jewelry that you hand-craft yourself. Tell me about it—what are you inspired by?
Well, once upon a time I had a line of jewelry called Cloven Hoof that I started in 2002 where I made almost everything out of jewel beetles and beetle elytra. It’s interesting because when I first started the line, I hadn’t really seen a lot of natural history being incorporated into modern jewelry but now I feel like it’s everywhere! It was so much fun to do, and while I still make and sell some beetle pieces at Pygmy Hippo, I pretty much put the line on pause two years ago to open the store.
Do you have hopes of bringing Cloven Hoof back to life?
Cloven Hoof was born out of personal necessity for me because at the time, I was obsessed with Egyptian revivalism and all of the zoological accessories that were very common in late 19th century fashion. My heart would melt every time I’d find antique necklaces (like this one!) that were made entirely out of Brazilian jewel beetles, but I could never afford anything like that and there really was no modern equivalent out there. So, I started going to the Bug Fair to ethically source all of my beetles, and I’d spend all my time curing them and setting them into necklaces and earrings. I still enjoy making jewelry so I’ll always make pieces for my friends and sell them at Pygmy Hippo, but I don’t see myself going back to putting out lookbooks and designing two collections a year or anything like that. Like I said, I feel like the market for “natural history inspired” jewelry is really oversaturated, and the fact that there is even “a market” is crazy to me!
Agree or disagree: “I like being a woman, even in a man’s world. After all, men can’t wear dresses, but we can wear the pants.” – Whitney Houston
Totally disagree because A) This isn’t a man’s world, and B) I know a lot of men who wear dresses. Sorry, Whitney!
Emi’s Top Five Clothing Stores in L.A.
Flounce Vintage is a great little shop on the East Side that sells a lot of beautiful pieces from the ’30s through the ’50s.
Shabon I just got this insane floor-length ladybug print skirt from them that I’m obsessed with!
Golyester My favourite place to go to for inspiration and rare vintage pieces.
Melrose Trading Post It doesn’t have all the rarities and deals you’d find at a normal flea market, but I will always go to this one booth on the North West side of the lot run by Marilou, a super sweet lady from Brazil who sells mostly vintage dresses from the ’50s though the ’80s.
photography // Lisa Kannakko