Gemma Ward on modelling, motherhood and social media
Australia has bred many a successful model, but if, like me, you came of age around the turn of the millennium, then WA girl Gemma Ward will hold a special place in your teenage memories. Blessed with disarmingly huge, aqua-blue eyes, delicate doll-like features and a willowy, 1.78m frame - one could easily surmise that Gemma Ward was born to be a supermodel. And model she sure did, inking campaigns for every major designer you can think of, not to mention covers from the likes of Vogue, W, i-D, Harper's Bazaar, Elle... the list goes on.
Of course, reaching such a dizzying career high was not without its drawbacks and in 2008, Gemma took a break from modelling after the death of close friend Heath Ledger. Using her time away from the industry to repair and regroup, she also dabbled in acting and gave birth to daughter Naia (with partner David Letts). After a triumphant return to modelling in 2015, since then, Gemma has added to her family and most recently was a guest of honour at the 2017 Australian Fashion Laureate awards.
Here, she chats to Yeong Sassall about her family, fashion and her plans for the future.
Congratulations on your baby! I know it happened a while ago, but has it been nice to have a second child?
Oh yes! It's all been a bit hectic but as well such a blessing to have a boy. I feel really blessed to have one of each; he is so different to my daughter.
I've been told the jump between one and two children is a lot bigger than what you imagine...
Yes, your whole world changes. You think you have everything sorted... but my daughter has actually responded really well, she has been really resilient.
Did you find the experience any different from having your first child?
Yes, in a way he's been an easier baby actually, it's just juggling the demands of more people in your life [laughs]. There's a little more demanded of you, but I feel like he's completed our family so beautifully.
I'm sure you've got your hands full with having two children, but are you working on anything at the moment?
I have a few things in the pipeline, but I'm kind of waiting til next year really to spread my wings a bit more. I have been doing a lot of things... [laughs]. But next year I do want to focus a bit more on getting back into fashion.
I noticed you've got an online boutique (gemmas.com), how long have you been doing that for?
I started that when I was pregnant. I have been transitioning it into a retail store and I'll see where that goes, it has been interesting. I just think it was bad timing for me because I had too much on. I kind of felt superhuman when I was pregnant!
It was very ambitious of you!
[laughs] I really don't know, everyone is telling me now you don't act on these pregnant impulses; they're like 'What are you doing?' So it was a crazy pregnant idea.
Well, it's up and running, you should be really proud.
A lot of people have said that, 'you should be really proud to be juggling all of this'. And it's an education, which is really valuable.
And you must be interested to see what people buy?
Exactly, I do have interest in that industry and outside of modelling. I feel like there may come a day when I want to design and this was somewhat an experiment to see what was out there in the Australian market, what people were really interested in... what kind of space there was for another designer. I was testing the waters a little bit. At the same time, I probably could have done it at better time in my life. So there's been that! [laughs]
I feel like there may come a day when I want to design
You're still doing a bit of modelling here and there, do you still love it?
I do, earlier this year right after I had my [baby], I did little photos to support gay marriage, you know there's always little things like [the Australian Fashion Laureate Awards] you can do to feel positive and supportive. I feel like I still really love to keep my place in fashion.
Do you feel that the industry is completely different now? And can you imagine being a full-time model now?
I mean it is different. I think there are a lot of positives, people are a lot more aware of young underage models being overworked and all the health issues. You know, even all these recent allegations with abuse in film and in in fashion, I mean my hearts swells with pride that there are steps that are happening to promote these issues because you can feel a little lost as a young underage model and your needs aren't always met or considered. I think there are positives, and you know, social media might have its negatives but it also does give girls a voice and more of a hand in shaping their images.
I feel like social media is probably the biggest difference between when you were modelling full-time and now?
Yeah, probably. The designers are all very different. I feel like there were a lot of people who were very embedded in their brand and now a lot of designers are changing rapidly at these houses. And the pace, I did feel like it was bit more experimental and now people are saying that it's got a bit more commercial. It's starting to seem a little more [like a business], but then again you are always going to find those creative pockets.
Are you glad social media wasn't around when you were younger?
You know, there would have been moments when I would have loved it. It's so funny thinking back; I remember when the first BlackBerry came out with a camera: we were so excited. We were like 'What is this massive thing', and OMG I can send my boyfriend a photo of me and you can send your friends constant updates of what you are doing. And I was so into that, I was like snapchat that phone in two seconds, and that's obviously what everyone has felt and that's why it's taken over so quickly.
But from a mother's point of view you can kind of think, I wouldn't necessarily want those pressures on my child or I wouldn't necessarily want my child to be on the phone constantly. And there was a part of me when I was modelling that I wanted to switch off after work and I savoured being able to wear my plain clothes and no make-up outside of hours. So, I think if I felt pressure to be always 'on' even after hours, maybe I wouldn't have liked it... but I think girls are showing their personalities and who they are, so it's not really about always having to be glamorous. Like everything, there are positives and negatives.
You took a long break from modelling, what were some of the things you missed... or maybe didn't miss?
It's so fun creating images and fashion is so luxurious and creative, [I liked] just being around creative image-makers and visionaries. You could see there were a lot of things I missed. But you know I had to do what I had to do.
You have had such an incredible career. Do you have any highlight moments like favourite magazine covers or shoots that stand out?
I really loved doing all of Alexander McQueen's shows, in particular the chess show I really loved that one. And when he did the alien one... I really loved working with him. The chess one was a highlight and the Calvin Klein campaign was pretty epic.
Buro 24/7 Selection
Buro 24/7 Selection