Fashion / Style

Our July digital cover star Gemma Ward on authenticity, storytelling and connecting with her heritage

Our July digital cover star Gemma Ward on connecting to heritage

Heritage can be a complicated topic – one that feels particularly porous in an age where conversations around diaspora, culture and lineage grow more and more opaque. If there’s anything that we can turn to in order to come home to ourselves, perhaps it is simple: food, family and dress.

Fashion has long struggled to be seen as an intellectual pursuit, its shiny surface veneer, at times, distracting of what lies below – a deep history entrenched in culture and tradition; motifs and codes, silhouettes and patterns that feel tied to time and place; a tactile vehicle for our relationship with the past.

Burberry is a fashion House that has been tied closely to its British heritage for more than a century. Its signature ‘check’ print has been a House code, a signifier of not only the iconic brand, but its wearers; a quintessentially English story with roots in WW1, donned in the late 70s and 80s by ‘Sloane Rangers’, and, of course, in the 90s by the Cool Britannia set. Its relationship with its past, and with the heritage of its locus, is one of the House's crowning jewels; a story it proudly tells and retells, whilst being unafraid of reinventing, reinterpreting and renegotiating each season.

A relationship with storytelling is also close to the heart of our July digital cover star, Australian model, actress and writer Gemma Ward. Ward is something of a vocational drifter, a creative multi-hyphenate unafraid to switch gears intuitively, and at her own discretion.

“I definitely feel, at this age, I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been in myself. And I feel like my fears don’t take over as much," Ward tells RUSSH. "Is it weird to say that I’m always out of my comfort zone, and so I’m not?"

Ward has had a long working relationship with Burberry, a House with whom she shares fond memories of her early modelling days. Her 2005 Burberry campaign, shot by Mario Testino, and alongside a young Kate Moss, was a prevailing recollection. "That was the first time I’d met Kate Moss – was on the set of that Burberry shoot," says Ward. "I shot with Kate in London, with those iconic British backdrops. I remember when she laughed, her face just transformed into that sixteen year old girl. She’s so youthful when she laughs."

"I loved doing all the shows for Burberry. It just felt like there was a real family feel to working with them – even just the clothes. I felt very at home in the clothes. I guess it brought me closer to my British heritage as well, which I wasn’t always super connected to growing up."

For Ward, clothing has always been a basis for narrative, a notion that has led her to gravitate towards a more considered approach to the pieces in her own wardrobe. “I love holding on to pieces that will stand the test of time,” says Ward. “Holding onto pieces from your grandma or your mother that hold all of that within the piece – I definitely gravitate towards that. Clothing, for me, has to be practical but also meaningful."

“It’s nice when something has an element that can draw you either to connect more with a culture or your heritage. When you see cultures and the way they interact with fashion – having that story behind it – it’s a way to carry yourself through the world while also holding onto something that can ground you or remind you of where you come from or who you are."

“Fashion is definitely a way for me to help remind myself of who I am, and ground myself. So, you reach for those things that are dependable. And I think it’s really beautiful that more fashion House’s are leaning that way, gravitating towards that.”

Ward's career has seen her dabble in varying (albeit complementary) creative mediums – from her days in the early aughts as a young actress and high-fashion model, to her long-standing passion and interest in scriptwriting. Recently, Ward announced that she would be returning to live theatre, with a role in the Australian adaptation of 2:22 A Ghost Story, a critically acclaimed supernatural thriller that's just finished a fifth run in London's West End. Excited to return to the stage, Ward says she's uninterested in the idea of trying to prove herself in each new (or returned to) venture.

"I don’t usually lead with needing to prove something," says Ward. "I’ve put the pressure off myself to not have to operate from that place. I’m honestly just really grateful to be given the opportunity, and to be there with such amazing people, and to learn and grow and… practice my vocal exercises!"

"I’m excited to get stuck into it. I feel like I’ve been talking about it so much that I now just kind of can’t wait to just get into it – we haven’t started rehearsing yet. I feel like, for me, theatre is a little more comforting than being on camera, I can focus on what I’m doing and how I feel in the moment, being authentic, and have the added bonus of the interaction with the audience," said Ward.

"I think I worry sometimes when I’m on camera that I get a little self-conscious about how I look – it’s also so quick, filming, that sometimes you don't have enough time to sink into the feeling or the character. You do a couple takes and move on, and you’re like 'Oh no, I wish I could have done like, seven takes!' But I can't be a diva about it."

Shifting gears between creative mediums for Ward has less to do with a series of calculated career moves, and more to do with Ward's intuitive need for creative freedom and finding balance in her life – particularly now, as a mother.

"There was a part of my life where I stepped away from modelling and acting and just wrote and I played music. It’s not like I was doing either of those things particularly well, but it was so healing for me. I sometimes go back to that place. It kind of helps to break up the energy," says Ward.

"Personally, my goals and priorities within the whirlwind of working and travelling and juggling kids and stuff is to make more quality time with my children and make sure that they’re really supported and loved, and not missing that. But also I have my own personal goals with my writing – for me, the process and excitement of finding a storyline and wanting to explore it – I guess I’m just following that childlike excitement."

Pursuing that journey of exploration with childlike wonder, relishing in that process of discovery, is a thread that binds both Ward and Burberry; the British fashion House having seen itself reinvented time and again by its wearers, by the cultures of each decade and of course, internally, by its own lineage of creative directors. Never the poseurs, Burberry and Ward have invested in grounding themselves in a sense of authenticity, sourcing strength from their past, and being unafraid of playfulness in the present; coming home to themselves time and again through the stories they tell.


FASHION Hannah Cooper
TALENT Gemma Ward @ IMG
HAIR Madison Voloshin @ Assembly Agency
MAKEUP Isabella Schimid @ Assembly Agency

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