In a sea of black coats and neutral Everlane basics, Gemma Sherlock, AKA The Scarlet Bob, shines brightly among a crowd of New York City subway commuters—literally. The native Irish transplant is brightly dressed in shiny sequins pants, red velvet platform boots, and a pink and blue faux fur shrug, all punctuated with her signature scarlet bob. It is fabulous.
Arriving from Ireland in 2015 and landing in the heart of Bushwick, where artists and creativity thrives, the plucky Miss Sherlock came to the Big Apple to fulfill her sartorial dream. Her mission: to “save the world from boring fashion,” as she playfully writes in her wildly-imaginative fashion blog that aims to empower women to be bold, have fun and express themselves creatively through fashion.
We caught up with Sherlock after her recent trip to Tokyo and discussed her fashion inspiration, what it means to be a “Maximalist,” and how she connects The Scarlet Bob to activism.
How was Tokyo? I imagine you either stood out from the crowd or blended in perfectly in the Harajuku district. Any notable moments?
Tokyo was incredible! So clean and calm and different from New York. I would say that with the exception of the odd Harajuku Girl, I was definitely the most outrageously dressed person in Tokyo. There was (mostly) staring and some finger pointing and exclamations of “KAWAII” when I walked by, but honestly, Japanese people are so polite that if I caught their eye when they were looking at me, they looked away. There was a moment with a young boy on the subway who couldn’t stop staring at me. He didn’t know what to make of me at all.
So tell us more about The Scarlet Bob. To me, she seems like a fabulous style avatar or a fashion superhero that Iris Apfel would hang out with. Have you always dressed this way? What is your inspiration?
Oh Iris! My hero. I haven’t always dressed like I do now. My style has evolved over the years, but has always been "unique," shall we say. Questionable even. I’ve gone through periods of quite specific looks, including a monochrome phase of black and white (if you can believe it!) and a magenta bob (minus the bangs) when I was in my first year of college. I wanted to do art or music performance and had been accepted into several schools, but somehow ended up doing a degree in Communication Studies at Dublin City University. When I went out into the world, my style was definitely hampered by my advertising role in Client Services, but I always pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable to wear to work or a client meeting. There has always been sequins. Having left those days behind and having had the freedom to explore my style without boundaries, I feel I’ve got to a point where I’ve grown into the truest version of myself, and I think that’s reflected in the boldness of my style.
So you left a stable advertising career to come to New York City and pursue fashion? That’s a bold move! How did you get the courage to move across the ocean?
You know, I get asked this question quite a bit and my answer is when you want something badly enough, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen. I’d gone as far as I wanted to go in advertising; I felt I’d given as much as I could, and it was time for a change for the sake of myself. I was always on the prowl for any fashion related work. I’d always said if I was going to do anything else in my life, it would be fashion-related as that was my release outside of work (I’m a serial shopper). I liked the idea of becoming a stylist, to utilize my creative and brand know-how, and so "Operation NYC" was set in motion and when the blood, sweat and tears finally manifested into a visa, I moved here in February 2015.
Any struggles, hardships or learnings you can share as an Irish immigrant navigating the relentless hustle of the Big Apple?
Ha. Pretty much everything, really. You really have no idea what you’re getting yourself into when you take the plunge. As an Irish person, I’ve found the Irish community very welcoming and helpful, and there are various organizations that exist to connect Irish people in New York and encourage us to help one another out. I’ve found New York very receptive to my style (for the most part) and a very open place to meet people. Making proper friends, though, has been challenging. Three years later, I’ve got a handful of great friends, but you’ve got people coming and going all the time; my best friend moved to LA almost two years ago now, and I still haven’t recovered from it. But you do meet some incredible people here, and it’s a joy to watch them grow and be a part of their New York story.
Everyone tells you that it’s going to be tough and you acknowledge it and say “I know,” but in your head you’re telling yourself, “but it will be different for me." But you’re delusional. You have to earn your stripes here. The more you put in, the more you get out. And New York is a hard taskmaster. That old saying "it takes years to become an overnight success" rings true every day!
Your fashion choices are bright and bold, and at the core of it all, speaks to a political message–that women should be loud and proud. Can you elaborate a bit more on what fashion means to you and how your work is connected to activism?
Fashion, for me, is a means of self expression. I use it to help me be more "me." It’s not about "dressing to impress" or to get a reaction, and most definitely not to attract male attention. Wearing bright colors makes me feel good. Sequins are the antidote to most of the world’s problems (just kidding, but also not!). I suffer from anxiety and at times, depression. Therefore, I do my utmost to maintain color and cheer in my daily life by wearing as much color as I can, from underwear to outerwear to my hair.
There are times when I utilize my style to make a statement about things that are happening in the world—for example [wearing a sequined dress that resembles a large mouth with biting teeth] as full body political protest at Women’s March last year in [feminist cult brand] Discount Universe, and wearing a message for Donald Trump, “Pussy Bites Back,” in response to his infamous "locker room" comments that very ironically seemed to do his campaign more good than harm.
[And at this year's Women's March, I wore Mickey Mouse gloves with another blue sequined dress with hands embellished on it] with the message “Hands Off Our Pussies” in response to the omnipresent misogynistic attitude of men across every industry and continent and the tragic stories of sexual abuse and exploitation reported by women in the #metoo movement.
I loved your tribute to menstruation you shared on International Women’s Day. Not only was it a fun and creative narrative, but it shed light on the fact that some 100 million women don’t have access to proper menstrual care. Can you tell us what inspired this project?
I had this idea for a long time before I shot it, and the timing of its release was calculated because what better time to talk about periods than on International Women’s Day? Sadly in 2018, much shame and taboo still surrounds this subject, and I wanted to highlight this by integrating many of the euphemisms for being on your period into the narrative and flip the common negative associations of being on your period to positive by drawing attention to the significance of periods and the intrinsic power menstruation represents. We have the power to create human life. That is immense.
Back to the subject of style, can you explain to us what it is to be a Maximalist in the context of fashion?
For me, the best way to explain it is doing the opposite of the famous advice Coco Chanel gave to women everywhere: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” More is more in the world of the maximalist. Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and put ten more things on! It’s about being bold. Looking extra. Wearing superfluous jewelry. Those MOSCHINO knuckle dusters for going to the bodega? Absolutely. Wearing two bags. One as a statement necklace. Because frankly, why not? Hats. Glasses. Earrings. Oversized everything. Color. Texture. Layer it up and live your life!
After living in New York City for the past 9 years, I’ve come to realize that my wardrobe is mostly filled with dark colored shirts and jeans. Any suggestions on how to mix up my daily fashion routine while also keeping things simple?
The curse of "the New York Wardrobe"! Honestly, of all the things I couldn’t believe when I moved here, this was one of the biggest shockers! Where was The Scarlet Bob’s tribe? Not walking the streets of Manhattan, that’s for sure! A quick injection of some colored pieces will do wonders not only for your wardrobe, but for your soul. Some colorful accent accessories will brighten up any drab NYC ensemble and show a snippet of personality versus the rest of the black-clothed clones. This can be achieved without a huge investment, with the introduction of cool pair of sneakers, for example. Or costume jewelry—I’m a HUGE fan of costume jewelry. Or start wearing a crazy hat. Also, take a look at your wardrobe staples: that black leather jacket that has molded to the shape of your body, its jaded exterior could be given a facelift by getting creative with one of the many talented artists that no doubt live in your vicinity (remember where you are). Studs. Bedazzling. Painting. The possibilities are endless!
Duly noted, and thank you for those brilliant style tips. More importantly, any cool projects on the horizon that we should know about?
Does a new visa application count as a cool project? 2018 has been such a strange year so far. I started out all gung-ho and traveled to Japan, and then my beloved grandad died at the end of March and that has effected me emotionally and creatively. I’ll definitely do something by way of commemorating him, as he was such a huge influence in my life from a creative and fun point of view. I’m working with Aberlour Whisky on an event series at the moment, celebrating women who are living lives of purpose and action in New York. Expect some cool brand collaborations later in the year, and of course more hilarious stories as The Scarlet Bob continues to navigate the soap opera that is life in New York.
top photo by Lanna Apisukh.
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Lanna Apisukh is a Brooklyn-based photographer specializing in lifestyle and documentary photography. She draws inspiration from places she visits and the people she connects with and aims to create authentic stories through her images. Lanna is also a skateboarder and has worked with organizations such as Skate Like A Girl and Girls Riders Organization to empower females and help them build confidence through skateboarding. Follow her on instagram @apisukh and visit her website http://apisukh.com and her photography website http://lannaapisukh.com.