Move over, Rachel Zoe: Emily "Em" Walker knows a thing or two about dressing celebrities. After college, the native New Orleanian moved to Los Angeles, where she worked with a mobile showroom that provided wardrobe options for television shows. These days, Walker's clientele may not be hounded by paparazzi, but they look good nonetheless. As owner of the eponymous Em's and its less expensive counterpart, Em&Liv, Walker brings her trademark youthful yet sophisticated sensibility to her customers and to the Uptown cottage she calls her sanctuary.
Walker opened her first store, Em's, on Metairie Road in 2005. It offers lines like 12th Street by Cynthia Vincent, Parker and Rory Beca in an atmosphere of sun-soaked white, light floors, punches of turquoise and abstract art — the same look reflected in her wardrobe and her home. "I love white with a pop of color," she says. "And there's a little bohemian in my clothing and you'll see it in my house. I love to mix bohemian, vintage, modern and contemporary."
Five years later, she opened Em&Liv on Maple Street, with the idea of bringing affordable fashion to the college crowd. Like Em's, the store is infused with Walker's distinctive look: bright silks, embroidery, sequins, Ikat fabric, fringe and fur fill the space. But everything at Em&Liv costs less than $100. "I always carried a few inexpensive items at Em's and I quickly learned that people love a range of price points," Walker says. "A customer feels satisfied when they can leave a store feeling like they got a great deal." Walker also has worked closely with several Los Angeles designers to develop private label merchandise, which sets her stores apart from others.
Several years ago, she stumbled upon an opportunity to put her mark on a house as well. During an evening out, a friend introduced her to developer Kendall Winingder, who was renovating a worn camelback within walking distance of the bustling Uptown corridor that includes Whole Foods, boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops. Walker bought the property despite its dark and dated demeanor and worked closely with Winingder to turn it into a showplace.
"I had seen [Kendall's] work and knew that with her touch it was going to be fabulous," Walker says. "She was going to finish the buildout and she would give me choices of finishes. It was a very easy working relationship."
Winingder gutted the house (which featured gloomy brown paneling, seven-foot ceilings upstairs and circa-1970s green shag carpeting) and renewed the space inside and out. Walker opted for pickled floors painted by local artist Gretchen Howard and added a contemporary metal handrail to the staircase in the front entrance. She brought most of the contents from her last house and filled in with unusual finds from local stores and favorite websites. When she's not searching out merchandise for her boutiques, she's often sourcing pieces for her home.
"I love the hunt," she says. "When I go into a showroom, I look at every single rack even if from afar, it doesn't look like something I'd be interested in. That's how I've discovered some of my most popular and profitable clothing lines. ... There is always a gem if you have the patience to look hard enough."
Walker's decor, which has evolved over the past few years, includes high- and low-end goods. Few things spark her enthusiasm as much as a great design with a bargain price tag. She considers herself an expert in the "steals and deals" department and enjoys tweaking things with her own custom touch. The coffee table in her sunny living area is a prime example. She found the Lucite base on eBay and topped it with a striking, jagged-edged remnant of White Rhino marble from a local stoneyard. The approach, drawn from her work in fashion, takes time, but yields a finished product that rarely goes awry.
"When styling a client, first I'd pick out the basics," she says. "Then, if I feel they want to be more daring, that is when I introduce them to the bright colors, prints and textures I love so much. I am continually adding different textures, colors, and accessories to make my house more vibrant and stylish, just like I would do with a customer."
Rather than work with one designer and risk ending up with their look instead of her own, Walker blends a variety of influences from stores and websites such as Perch, Renaissance Interiors, OneKingsLane, CB2, West Elm, eBay and Etsy. "My most favorite accessories are from Perch on Magazine," Walker says. "Caroline Robert, the owner, has very eclectic taste and I feel like she understands my funky style. She recently picked out an incredible wallpaper as a focal point for my sitting room that I'm obsessed with."
With a busy life that includes work, fitness, travel and friends, there's little time for Walker to relax at home. But when she does, a perfect evening includes surfing the Net for a newfound treasure. "Showrooms always say that I make up my mind very quickly when I buy for both stores, and I'm like that with my house too," she says. "I know what I like immediately. And I've become good at editing things down fast."