Kamala Harris's stepdaughter makes catwalk debut

Ella Emhoff was dressed in a couple of coats and a pantsuit for the Proenza Schouler label in a video released on Thursday for New York Fashion Week

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They already knew she looked good in a coat.

So the designers at Proenza Schouler decided to dress Ella Emhoff, stepdaughter of US Vice President Kamala Harris, in a couple of coats (plus a pantsuit) for her modelling debut in their new collection, unveiled on Thursday for New York Fashion Week.

Designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough said the fashion world was quick to take notice when Emhoff, 21, appeared at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden in January, dressed in a quirky Miu Miu coat with bejewelled shoulders, along with a starchy white collar. Social media took notice, too.

Soon afterwards, the designers were planning their February show – actually a digital short, because of the pandemic – and the casting director mentioned Emhoff. "And we said, 'We were just talking about Ella.' It seemed like everyone was kind of talking about her," McCollough said.

Emhoff, a senior and art major at Parsons School of Design (where Hernandez and McCollough met and began their partnership), had just signed with IMG Models, joining an even bigger breakout star of the inauguration: poet Amanda Gorman.

The outdoor shoot took place recently on a blustery weekend at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York. It was the first time Emhoff walked a runway.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Doug Emhoff (from left), Vice President Elect Kamala Harris, Cole Emhoff, Ella Emhoff, and Vice President Mike Pence stand as Lady Gaga sings the National Anthem at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today's inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States.   Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP
Ella Emhoff's outfit at the inauguration ceremony on January 20 grabbed the attention of the fashion industry. Rob Carr

“I have to say I was a little nervous,” said Emhoff, daughter of Harris's husband Doug Emhoff, in a streamed talk with the designers that was also released on Thursday.

“I definitely lost a little sleep the night before. I'm walking for the first time, I'm in this professional environment for the first time ... the anticipation was really high."

She spoke of her love for knitting and textiles, and her ambitions for her own knitwear brand.

"She kind of reminded us of our friends and ourselves in a lot of ways back when we were at Parsons," McCollough said.

He and Hernandez launched their own brand from their senior thesis collection.

For Emhoff, the designers chose a long, grey wool coat with fluffy embellishments on the shoulders, then a midnight navy leather trench-type coat, and finally a black pantsuit.

Also walking in the online runway show was Meadow Walker, daughter of late actor Paul Walker.

Emhoff wears some of the label's typically unique footwear, leather socks topped by a strappy sandal.

“We very much believe this moment is about the elimination of anything superfluous, the elimination of excess,” Hernandez said, explaining the ethos of the collection at a time when fashion itself can feel, well, superfluous.

“Just reducing things to their most essential basic forms. All the buttons are invisible buttons. The pockets are just internal."

Hernandez said he saw Emhoff representing “this idea of a new beginning, a whole new chapter in American life, in American culture".

“She's a nice sort of ambassador of the new moment," he said, before moving artfully away from any political implications.

“You know, via the filter of fashion and art and craft and the world that we all inhabit. She’s sort of the ambassador of that.”