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Em Brown
(of Gestalten)

For this month’s 5 WITH.. we are chatting to Em Brown, who happens to work for one of our favourite publishing houses, gestalten on all things books, writing and non-fiction masterpieces for your coffee table. Em is both a writer, avid reader and part of the UK team at gestalten. We caught up with her to get the low down on the publisher’s new drops and we get her top five non fiction books. 

Hi Em. First off, tell us about your amazing position at gestalten.

Yes, I’m Em, I made a bit of a career change at the start of this year which is something I’ve always wanted to do for a very long time and started working in publishing. I joined gestalten, who are a Berlin based publishers who I’ve long admired and collected lots of their books andI’m really loving it so far, even in a very weird, pandemic year for everyone. Now I'm the UK Sales Director, so I’m responsible for sales and some of the marketing for the UK branch of the business. The Head Office is based in Berlin, we have a small team in London and I have a colleague in Boston. We’re a very small all female team in the UK which is really lovely.

What made you decide to go into publishing?

I was working in the same job in travel for about seven years, which I enjoyed but it wasn’t fulfilling me in the way that it used to. I’ve always been interested in publishing but I just thought it would be impossible to make that leap if I hadn’t worked my way up through various publishing houses and got lots of experiences. However, I speak fluent German and French so a friend suggested I applied for the job with gestalten and it all worked out quite organically from there.

Do you find it inspiring to be in a publisher? There must be so much around you to motivate you.

100%. It’s the most amazingly creative industry. Internally, we have a team of editors in house that work on the vast majority of our books. Most books are researched, curated and created by gestalten so it’s really amazing to see that take place but also all the amazing contributors we work with, the photographers and writers and co-editors that come on board. There are also lots of customers that we work with like Brother! Lots of amazing small independent shops and bookshops that are all creative in their own way so I feel like it’s coming at you from all sides. It makes the job much more rewarding when you can see who the end customer is going to be and who these books are going to inspire. From: High Snobriety’s Incomplete Guide via Gestalten, available at Brother. 

Do you have a favourite book that you’ve found through gestalten?

One of the first gestalten books that I bought, years before I even thought it would be a possibility to work with them was one called Small Homes Grand Living. It’s an interior design book that’s all about working with small spaces. I think living in London, that was a really incredible, inspiring book to see, what you could create with these very small spaces and you didn’t have to live in such a transient way in a city. You can really adapt a small, cosy little hideaway into something quite aspirational and beautiful. From the current list, one of my favourites is Dreamscapes. It’s all about artificial architecture and imagined interior design. It’s a new wave of artists and creatives working to create these spaces that aren’t even real, but people wish they could be! It’s got none of the cold technicality of using a tool or a program to create something, it’s something you get wanderlust for and you want to go there on holiday even though it’s completely impossible, because it’s like a floating room in a pool with three giant moons hanging above it! There is a chair in that book that someone designed that was never meant to be real that went on to be created because people kept asking ‘where can I get that chair? It’s incredible!’

Image from Dreamscapes & Artificial Architecture, gestlaten. 

That’s incredible, it feels very Magritte.

Yeah, exactly. [His work] reminds me of this book that we’ve just done called The Age of Collage 3 and we’re having an exhibition for it in Berlin. It’s quite restricted obviously because of Covid so it’s small numbers, but it’s very cool. I think the two are quite tied together as they’re both about these fabricated realities, whether they’re made digitally or with layered paper or different materials. The content of the books are so creative that it stays incredibly fresh. Every season there’s something new like either a monograph on an absolutely incredible architect like Ricardo Bofill, or it’s something you could never even imagine could make a book but when it does, it’s the first one of it’s kind and it’s amazing.

Perhaps like High On Design which we stock at Brother?

Yes! That’s an amazing book because of the really strong content of female lead brands and businesses and an incredibly diverse group of contributors worked on that book with us. I just think the image quality is really beautiful, like the tonality and colour in that book is very very cool. Very striking rich colours.

Images supplied by Gestalten from High on Design.

It’s actually in our ‘#ConsumptionIsVandalism anti gift guide, which is very anti Amazon. We’ve teamed up with gestalten and other small, local designers to stock a small amount of well made products.

I really like Brother’s focus and the way you operate. It has a lot of integrity. It’s the best way to be, it’s authentic. That’s the lovely thing about our retailers, because we’re not mass produced, we’re considered, lovely products, it’s so cool to see the retailers that we work with and how they merchandise the book, what they recommend people buy them alongside, what other products they carry. You can see how invested each of our customers are at showing the book off to their absolute fullest potential. You can tell that they read and are fans of the books themselves which is how I felt when I went into my interview in the first place! Like, ‘you should give me this job because I am probably your target market! I’m already a massive fan!’

So as a Londoner, how has your opinion of this great city changed over that time, especially with all the changes and the recent lockdowns?

I first moved down to work for Adidas at the Olympics in 2012. I’d just done a degree in French and German and I came to support the Olympic Games program and look after the VIP hospitality for the Adidas team, so when I came down here it was a really pivotal exciting time in the city. I’m really interested in sport and play a lot of sport myself so my introduction to London was incredibly full on, incredibly hectic, but really exciting and celebratory, there was a real buzz about being here. There was a slight down after that. It was the culmination of all this hard work, 18 hour days and I found London quite lonely at first, people not smiling or saying hi to each other. I’ve grown up in the North all my life, and that to me was so foreign. But when I met my partner and we moved in together we started to find our neighbourhood and now we’ve lived in the same square mile of South East London for eight years. We’ve lived in three different flats, but we’ve always lived in this little corner of London so it feels like you have more of a sense of community, we’re going to go down to this bakery or this coffee shop and it feels more like home now. Though I miss the North and green open spaces and mountains and getting dirty at the weekend.

What do you think about the creative atmosphere of London? Do you think it’s diminishing or do you think more people are going to go back to other places and revive those scenes?

I think the London creative scene is incredibly unique and it is very resilient so I’m sure it will bounce back. I don’t think that there’s a music scene in the world quite like London. We go to a lot of music events and gigs and that’s probably one of the things I’ve missed the most over lockdown and I don’t see it disappearing. It’s scandalous how much (or how little) the government has done to support the arts, it’s horrendous, but the arts will find a way to come back. I don’t think that it's a bad thing to have more of a spread across the country, creatives moving to places like Glasgow or Manchester, because those places have got an amazing cultural scene in their own right. People are taking different influences of different cities to other places. London isn’t just Londoners, there’s artists from all over the place. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if Londoners take some of their creative talents and spread them elsewhere in the country, but I don’t think London will be depleted. I think it will come back fighting.

I think you don’t have to be in London to ‘make it’ any more but it does have a pulse and vibrancy that I don’t think is going to go away any time soon.

For sure.

 Shop Brother’s Anti-Gift guide: High On Design

As a writer, how do you feel about working in publishing?

That’s a really good question. I don’t know if I would class myself as a writer currently, it’s something I enjoy doing. It’s amazing knowing that these projects are going to happen and seeing them build up across the year, then they’re published and all these beautiful images and all the writing that people have spent so long putting together just appears in this beautiful format. I think I do focus on the written content more than I maybe would if I hadn’t had a background in writing, but the two are definitely hand in hand with gestalten. The image quality is as inspiring as the written word.

Of course, we have insider knowledge on you and your work, but why would you not refer to yourself as a writer?

I think over the last almost year I’ve seen so many friends and people who really inspire me using this time to create something incredible. Whether it's something they’ve already been working on and they’ve decided ‘this is the time I’m going to work on really creating this’ that’s all happening around me, and there’s definitely this social media feeling of ‘I’m not keeping up with that’ or ‘I should be doing more of that’. I think starting a new job and entering a different industry as I did at the start of the year meant that so much of my time and energy is focused on that, and I’ve absolutely loved it and it’s been very creative in its own right, having to learn a whole new way of work! But it’s left little room for writing and I haven’t felt as inspired as I hoped I would. I’m trying not to push it and know that everything comes in waves, but there’s that nagging feeling of ‘those three chapters of your novel that you’ve written, what’s going to happen with that next?’ I’m trying not to push too hard, take each day as it comes and support and celebrate friends who are flourishing creatively at the moment, because that’s what inspires me in turn.

I think that’s very normal, but you have to remember you don’t have to put something down to pick something up. It might just be that in the jigsaw puzzle that is your life you might just have to pick some pieces up and move them around.

Great analogy. Incremental building of community and happiness and not stressing yourself out about where you think you should be.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve got loads of poetry books sitting on the side that I would usually have devoured the day I got them. I’ve got Ollie O’Neill’s latest book, which I haven’t even opened the cover of yet. But I’m really excited because Ways Of Coping was absolutely amazing and I remember seeing her perform and being embarrassingly moved by it. What We Are Given seems like it's going to be a really tender, raw portrayal of her life and experiences and what it is to be a non heterosexual woman. A friend has also leant me Queenie which has been on my list for a really long time.

Now we’re on the subject of books, what are your top five non fiction book recommendations?


01: Residents: Inside the Iconic Barbican Estate

This just offers the most amazing insight into the homes of residents of the iconic Barbican estate. Brutalism, socialism, design and interiors combine to make this one of my all time favourite books, and it's such a rare, behind the scenes level of access to these creative's lives and private spaces. It’s the place I’d love to live in London the most.

02. Francesca Woodman: On Being An Angel

I bought a copy of this exhibition catalogue from the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. This was such a serendipitous book buy; I was on holiday in my favourite city in the world and there just happened to be an exhibition of a huge body of work by my favourite photographer. Woodman’s images are intense, dark, feminine, mythical and ominous, foreshadowing her premature death. The book is an utterly comprehensive view of her life’s work, accompanied by several illuminating texts. A huge print from this same exhibition hangs on my wall at home.

03. Dreamscapes & Artificial Architecture (gestalten)

You may think I’m being biased but this book is one of a kind, giving light to an incredible series of digital artists who are evolving architecture and design from it’s rendered state to a dreamlike purgatory. The buildings and interiors are improbable, often impossible, but they’re spaces you long to inhabit, lingering somewhere between fantasy and reality. Giving them space on the physical page feels really special and important, and somehow as though you’re glancing into a whimsical, utopian future or parallel universe. London-based artist Charlotte Taylor is one to look out for.

04. Aalto 

Phaidon released this study on the work of one of all my all time favourite architects, setting his projects alongside their cultural and social context. It’s easy to peruse, concise and accessible. Alvar Aalto is a genius and this book crosses architecture, product, furniture and interior design. Reading this takes me back to Finland every time I open it.

05. Regarding Cocktails 

Almost all of my books carry memories; where I first discovered them, who I was with, where I first curled up to read them, who gifted them to me. This one is special - a present from a really great friend who actually made the introduction that got me my current job. This book is the only book by the late Sasha Petraske of Milk & Honey, it’s full of beautifully illustrated cocktail recipes, advice and inspiration. It makes me feel very grown up and sophisticated to own it.

We stock 10 incredible gestlaten books, recommended to us by Em herself, High on Design and High snobriety’s Incomplete Guide. Both available to buy for that perfect Christmas gift!

Like this? Read more on our journal and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates, BROTHER inspiration and first looks into new pieces.

Interview by Ella Sadie Guthrie

Images supplied by gestalten and Brother


Brother started life out as a market stall with one belief. Universal style. One collection, one vision. Not for him, not for her; for everyone. A totally genderless lifestyle brand fusing fashion, music and culture, we were born.

From Netil Market, to Club Brother to online, we’re consistently growing in a good way. We believe in challenging stereotypes, heralding the individual and blurring the lines between music, fashion and subculture.

Brother: A universal brand for universal people.



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