Émilie Chen on the realities of freelance life

Since leaving her dream job at the National Theatre in 2018, the independent designer and art director has learned a huge amount about the importance of being resilient and seeking out community

While you wouldn’t know it from looking at Émilie Chen’s recent career trajectory, the French designer and art director arguably couldn’t have chosen a worse time to try and break into the creative industries. “I graduated in 2008 which was the year of the recession, so no one was hiring. It took 16 months before I landed my first job in Paris – it was half a designer, half an artworker role and it wasn’t really creative,” she recalls.

After quitting the job in order to move to London, it would take another nine months and various internships and freelance gigs before Chen landed her first permanent role in-house at Pentland Brands, the parent company behind Speedo, Kickers and Ellesse. While she admits that she almost gave up a number of times during those challenging first few years, her perseverance ultimately paid off when she landed what would be a dream job for any creative with an interest in culture: a design role at the National Theatre.

Photography by David Reiss