Tibi is a brand that successfully marries the functional with the creative. Their clothes are quite simple and clean, but they also have that little something extra, a detail or a color, that makes you feel like you’re wearing something special. Tibi makes basic items that are not actually basic at all. Perhaps that’s why they’re so popular.
Amy Smilovic, who founded Tibi 22 years ago, is dynamic and nuanced, not unlike her brand. She’s serious, yet funny and very warm. She’s slightly shy, but also very engaging. She is also, predictably, very chic. Bogdana and I met Amy and her charming team a couple of weeks ago at the Tibi studio in downtown Manhattan.
Christina: Describe your style in three words.
Amy: Clean, effortless and clever.
Oh so fast! Some people have a lot of trouble coming up to an answer to that one…
I mean twenty one years later, I hope…
What is your ideal outfit or uniform?
The perfect t-shirt and a men’s suit.
Do you feel like your personal style influences Tibi or does Tibi influence your personal style?
Since I am Tibi and since it is a privately owned company, I think it’s so intertwined, it’s completely circular. My lifestyle definitely influences the brand. When I’m traveling to Paris or Asia – I have exposure to such interesting places. Especially when you go to Chengdu, China, and you get so excited by the people over there who just have a real incredible passion for getting dressed and how it makes them feel–they’re so stylish and chic. It makes you come back to New York so excited about designing for people who equate dressing with a distinct point of view with feeling good.
I think that your brand does a really good job of dressing modern women. If you had to put it into words, what do you think modern women care about right now and how do they want to get dressed?
I just really have to speak to Tibi, the way I feel, and the way that women I talk to feel, but I think that they are looking to feel something. There’s so much data out there, so much coming at you all the time and I think we’re all working twenty times harder than we ever have before. I think women are looking to put something on that will make them feel like they’re part of something, but it won’t make them feel like they’ve lost their identity. I think that when your looking to communicate your identity, a lot of people get confused and go off the deep end. With Tibi, I think that women feel relieved that they can find a way to express themselves, without looking like they’ve literally just lost their shit.
Totally. Yes, it’s like a little extra something, but it’s not crazy.
That clever something extra is really important to me. I think it’s why I really appreciate Japanese design. I appreciate utility wear because it’s designed to be worn and there’s so many functional elements… when you add them on, they actually become the interesting detail… the way a pocket is slanted, it’s not slanted that way to shock. Its slanted a certain way because when you’re standing there you can put your hand in your pocket really easily and it makes your body slouch with a certain amount of ease and it’s very thoughtful. We spend a lot of time thinking about these things.
Do you have any style icons?
Steve McQueen from the sixties, Katherine Hepburn from a full century of dressing amazingly, Julia Roberts in the nineties.
What is the most treasured item in your closet?
If you go in my closet you’ll probably find like 16 blazers, ranging from navy blue to really dark blue to black-blue. They’re in every length and they go from a shiny leather to a tropical wool. No matter what feelings I’m having, I never touch that area of my closet. That will always be there–I add to it, but nothing ever goes in the trash.
What do you think is the difference between style and fashion?
If I were to pull up your Instagram and draw a red line through everything and connect every picture with one common thing, that means you have a style. You have a point of view that is so inherently yours, that no matter what you were wearing, there’s always one piece that I can identify as you. And it’s not one item I can identify as you, it’s a way of how you carry yourself in your jacket or how clean your lines are, whether you’re wearing pink or you’re wearing black.
When people say you’re either born with it or you’re not, I really really disagree with that statement. I think what it is, is that you are either born with a passion for craving style or you’re not born with that. That is a truth.
And if you are born with a desire to have style in your life, I don’t think that you’re necessarily always born with the knowledge of how to get there and how to interpret it for yourself. I think that’s where talking to a stylist, walking into a store where you really like the buyer, the way she looks at herself, etc., comes in. Find someone you admire, start looking at their style and think about what it is that you love about it. And start thinking about the things you’re most comfortable in, what days you felt your best–someone helping coach you to uncover those things about yourself will help you create your style. In that sense, I do think that can be learned.
And to me, fashion is items–they’re items that might help you express your style, but fashion is just items.