The Studio Visit... Tibi
We meet the inimitable Amy Smilovic, creative director of Tibi, who might not only be one of New York’s best designers but conversationalists too. Regaling the team with stories of fateful outfits from her teenage years, she also shared some inspiring thoughts on her approach to life, art and fashion.
On her designs…
As a woman, I am very curious about what’s new and when I’m wearing something interesting and thought provoking, it makes me feel really alive. With this in mind, Tibi is rooted in a woman who is confident and dresses in a way that is effortless but, most importantly, modern. Life is too short to be uptight! A sense of ease blended with absolute newness and a touch of femininity is the hallmark of the brand. I design the collections as if they are telling a story, with each season building upon the last and rather than looking to trends, I think about shapes and proportions, and what’s happening around me. My goal with Tibi is to allow women to explore more and want more from their clothing including them having a uniqueness that imbues the garments with longevity. When I see a woman wearing something that makes me wonder how it was sewn or how a hem is able to balance in such a way, I can say that usually speaks volumes about the woman who selected it. That’s someone who wants to be more than average, she’s looking to communicate something with how she’s dressed. Women who wear Tibi love that it is a reflection of them as an individual and I hope that when people wear my pieces they feel strong and smart. I see it in practice myself - when someone puts on Tibi, they usually stand up straighter, the way their hands fall in their pockets just so, they exude a certain ease that only comes when you are very confident about what you are wearing, that feeling is incredibly important to me.
On her background…
I grew up on an island off the coast of Georgia - 12 miles long, three miles wide, and only a 1/3 of that was inhabited. I had to drive over a drawbridge to get to school on the mainland, which if drawn up a for a shrimp boat, for example, would make you an hour late to school. So as a kid, I prayed for shrimp boats! I did know that I wanted to be somewhere bigger though so moved to New York later in life. My father is an artist and my mother was a teacher and they instilled in me the confidence that I really could do anything that I wanted, as well as my great aunt who was an entrepreneur with her own company who was my idol. She let me work for her in the summer and would take me shopping, looking back on those times now, I felt most comfortable in styles that are still consistent with what I love today. I distinctly remember my first day of school when I was 13, I had a new pair of Calvin Klein jeans and a crisp baby blue men’s style button-down cotton shirt with a white collar. My earliest memories of art are from when my dad used to take me to the Art Institute of Chicago, it was there that I saw Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. It was because of that piece that it dawned on me that art and design aren’t just about creating a replica of something but also about seeing the world through your own eyes and executing that vision in a way that makes it incredible.
On setting up her label…
In college, I majored in art and business and on graduating went to work in advertising, thinking that would best combine both my loves of creativity and enterprise. After meeting my husband Frank, we moved to Hong Kong together and it was from there that I founded, combining what I knew with fashion, which I had always been passionate about. For the first 15 years of the brands existence, I really ran it from the perspective that it was a business and wasn’t overly emotionally tied to it but somewhere along the way I fell out of love with the line, the brand was something that I was not. I couldn’t see a way to move forward if it wasn’t driven by what I inherently loved and felt strongly about so in 2010, we underwent a brand rethink. It was both exhilarating and scary all at the same time! My head designer Traci and I came together in the belief that in order to make something really beautiful, that people will connect with, you have to believe in it yourself. It needs to come from a very real place not from charts and certainly not from trend reports. As we are an independent company, we have the luxury of being able to be experimental and push boundaries, try new things that may not always work. I take the time to point it out when they don’t on my personal Instagram. It’s kind of cathartic to do that in an odd way because these mistakes are our own and allow us to live without regrets. Designers must understand the push and pull between art and commerce whilst also being intensely creative, it’s that connection to art that is the reason I do what I do.
My camera is with me everywhere I go so that I can catch the moment of inspiration when it occurs, I never know when I might come across the thing that sparks a new collection. My arms get covered in goose bumps when I find it and after documenting the moment, I then build on it and see if it will take me anywhere interesting. For me, it almost always starts with colour, whether it’s lifted from photography, art, architecture or a movie; once I lock in on a colour palette, everything flows from there. I’m extremely pragmatic with my approach to design too and ask a lot of the pieces that we create, aiming for them to have a utilitarian finish. For me, luxury is best when it is functional, which is why I admire designers like Dries Van Noten, Rei Kawakubo, Jil Sander and Claire McCardell so much. Julian Schnabel, the man and his work, fascinate me too - I like that he refused to become an art factory and allows himself to constantly evolve. Much like the author Jhumpa Lahiri, whose books follow no format and who writes about whatever she is passionate about, and Billie Eilish, whose love of what she does comes through so clearly in her music.
How do you waste time when your schedule is clear?
A Netflix binge.
Is there anything that you collect and why?
I’m not a collector, I purge.
What’s your cure for procrastination?
Getting out and walking away from the computer
Favourite piece of public art?
Michael Kalish’s portrait of Muhammad Ali at Nokia Plaza in L.A., it looks effortless.
What’s your cultural guilty pleasure?
Listening to opera music.
Top tip for breaking into the arts and design today?
Listening to yourself.
What’s your most used app and how do you stop yourself from scrolling?
Instagram, I can’t lie. I stop scrolling by forcing myself to put my phone aside and talk to real people.
What building would be your dream studio?
Anything by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Spookiest thing that’s ever happened to you?
I have a twin somewhere. On about four occasions now, in different cities, people have come up to me mistakenly calling me Gabray, each person has said we look exactly alike.
What’s been your biggest ever fashion faux pas?
All the things in my closet that I've bought and never worn.
Top tip for lazy dressers…
Put a blazer on it.
Where do you look to if you’re stuck for inspiration?
What's the most exciting thing about the fashion industry today?
It’s the wild west - everyone has a shot. It is exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time.