Byline: Brooke Magnaghi

NEW YORK — “Everything in my line must pass the T-shirt test,” declares Amy Smilovic, the 31-year-old designer of the Tibi collection. “I might design a gorgeous embroidered shantung skirt, but if it doesn’t look as great with a little white T as it does with a tiny cashmere cardigan, then the design goes right out the window.”
If someone had told this former American Express employee 10 years ago that she would be designing a successful contemporary line in Asia, she wouldn’t have believed it.
Smilovic embarked on a new adventure when she and her husband moved from Manhattan to Hong Kong in 1997. The transition to design wasn’t such a difficult one for her — “I minored in art and have always been a creative person,” she said. “My father is an artist and has always encouraged me to let go of the suit and do something I love. When the opportunity to move to Asia came up, I knew that was my chance to try on a whole new life. Thank God I did it — no regrets!”
Smilovic quickly discovered the limitless creative potential surrounding her in Hong Kong and used it to her advantage in creating a completely unique collection.
“As an American living in Hong Kong, I’m working in the most amazing environment,” she said. “Stalls drip with vintage pieces from Shanghai and Beijing right outside my studio and places like Vietnam and Thailand are just a few hours away. What I initially thought to be a disadvantage — not having my pulse on the trends living in New York City — has turned out to be my greatest advantage. Each season the collection is fresh, it reflects where I’ve been most recently, and there’s about nil chance that it’s going to look like anyone else’s.”
Smilovic’s collection includes dresses, knits, skirts, pants and tops. The hot items right now are her vintage scarf-print skirts. An indication of her growing popularity, she was warned at the most recent Intermezzo show that the line extending from her booth was posing a fire hazard. The total volume expected for the present resort season is approximately $1.4 million. Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, says the retailer has done very well with the collection.
“Tibi’s bestseller last season for us was the little green dress with an elephant print. It’s a whimsical and charming collection,” Kaner said.
Smilovic’s projected volume for next year is between $4 million and $5 million. The collection ranges at wholesale from $30 for a simple knit top to $130 for an embroidered dress.
For spring, watch for patchwork flared capri pants; skirts and dresses in postcard scarves from Hong Kong and Paris; a pink and orange giraffe-spotted shift dress and lemon, lime and aqua colored sweaters.
How does Smilovic envision the company in 10 years?
“I hope not too different than it is today — I’m having a blast, and I’m doing everything in the world that I love,” she enthused. “I hope that in 10 years I’m still having as much fun and that I’ve kept my life sane and manageable. My husband hopes I keep my sanity as well.”