At a time when the pace and volume of fashion is overwhelming the environment, social media and our own closets, Tibi designer Amy Smilovic has published a solutions-based guide to personal style. And refreshingly, it has nothing to do with age, shape or size.
Titled “The Creative Pragmatist,” the book is based on the philosophy she developed during COVID-19 lockdown, when she started her own dictionary of styling terms to remember when getting dressed, and became an Instagram Live star while explaining them.
In the process, she grew her New York womenswear brand’s following to 523,000, garnered thousands of views for her weekly “Style Class,” and increased her gross profit more than 300 percent.
“I love fashion and style. There’s a way to learn to do it without the excess you physically are bothered by. If you aren’t, you aren’t. But for me, I hate that excess and the feeling that I didn’t wear it and am angry I bought it,” Smilovic told WWD.
“People were writing to me saying ‘enough already,'” she said of her followers pushing her to write a book. “We have a Facebook fan club, and one woman had started taking screen shots of my IG Stories, organizing them into a doc, and creating PDFs to share. People were trying to get their arms around it. They wanted to deep dive into a subject without having to go searching.”
Smilovic founded Tibi in 1997 and has found success selling — and teaching her customers how to wear — wardrobe essentials like crispy nylon cargo pants, fluid trousers, oversize blazers, shirts and crew neck sweaters, often with a slight flourish, like a hole at the back, double lapel, cutout elbow, slit neckband or curved legs. Most pieces are priced under $1,500.
“For a while now, people have been saying ‘less is more,’ and if you want to be sustainable, buy less. But if you can’t figure out how to apply it, then it’s frustrating and it will never come to fruition. Laying this out for people so they can build an action plan is helpful,” she said.
A creative pragmatist is “someone who realizes that life is nuanced and they are balanced at the same time, and nuanced and balanced is something our fashion industry has not supported,” she explained. “It’s a lot of extremes. This is for someone who recognizes they don’t want to live in extremes all the time and they want to show their complex personality through how they dress.
“It’s interesting how many doctors follow us, people in the tech sector and people in Hollywood who are producers and directors,” she said. “These are people who are creative but analytical thinkers. They like to make a plan and they want to be able to make an easier decision and feel smart about doing it. It’s not just about hiring a stylist, that’s not their thing.”
The book distills the art of personal styling, including finding the right adjectives to describe you, choosing fundamentals with a point of view, understanding proportion, mixing colors and prints, and how to wear an ironic piece.
And it’s not all about Tibi.
“I love fashion and beauty and I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume someone wants to wear only Tibi. I wouldn’t want to see someone all in Tibi,” said Smilovic.
A wardrobe fundamental or WOF (“without fail”) as she calls them, should be anything but basic, whether it be a white button-down shirt or a pair of jeans.
“Through years of reading magazines, women assumed they had to look like chic Swedish minimalist Elin Kling or fab creative Anna della Russo. But what if you don’t glide through the office, and you don’t stomp around looking like a fabulous peacock?” the designer asked. “Fundamentals allow you to be experimental and creative but grounded. Wearing black nylon cargo pants, of course I love with a gray sweater, but I could also throw on something by JW Anderson straight off the runway and look like myself having fun.”
I&Os, or “in-and-outs,” are trendy items, and it’s not about forgoing them altogether. They just need to work with WOFs. That’s why she advises that women always shop in their WOF pieces to help evaluate the merits of a new purchase.
“If I have on my nylon cargo pants, and put on a Jacquemus sequin bra and don’t feel like me, that’s when I start to evaluate…Maybe I still really love it but if I’m not going to wear it, can I appreciate it from afar or do I need to invest in it for my closet? Sometimes the answer is yes,” she explained. “I have a Margiela beaded bustier in my closet I’ve never worn once because it’s a piece of art. But since my closet is not a museum, how many pieces of art do I need in there? It helps you have a rational discussion rather than ‘am I thin enough,’ or ‘will I fit in.’ Those conversations are not useful.”
In fact, body shape, size and age are not a part of the discussion at all.
“I’m 55, half of our marketing includes me in it….This is about a mindset, not an age,” Smilovic said. “More 65-year-olds than 35-year-olds tell me they want arms covered, but it ends there. I can’t point to any other thing that happens around age.”
Getting the most out of clothes includes playing with proportion. Her advice for that is to remember the principle of “Big/Slim/Skin.”
“It’s why that just-oversized-enough blazer looks so much cooler than a classically fitted one, and why that drop-shouldered button-down feels chill and supremely effortless, yet curiously put together,” Smilovic writes.
Bright colors and prints can look pedestrian unless they are “icky, glossy or sculptural,” she explained.
“Someone sent me photos of a hot pink silk button-down and asked me to help style it. I said, no, it’s a regular fabric and proportion, you are going to look basic. But if you send me a hot pink furry thing from Prada, or sculptural thing from Loewe, there’s interest there.”
She also writes about the “one, ton and none” rule to outfit building, and how to properly wear an ironic piece.
“If you are wearing sweatpants, don’t wear them with sneakers, that’s not ironic. Make sure it’s a heel or sandal. Irony is an everyday tool to keep your style fresh.”
Next, Smilovic will go on tour with the book, which she self-published and has made available to purchase on the Tibi website. And she will use her IG Live classes to explore different chapters in real life.
Rather than showing during New York Fashion Week in February, she plans to present fall Tibi collections via “around the world” campaigns.
Fall 2023 is taking the designer and her team to shoot in San Miguel, Mexico, where they will be hosted by Max Martinez, owner of the Max clothing stores in Denver and Aspen.
Specialty retailers like Max are another building block of Tibi’s success.
“We have one store in an average size city that is mom-and-pop and they sold over $315,000 of Tibi last year,” said Smilovic. “I love these small stores. They know their communities, they know their customers’ birthdays.”
Since her 25th anniversary show during NYFW last September, which drew 800 of the Tibi faithful, “business is so strong, I’m speechless,” she said, adding that she plans to return to the runway in September. “People want to support independent companies. I want to stop and remember this time, it’s a moment to pause and say, wow.”