At a time when the pace and volume of fashion is taking a toll on the environment, social media, and your own closets, Tibi designer Amy Smilovic has released 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 a philosophy she developed during the COVID-19 quarantine, when she launched her own dictionary of style phrases to remember when dressing and became an Instagram Live star explaining them.
In the process, she grew the following of her New York-based womenswear brand to 523,000, garnered thousands of views for her weekly “Style Class,” and increased her gross profit by more than 300 percent.
“I love fashion and style. There is a way to learn to do this without the excess physically bothering you. If you didn’t, you didn’t. But I hate that excess and the feeling that I didn’t wear it and I’m angry that I bought it,” Smilović told WWD.
“People wrote me ‘enough already,'” she said of her followers pushing her to write the book. “We have a fan club on Facebook and one woman started taking screenshots of my IG stories, organizing them into a document and creating PDFs to share. People tried to hug him. They wanted to dive deep into the subject without looking.”
Smilovic founded Tibi in 1997 and has managed to sell — and teach her customers how to wear — wardrobe essentials like crisp nylon cargo pants, fluid pants, oversized jackets, shirts and crewneck sweaters, often with subtle embellishments, like a hole in the back, double fold, cut elbow, neck slit or curved leg. Most pieces are priced under $1,500.
“For a while 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 you’ll never get results. It’s helpful to bring this to people so they can make an action plan,” she said.
A creative pragmatist is “someone who understands that life is nuanced and that they are balanced at the same time, and nuanced and balanced is something that our fashion industry doesn’t support,” she explained. “There are a lot of extremes. This is for someone who recognizes that they don’t want to live in extremes all the time and want to show their complex personality through the way they dress.
“It’s interesting how many doctors follow us, people in the technology sector and people in Hollywood who are producers and directors,” she said. “These are people who are creative, but think analytically. They like to make plans and want to be able to make an easier decision and feel smart about doing so. It’s not just about hiring a stylist, that’s not their business.”
The book distills the art of personal style, including finding the right adjectives to describe you, choosing basics from a point of view, understanding proportions, mixing colors and prints, and how to wear an ironic piece.
And that’s not all in Tibi.
“I love fashion and beauty and I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that someone only wants to wear Tibi. I wouldn’t want to see someone in Tibi”, said Smilović.
A basic wardrobe, or WOF (“without fail”), as she calls them, should be anything but basic, whether it’s a white button-down shirt or a pair of jeans.
“Through years of reading magazines, women assumed they had to look like the chic Swedish minimalist Elin Kling or the fabulous creative Anna della Russo. But what if you’re not gliding around the office and stomping around looking like a peacock?” – asked the designer. “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 from JW Anderson right off the runway and look like I’m having fun.”
I&Os, or “in-and-outs”, are trendy items and it’s not about giving them up completely. They just need to work with WOFs. That’s why she advises that women always shop for their WOF pieces to help assess the value of a new purchase.
“If I put on my nylon cargo pants and put on a Jacquemus sequined bra and I don’t feel like myself, that’s when I start to evaluate… I might still really like it, but if I’m not going to wear it, I can Appreciate it from afar or I need to invest in it for my wardrobe ? Sometimes the answer is yes,” she explained. “I have a Margiela beaded bustier in my closet that I’ve never worn because it’s a work of art. But since my closet isn’t a museum, how much art do I need in there? It helps you have a rational discussion instead of ‘am I thin enough’ or ‘will I fit in’. Those conversations are not useful.”
In fact, body shape, size and age are not part of the discussion at all.
“I’m 55 years old, half of our marketing includes me in it… This is about a way of thinking, not about age,” said Smilović. “More 65-year-olds than 35-year-olds tell me they want their hands covered, but that’s where it ends. I can’t point to any other thing that happens over the years.”
Getting the most out of an outfit involves playing with proportions. Her advice for this is to remember the “Big/Slim/Skin” principle.
“That’s the reason why that oversized blazer looks so much cooler than the classic cut, and why that off-the-shoulder button-up feels cool and extremely simple, but strangely put together,” writes Smilovic.
Bright colors and prints can seem pedestrian unless they’re “cheesy, shiny or sculptural,” she explained.
“Someone sent me photos of a hot pink silk button up and asked me to help style it. I said, no, it’s a normal fabric and proportion, you’ll look plain. But if you send me a hot pink fur thing from Prada or a sculptural thing from Loewe, there is interest.”
He also writes about the “one, tons and nothing” rule for making clothes and how to properly wear an ironic piece.
“If you’re wearing sweatpants, don’t wear them with sneakers, it’s not ironic. Let it be heels or sandals. Irony is an everyday tool to keep your style fresh.”
Smilović will then go on tour with her self-published book, which is available for purchase on the Tibi website. And they will use their IG Live courses to explore different chapters in real life.
Instead of showing during New York Fashion Week in February, he plans to present the fall Tibi collections through campaigns “all over the world.”
Fall 2023, the designer and her team are taking the shoot to San Miguel, Mexico, where they will be hosted by Max Martinez, owner of Max clothing stores in Denver and Aspen.
Specialty retailers like Max are another foundation of Tiba’s success.
“We have one store in town that’s an average size mom and dad and they sold Tiba for over $315,000 last year,” Smilovic said. “I love these little shops. They know their communities, they know their customers’ birthdays.”
Since her 25th anniversary show during NYFW last September, which drew 800 Tibi faithful, “business has been so strong I’m speechless,” she said, adding that she plans to return to the catwalk in September. “People want to support independent businesses. I want to stop and remember this time, it’s a moment to stop and say, wow.”