question time: miss sophie, les anti-modernes*
Apart from the fact that I covet her jacket collection, I read Miss Sophie's blog les anti-modernes* because I share her passion for foundation pieces like button-down shirts and jeans (always with a kick-ass, luxe bag), and enjoy her tips on where to find the best pieces. Whether it's sharing her trials on getting her Madewell coat to fit, finding her dream Hermes Kelly bag, or packing for a cross-continental move to Shanghai, her blog is a great read, and I love her take on practical and stylish dressing in the city. Here, she discusses her style transition from New York City to Shanghai, her personal style journey, and how she stays inspired when getting dressed every day.
Where are you from and what do you do?
I am from the US, and am currently a freelance writer and consultant transitioning between careers.
When did you realise you cared about style? How did that happen?
I remember being fascinated by fashion magazines and started sketching Barbie dolls in various outfits of my own design when I was about 8 or 9. I have been an avid reader of fashion and style magazines ever since I was young, and it just snowballed into an abiding love for beautiful clothes and accessories, and living an aesthetic life.
Why did you decide to start a blog? How have you found the experience?
I started Les Anti-Modernes* because I needed a creative outlet to express my ideas and work out my own thoughts on fashion and style. Over the past three years, it has slowly evolved into the blog that it is today as I have honed my own sartorial point of view. I've 'met' (online and some in person) so many cool and chic fellow bloggers and readers who make up this lovely community. It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience as I've found much insight and intelligent inspiration on this platform, proving that style and substance are not mutually exclusive!
Tell us about a favourite/definitive outfit, and when and where you wore it. Why is it significant to you?
My favourite Yaya/Rick Owens-ish leather jacket, a white tee, skinny jeans, and Isabel Marant dicker boots. It's the uniform that I wear to work quite often, and gives me a boost of confidence on days when I have an important presentation or meeting. It's still the most comfortable ensemble that I default to when I'm out of ideas. I feel totally myself, confident, and stylish day and night when I wear this.
You're now living in Shanghai. How did it feel to move from one very distinct style environment to another?
It's definitely a bit of a paradigm shift. There are some very chic people here in Shanghai, but I definitely feel like I stand out quite a bit more for not wearing really 'feminine/girly' pieces. I also find myself into a darker, avant garde vibe this season, perhaps partially as a reaction to all the ruffles and bling-y femininity around me.
Do you find yourself tweaking how you dress? How so and why?
I try to explore a bit outside my comfort zone now and again - for instance, I rarely wear skirts or dresses, so I'm currently trying to change that up a bit by adding a simple long skirt to switch things up a bit in my usual set of uniforms. I just got a James Perse maxi skirt on sale, so I'm looking forward to experimenting with the silhouette!
What are some of your observations about Shanghai style?
Shanghai style is very trendy and anything-goes. There's an overwhelming wave of embellishment, bling, pattern-mixing, color, etc. There are also interesting 'uniforms' adopted by different age groups. There are a minority of people who opt for more minimalist, androgynous, or avant-garde looks, so I suppose I fall somewhat into this category.
Girliness rules here. there are the teen/20-something girlie girls who are really into ruffles and girly dresses and doll-like outfits. Then there are their mothers who wear a lot of conservative, fitted jackets and sweaters. I find the style of older men and women in Shanghai more interesting, actually. There's an authenticity to the clothes they wear year in, year out. Like the 60-year-old guy on the street corner in the French Concession who was wearing an olive army jacket that was
the splitting image of my significantly more expensive Rag & Bone utility jacket... except his was probably from his PLA days!
While I don't like a lot of the overly frilly, overly mainstream/feminine looks floating about on the streets, I do appreciate people's attitudes about *wanting* to look good in their own ways. There's a lot less 'casual sloppiness' here compared to the US. Like the middle-aged women who still obviously make an effort to stay 'on trend' by wearing ankle booties and skinny jeans. People look
a lot more 'put together' from head to toe in Shanghai, which shows effort and care. That's refreshing compared to a lot of the overwhelmingly casual looks in mainstream America.
How would you describe your personal style journey? Describe your style 10 years ago, five years ago, compared to now.
10 years ago I was all over the place, experimenting with a lot of different things. I went through a Gap phase in college when I was really into a minimalist tee and chinos and jeans and boots. Then when I did study abroad for a year after graduation, I got really into hippie/boho pieces with lots of bright colours and prints. I also wore hats all the time for about two years!
I think around five years ago is when my style focused into what it is today: fairly classic minimalist but punctuated with some choice 'loud'/statement elements. This transition coincided with my realising I needed to build up a quality wardrobe and stop shopping at fast-fashion chains. It has taken me about three years to slowly compile the elements of my wardrobe to where it is today.
When I look back, it's a curious feeling of both change and full circle, because I see some foundation pieces (like my beloved Steven Alan button-down shirts, or blazers) that I have now that echo favorites from high school.
You're very clear and analytical about what you buy and what you choose to splurge/economise on. What are some of your guiding principles?
I suppose I am seasonally biased - the vast majority of my investment purchases are made during the fall/winter. I never think of spring and especially summer clothes as worth spending that much money on. I will splurge on shoes and bags, which tend to be serious wishlist items that I think about and plan for for a while. Luxe handbags are my weakness.
I don't believe in spending a lot on basics, and I am rather cheap when it comes to toiletries - I try to get the most effective product for the job that's the best price. Since I don't wear make-up, I save a bit of money on that and end up putting it back towards big investment purchases. I am a big believer in sample sales and savvy shopping overall.
A lot has been said about thoughtful shopping, but is there such a thing as overthinking? How do you strike a balance?
Absolutely, and I think it's easy to over-do list-making, planning, and all the 'disciplined' shopping that we think will curb unwise spending habits. A large part of striking the balance has to do with age and experience, I think. Honing and refining your own 'eye' for shopping and evaluating things is an instinct that only comes from a lot of bad purchases and living your life and learning about yourself. I think every woman has that moment when she sees something in a store by chance, and immediately knows deep down that that is the perfect ____ that's been missing in her closet.
On those rare occasions when it's an impulse purchase that you know is the exact thing that you want, you have to go with your gut. I think if you get in the habit of making a seasonal list of things you want/need, and leave some room for the occasional serendipitous impulse buy, you'll be in control of your shopping/finances and still enjoy it all.
Who or what is chic to you?
Women who dress for themselves and have an easy elegance that radiates from within. Sofia Coppola, Patti Smith, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexa Chung, the Olsen twins are all chic inspirations to me for vastly different reasons. The anonymous man or woman on the street who wears something simple and humble with élan is a constant reminder that there is something earned about true personal style. Chic isn't something you buy; it comes from the lived experience of knowing who you are, and what you love. That's what I aspire to in how I dress for my everyday life. That's why it irks me when people make statements about the so-called "shallowness and vapidity" of caring about clothes. There are so many intelligent, thoughtful, and chic people. that sort of disparaging comment does all of them a disservice.
Do you ever find it hard stay inspired when getting dressed? What do you add to your outfits to keep yourself from feeling dull and uninspired?
Of course! I tend to have a set of foundational ideas about what I like that serve as the basis of my style uniform, and from there I like to explore and experiment with details - recently I got two amazing leather cuff bracelets from a local designer here in Shanghai and that's been a new spot of inspiration for me. Accessories like jewellery, bags, and vintage finds are constant sources of new inspiration for me.
Share five things you love about your city (you can do one for NYC, and one for Shanghai)
- The stylish downtown girls who inspire me when I walk around the village and the LES
- Sample sales at the end of every season
- The delicious food palaces, aka Whole Foods, Eataly, and Chelsea Market - Cheap and great mani-pedis at the nail salons in every neighbourhood
- The holiday lights at Rockefeller Center
- The fact that you don't need to tip for anything, anywhere
- The bespoke/custom order options at many boutiques
- The French Concession neighborhood shops and patisseries
- The Bund skyline lights at night
- Xiaolongbao soup dumplings
See her classic 10 here.
Pictures courtesy of les anti-modernes*
EDIT - When I approached Miss Sophie to do this, she quite cleverly turned the tables on me and got me to answer my own questions. My answers are now up on her blog over here.