For the past twenty years, Amy Smilovic has called Greenwich home. It’s the place she returns to after days and nights in New York City as the creative force behind Tibi, the womenswear brand she founded in 1997. A respite from the dizzying pace of a designer’s life in the fashion capital, it’s also the spot where she’s raised her children and created lasting friendships. And these two worlds don’t often collide, until now.
Fashion has the power to transport—a glamorous escape from the everyday—and designers often reference the exotic and faraway destinations that inspire their work. While Smilovic had this same wanderlust in mind while working on her latest collection, she only had to travel to neighboring Port Chester to find the perfect backdrop for her fall campaign. A closer look at the downtown shops and restaurants—the same ones she breezes through every day on her train commute to a much bigger city—piqued her interest enough to explore more, to learn about the history of the buildings and meet the people who make up the Port Chester community. What she found beside a set of locations to shoot, was a fresh perspective and the realization that sometimes the best trip is just a town away.
Tell us about what inspired the fall collection?
The fall collection was heavily inspired by the idea of manipulation, being able to create something new and modern with just the movement of a tie or a snap. Seeing something that may seem very familiar—a fitted shrunken blazer—but discovering different ways to make it your own depending on how you move the collar or position the closure. The collection, as we designed it, became a conversation about taking the familiar, things that have been around us, and seeing them through a totally new lens. I suppose this taps into our desire for sustainability— making pieces that last the test of time because they can be manipulated depending on our mood.
Why did you decide to shoot in Port Chester?
We explored lots of different areas, but in the end, we wanted something that had meaning for us. We wanted a place that, in and of itself, could be transformed by the people in it. And above all, we wanted a place that represented joy and hope. After a scouting trip down South, I was returning home to Greenwich and I drove through Port Chester. I suppose because I had been in the mindset of really looking at buildings, the environment, the people, that I saw Port Chester through a new lens. I’ve lived in Greenwich for over twenty years. My children grew up taking karate classes in Port Chester. We loved eating at Tarry Lodge and Kneaded Bread. But as I drove through this time, I saw all the places that I never explored. The beauty salons (there are two to three per block), the grocery stores (that blare salsa music), the accessories stores, the restaurants, the wedding/party gown and tuxedo shop that can also do your taxes.
There was so much joy and pride that is really only found in an area where people work hard, are inextricably linked to their varied heritage, and, well, are just great people. I called my art director, photographer and my vice president of production who hails from Puerto Rico, and had them take the train in from NYC to visit each of these places. We spoke to the enthusiastic salon owners that agreed, in the most generous way, to let us use the chairs in their salons for two days to stage our hair and makeup. An Ecuadorian restaurant blocked out four hours for the dinner party shoot and the boutique/tax shop let us literally take over their store for two hours for one of my favorite shots. And of course, there was the Mexican restaurant that has only had three owners over the past 100 years! The owner came in early to make us tacos and horchata for our crew.
It was great to hear the owner of Vinny’s Luncheonette tell us that he wouldn’t give us the restaurant, even for a few hours, because the locals count on him to be open for them. I respect that so much, and we made it work regardless. Then there was the new diner, Eugene’s; the interior was a photographer’s dream and the people were incredible to work with. And, funnily enough, the grocery scene was our favorite to shoot; the music made everyone move and dance, and it’s where we got some of our best pictures.
Shooting in Port Chester taught me to open my eyes. For twenty years, I never saw the richness in the town that was literally right under my nose. Our models, our team from NYC, were so happy to realize that sometimes all it takes is a very short train ride and a high dose of curiosity to transport yourself to a different place.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE SPOTS TO VISIT IN PC?
The best tacos on earth
The chocolate milkshakes, the grilled cheese and the cakes!
Rinconcito Ecuatoriano Restaurant:
Stop 1 Food Market:
For imported grocery goods and great dancing music, the breakfast spread: pancakes, bacon and huevos rancheros
Paradise Wedding & Party:
Just visit. The owner is lovely.
All images courtesy of Tibi