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stories from their closets: style, inspired by a friend

Sai is one of my oldest friends.

We met 5 year ago in college, and I admit it took a year of passing each other in halls and awkward hellos until we really started becoming good friends. In that year I always noticed Sai wherever she was. She presented as cool and grounded, which may or may not have been related to how well-dressed she was. Always unique, always an interplay between sensible and fashionable, professional and outgoing, and always an homage to an artistic vision, Sai’s outfits are still so striking to this day, and without fail, draw me in for a closer look.

As I try to channel some of Sai’s flair, I realize her signature look is really more of practice and spirit than a categorizable style. It is much more about her attitude about clothing, imbued through experimental techniques of layering textures, patterns, and unique pieces. By incorporating pieces from many different inspirations, Sai is able to push against specific categories of style and inspire a sense of fashion open to all.

A lot of Sai’s signature outfits feature interesting textures which are often highlighted further by layering different materials, like this wool felt skirt, dress shirt, and chunky vest- all in grey and off white hues for a monochrome look. In the second option to the right, she pairs a cropped zip up sweater for a more relaxed fit. I think the way this second look divides the outfit into three blocks is especially cool. It emulates a tiered look you might more formally see on a single dress- but here more effortless and achieved through layering three distinct pieces. I’ve witnessed these black clogs all throughout our friendship and they are truly a reliable pair of shoes, both for its versatility and comfortability.

This look is another monochrome look with an experimental edge, matching clothing you might not immediately think goes together while still obtaining a casual professional look. By staying within a fairly concrete colour scheme, you can pull off mixing patterns like a checkered shirt of dark and light purple which the similar eggplant hues in her patterned shawl. Mediating the two patterns is a solid brown collared shirt, a great colour match to ground a purple outfit into something more earthy, while still remaining colourful. And lastly, these great flowy purple pants complete the look and tie it all together. I think the key to making a monochrome look feel complete and intentional is to commit to the colour, which is the work of the pants. This feels especially strategic here to help focus the various patterns going on up top.

Another thing Sai has been particularly good at and which no doubt elevates her looks, is the way she brings forward unique pieces from artists and designers. Sai highlights two incredible items here by Hyein Seo, whose own work draws inspiration from contemporary streetwear, in a collaboration with multidisciplinary artist Somnath Bhatt. While the top and skirt are both wrap tops, they drape and fold so differently which creates a cultivated tension between multiple forms. The white top is more form fitting, almost sheer, and at first glance quite simple. Upon closer inspection you can see it’s held together by a metal hook which further connects the piece with a draped chain featuring intricate moments of small beads, thread, and metal.

The skirt is perhaps simple in the way it embraces the ambiguity afforded by a wrap form. Unbuttoned, it’s a long, rectangular panel of fabric and when worn, its relaxed form drapes against the body in such an elegant way. The pattern is a print by the artist Somnath which uses pixelated drawings to coalesce both a digital and a woven texture. There’s so much to say about the artist’s work, but in this look I think it is a beautiful interpretation and expression of ornamentation. Paired with Sai’s brown cargo pants and hiking shoes, I think the complete outfit successfully draws on Hyein Seo’s streetwear aesthetic.

Drawing inspiration from Sai I took to my own closet to see what pieces I could try and match for myself, even if (and especially if) it was something I might not wear together. I recently came across this great cropped cardigan from W Concept. It’s a brighter, textured knit and the various colours mimic a kind of patchwork of patterns. Where normally I might highlight the cardigan as the main piece of an outfit and keep all else minimal, I picked up another knit cardigan to layer under this piece. I thought the white crocheted pattern of the cardigan created its own interesting texture in tandem with the outer knit. I also love the wood buttons, especially highlighted against the ribbed black and white tank top which come with its own smaller buttons. With all these textures, colours, and buttons, this outfit draws on an eclectic and maybe even homey vibe which I wanted to balance with a pair of black fake leather boots.

One thing Sai and I have always had in common with our clothes is that neither of us are fans of tight pants. So these are my favourite flowy pants by Studio Tomboy. I’ve had these pants since high school and I rely on them to make any outfit comfortable and cool.

This last outfit is another exercise in the spirit of Sai and her style coupled with items from my own closet, but this time creating an outfit for Sai to wear. The first layer is a turtleneck shirt with faded hues of greens and browns. On top is a cropped shirt of this great material which looks almost metallic up close with hidden blue hues under the thin grey stripe. Draped over Sai’s shoulders is a flowy olive blazer. (A less structured blazer is often thinner and great to layer with.) To bring out the greens in this outfit, we threw on an orange scarf which I think especially brings out the turtleneck shirt and adds another great layer without needing to throw on another shirt. Finally, grey washed jeans add some stone-like tones to an otherwise earthy and terrestrial look.

This final look was actually an outfit I had planned out in advance for Sai to wear during our photo shoot. When she arrived and began looking at all the various options I had laid out, she actually pulled together this same look. This means that my endeavour to emulate Sai’s style is nearly achieved, or we’ve been friends for a long time! Either way, I’m grateful our friendship allows us to draw inspiration from one another and express ourselves creatively in what we wear, together.

Anna Cho is an artist and freelance writer and researcher based between Los Angeles and Seoul. She has been inspired by the fashion of women in her life and has taken special interest in material cultures, histories, and notions of identity.

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