Building A Wardrobe — And Finding Your Personal Style — With Tibi Founder Amy Smilovic

Chief Creative Pragmatist. Credit: Elle

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Fashion designer Amy Smilovic admits the pattern-heavy, tropics-inspired styles that launched her brand in 1997 did not make her happy, nor did they reflect her personal style. Today, the founder of the cult favorite brand Tibi not only has a stronger, more minimalist aesthetic that evades trends, but is on a mission to help others find their way. And just in time, as The New York Times — among other media, much of it social — reveals people are struggling with what to wear.

Smilovic does not subscribe to “more is better” but rather being conscientious about fashion that earns its place in your closet. Where the investment is less about the clothes and more about yourself.

While Tibi was founded over 25 years ago, during Smilovic’s expat era in Hong Kong, “Creative Pragmatism” — and her accompanying Tibictionary — was birthed during the pandemic, bringing about a brand resurgence and Tibi devotees who mainline the brand. While it may feel overwhelming at first, Smilovic concedes that “when you fully understand the principles of Creative Pragmatism, they become easy(er) to make…it will release you from second guessing.” It allows us to be the multi-dimensional people we are. In fashion, and in life.

Read on to explore the philosophy and designs that lead to a wearable closet you will love.

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The Tibictionary, the style vernacular that is the essence of the brand, is more than a lexicon of Smilovic’s imagination. It’s a way of dressing for the modern woman. By definition, this nomenclature helps us determine what to wear — and buy — for a cohesive wardrobe that reflects our personal style.

Creative Pragmatist

Someone who values creativity and pragmatism — both form and function — and expressing creativity through fashion. Best exemplified by Smilovic: “I don’t have time for fuss, but I refuse to leave the house feeling average, either. I gravitate towards items that are as useful as they are exciting; that are familiar, but not forgettable; that are chic, but chill.”


The pieces that tie everything together, allowing you to create space in your wardrobe for creativity and experimentation around them; also referred to as WOFs (Without Fails).

This season, Tibi Fundamentals continue to build up your closet with washable cashmeres —tank sweaters ($395), shrunken cardigans ($575) and crewnecks ($595), Nylon pull-on full skirts ($395), Tropical Wool Liam Blazer ($750) and (an update of the evergreen fave Stella Cargo) Shiny Nylon Pleated Stella Cargo Pant ($395). 

There are many more impossibly cool basics — but like all WOFs, they should be pushed so they never look “average” or “basic” — that can be mixed in with 90% of your closet.

Need to know where to start? Consider Smilovic’s WOF checklist of versatile pieces:  Button-down shirt, Blazer, Year-round coat, Tee, Sweatshirt, Sweater, Pants, Jeans, and a Dress. Keep in mind that these fundamentals should have a point of view (to veer from being average or too “basic”), be highly functional, have proportions that work for you and add texture to your wardrobe.

Fundamentals for your confidence — not your comfort — zone. Credit: Tibi

In and Out (I&O)

In and Out’s make your heart skip a beat and “remind you why you love fashion.” Yet while these are exciting, often trendy pieces that will embolden your wardrobe, you never wear them head-to-toe; I&O’s pair seamlessly with your WOFs, making them feel like a refreshing extension of your style. “When you dress interesting you will feel interesting,” Smilovic says.

This season, the I&O items (still in stock) that are modern and feel extreme but will not overcome your identity, include the Superfine Wool Flannel V-Neck Top ($176 on sale) and Long Faux Fur Boots ($248 on sale). Another I&O this season, seen everywhere from the runway to H&M, is the high-trend Barrel Leg Denim.

Have To Have (HTH)

These are often emotional purchases, special items that may only make sense to you. While meant to be worn rarely, these gems are not impulse buys but rather pieces you are drawn to (or may have even stalked, Smilovic says with a wink), and will covet indefinitely.

While HTH’s do not need to be shiny to be spectacular, they are always a thing of beauty. This season, I found the following HTH sparklers begging to be added to cart: Metallic Mikhail Flat ($345) and Dex Studded Neon Patent Sandal ($218). For those ready to ditch winter, stunning HTH’s coming soon include: Daisy Embroidered Nylon Full Skirt ($545) and Deluxe Tube Yarn Sweater Mini Puff Pullover ($695).

Navy Macrame — My HTH in 2023. Credit: Tibi

CMC: Chill, Modern, Classic

This is the universal style for the Creative Pragmatist. While a “homerun” is when a garment encompasses CMC in its totality (versus individual pieces — a chill shirt with modern pants and classic shoes — amounting to CMC), finding your own modifiers helps you cultivate your closet; you will stop shopping for outfits and start shopping for your style.

“But to do that, to do it well, requires you to understand and be able to articulate who you are. Or who you want to be,” Smilovic preaches. As I am authoring a fashion essay collection based on this very premise, I couldn't agree more.

While unearthing your three adjectives, Smilovic suggests digging deeper into “feelings, what moves us, what makes us tick.” That way, you steer clear of generic fashion terms, such as “feminine” or “edgy” — which are one-dimensional — and instead define yourself based on true desires. She identifies with Modern, Effortless, Classic as that is how she approaches life in food, travel, her home décor and more. With three adjectives, you have parameters to build your wardrobe; more descriptors would box you in, confining your looks.

PDW: Play, Dinner, Work

Given their range, these are the workhorses of your wardrobe. “These are the items that never make you angry,” Smilovic declares, “You’ll never curse at them in regret for the money spent.” These go-to’s are “steady dream partners” that always make it into your suitcase when traveling. Consider the following closet companions:

Compact Ultra Stretch Knit Stirrup Legging ($445), Camille Check Kat Sculpted Pull On Pant ($149 on sale), Oliver Cotton Stretch Tricotine Sculpted Blazer ($895, coming soon)

Merited fundamentals thrive at Play, Work and Dinner. Credit: Tibi

12 MO’ER

If recent weather across the country has not already taught us the importance of layering, heed this advice from Smilovic: “In a perfect world, each item you add to your closet should serve as a layering piece to combine with items you already own.” Layering is both incredibly practical (your pragmatism is showing), as well as a stylish way to dress comfortably year-round.  Look for versatile fabrics in colors that are neutral enough to be worn throughout the months.

Coming Soon: Spring 2024 Collection. Credit: Tibi


Beyond Smilovic’s Creative Pragmatist book and engaging Instagram — where she hosts a weekly Style Class live — her blog “The Good Ick” offers deep style explorations as does her recently launched substack newsletter “The Rough Draft.” Additional Creative Pragmatist principles (not featured here) to learn include Rule of 3, Big/Slim/Skin, Color Math, Antonyms and One Ton None.

You can also learn from — and shop alongside — enthusiasts from Tibi fan sites.

While Smilovic’s book is sold out, she revealed, “I am working on an upcoming book I think you will love. We self-published our first book and only made 3,000 copies. I want to keep the investment people made in the book very special. I am looking to produce a different version with some updates.”


Smilovic recognizes Creative Pragmatism can be consuming at the start, but vows it becomes instinctual when it sinks in (at six months, she notes). “The act of finding your personal style quickly pivots into an act of understanding who you are, increasing your self-awareness.”

Which is why I adore this philosophy. More than Smilovic’s solutions-based fashion guidance and stellar Tibi offerings, I am heartened by what she has created. It gives women freedom — to explore who they are, to wear what makes them feel good, to branch out when the time feels right. At every age. 

Tap into your Creative Pragmatism — and start building a wardrobe you love — today.

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