Monday, May 18, 2015

Women and clothes: Hilary Bovay

Sometimes I look at my friend Hilary and think she took a time machine straight from the 1960s and landed here. She's got such stand-out style. Part David Bowie, part Edie Sedgwick and 100% charming, Hilary expresses something cool and nostalgic in every outfit.

It's not surprising that her great eye lends itself not only to fashion but in her photography, as well. I've had such a great time collaborating with her on stories for love, -j. It seemed only natural to tap her for a Women and clothes interview.

When the native Rhode Islander is not booking photography assignments in and around Cleveland, you'll find her listening to music and going to concerts, visiting museums, traveling, cooking, watching films and being an advocate for animals.


Jennifer Cho Salaff (JCS): What is your favorite item of clothing or accessory? Why is this piece important to you?  
Hilary Bovay (HB): For clothing it's without question my mod orange coat. I got it at Zara and probably paid too much for it, but I don't regret it. It's the most wonderful, beautiful coat. It's the perfect 60s shape and color, and makes me so happy whenever I put it on. Plus, I just adore coats in general. 

My favorite accessory is a tie between any super-large pair of earrings, the Liberty of London scarf my mom got me for high school graduation and the frog ring she gave me from her jewelry collection.

JCS: Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
HB: I started becoming particularly conscious of my own personal style once high school began. My close friend Emily wasn't afraid to wear a myriad of colors and patterns all at once and I picked up those cues from her and ran with them. My outfits could be dizzying to look at but I had so much fun with them. Whenever I feel like my outfit these days is a little too boring or too serious, I remember my high school outfits and try to add some of that spirit. Before high school, the most I remember is that I had a pair of enormous wide-leg denim flares in elementary school and I thought they were the absolute BEST. I wanted to wear them every day. Everyone else thought they were super strange. No one in elementary school was wearing flares at the time.

JCS: Does fashion matter? Why or why not?
HB: Yes! Fashion is an expression of the times. I love seeing how contemporary designers create completely new silhouettes that could only belong to this era and then others who create designs that look like they were pulled from the 90s or the 70s (to name two that are particularly prominent right now), or another era. I think one of the most fascinating things about fashion is how closely it is tied to the politics, happenings and overall cultural mindset of the time. 

JCS: Is there a difference between fashion and style?
HB: Absolutely. I tend to equate the word fashion with The Fashion World -- clothing designers, runway shows, Fashion Week, clothing stores, etc. I think the word fashion actually gets a bit of a bad rap these days, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying The Fashion World. I love combing through runway show photo recaps and getting inspiration from them. Fashion also entails following trends. To me, style is more about how you define (or don't define) your personal taste in clothing and how you put your outfits together. It's about what statement you're making, what you're saying with your clothing and how the presentation of your outfits are telling a story.

JCS: How has your background (where you grew up, your heritage, etc.) affected your sense of style?
HB: Being of Swiss descent, I've been lucky to visit Europe a number of times. Visiting Switzerland, France and Italy when I was younger was magical but I didn't pay too much attention to style at the time. It wasn't until I studied abroad in London and traveled around the UK and Europe during college that I really noticed the fantastic sense of personal style that everyone had. Particularly in London, where no one is afraid to be too bold or outrageous with their clothing choices. My time there left me with an enduring love for Chelsea boots, among many other things. 

JCS: Who is your style icon?
HB: There are a lot of people whose style I greatly admire and am inspired by. Leandra Medine, Alexa Chung, Jeanne Damas, Anna Karina, Jean Seberg, Mia Farrow, David Bowie, the characters on Mad Men... The list goes on. But there's one person whose style I reference more than any other: Edie Sedgwick. As an Andy Warhol devotee I learned early on about Edie as Andy's muse and instantly became enamored with her simple but bold 60s style. My obsession with huge earrings, mini skirts and striped shirts began with Edie, and I think some of the inspiration for my short hair came from her, too. 

JCS: With whom do you talk about clothes?
HB: Everyone! My mom and I enjoy discussing fashion and I love to talk with my friends about it, too. My friends and I particularly love breaking down awards show fashion, like the Oscars and Golden Globes. But we also chat about everyday style and love helping each other with outfit dilemmas.

JCS: What are you trying to do or achieve when you dress?
HB: I always want to feel empowered, confident and comfortable. And usually channel the 60s in at least some way.

JCS: Most ridiculous fashion trend (past or present)?
HB: I'd probably have to say Crocs or those super basic suede Ugg boots everyone in college wore (Ugg makes other boots that are great, but those basic ones are just awful). I think there are lots of dowdy items of clothing that, worn the right way, can look cool -- but there's nothing saving bad shoes. Then again, I just remembered how much I loathe cargo pants.

JCS: You're a photographer so I think you may appreciate this question. Do you consider yourself photogenic? When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
HB: Like pretty much everyone else, I think that I am sometimes photogenic and sometimes absolutely not. But being a photographer, I do find just about everyone photogenic. So if a photo is taken of me that I think is a little unflattering, I don't dwell on it because we all have sides of ourselves that may not be typically "photogenic" but that are very interesting for another reason, and make a compelling photograph.

JCS: Which outfits do you think photograph the best?
HB: Any outfit can be photogenic, but my favorites to photograph are ones that really pop against the subject's backdrop. I love photographing boldly-colored clothing against complimentary colors or a bright outfit against a drab background (or vice versa). Rather than distracting from an outfit, I think creating this dynamic can showcase and highlight an outfit's details.

JCS: Do you notice the style of other women? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice? What do you admire about them?
HB: Yes! Absolutely. I love admiring others' street style. I tend to notice women who are bold and wear an outfit that might be considered outrageous or over-the-top. That always gives me inspiration to do something bold myself, and never apologize for making a statement. I also love when someone commits fully to a style era, like dressing in a full 50s sock hop ensemble.

JCS: Describe your figure.
HB: My figure is an odd combination of types -- but then again, isn't everyone? I am pretty flat from the waist up, but am rather full-figured from the waist down. This makes it tough to find well-fitting jeans and pants, which might explain why I buy so few of them. I used to be bothered by my flat chest and curvy bottom half, but I've learned to love and embrace my body type.

JCS: What would you consider "you" and what would you not consider "not you?"
HB: I identify myself most strongly with an era: the 1960s (and sometimes the 1970s). When I'm shopping, I find that a lot of contemporary clothing doesn't feel very "me." I usually end up buying things that look vintage-inspired, are vintage, or remind me of clothing pieces that some of my favorite 60s-70s icons wore. (For example: a pair of wide-legged pants I bought because they reminded me of a pair Bowie wore in a photo shoot.) Short hair, big earrings, skirts, dresses and Chelsea boots are all "me." Twee, overly-cute, pink anything isn't "me."  

JCS: What are some dressing or shopping rules you think every woman should follow?
HB: I've made quite a few shopping mistakes, so now I know how to shop with more focus. I think it's important to know what you want going into a store. Is there a gap you want filled in your closet? Is there a piece you could use for certain occasions that you've noticed you're missing? I find that going into a store without a clear vision encourages me to impulse buy, which I almost always regret. And it's helpful to keep in mind the rest of your closet when buying -- if you think that a piece is too far out of left field and might clash with everything else in your wardrobe, then you're probably going to end up returning it. As far for dressing rules, just go with what makes you feel confident! And try to never leave the house wearing uncomfortable underwear. It'll ruin your day. 

Photos courtesy of Hilary Bovay.
Photo of Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol by Steve Schapiro, 1965.