My best friend Shiho is the one person who always keeps me on my style A game. Whenever we get together (which is now only once a year, sniff sniff) and I'm putting together an outfit I think, "Shiho would appreciate this look!" I can always count on her to notice the little details: fabric, stitching, patterns, the cut, how shoes and accessories and even your hair color can complete an outfit.
No one has more effortless cool than this West Coast girl. The 36-year-old Los Angeles native exudes that signature California vibe: laid back, playful, sunshine and positivity.
As Brand Creative for LA-based clothing company Aryn K, she is immersed in all things fashion from art direction, web design and marketing to brand creation, curation and concept development. A true fashion renaissance woman.
I'm happy to present a recent conversation we had about clothing as an extension of one's skin and body, modeling a healthy sense of self worth in what you wear, and the virtues of comfy pajamas. And she gives really, really good shopping advice, too.
Jennifer Cho Salaff (JCS): You're one of my favorite fashionistas! You keep me on my style toes, girl! In your humble opinion, does fashion matter?
Shiho Johnson (SJ): It matters at varying degrees to various people. It's hard for me to be objective since my career is in fashion. But I think most people have a consciousness of how they present themselves to the world. Fashion and the clothes you wear is an extension of your skin and body. It speaks to who you are, how you're feeling, what you do, what culture you live in, who you want to attract and how you view yourself. Even in the book of Genesis clothing plays a major role in Adam and Eve's identity.
For me, fashion is design. And for me, design matters in every aspect of life. It doesn't have to be a certain caliber but it has an undeniable impact on me. I am a visual person. Fashion is information and visual communication of a person.
JCS: I love that! I love that you see fashion as visual communication of a person. That's so true! When you get up in the morning and get dressed, how do you figure out your outfit?
SJ: I play out in my head what I'll be facing that day -- activities at work, people I'm interacting with, and the environment I'll be in -- and I'll pick out the outfit that I will feel my best in and most comfortable. But then again it's not always about maximum comfort because sometimes I need to take a risk and step out of that zone to bring out that dormant tiger. Grrrr!!!
JCS: What is one item of clothing or accessory you cannot live without?
SJ: My Rebecca Minkoff Ascher Mini Purse with Eyes and Studs. I'm pretty lazy when it comes to accessorizing my purse to my outfit. I usually pick one purse that fits my style and needs for the season and use it every day.
JCS: Who is your fashion muse?
SJ: Growing up, my fashion muse was my mom. She exemplifies utter confidence and individual style. I remember, as a child, leafing through her photo albums from the 60s and 70s and wanting to exude her natural elegance and cool. She always had an eclectic and artsy take on trends of her time. She had custom outfits made by her mother, who was a fashion executive of her own apparel company (my grandmother was a true pioneer!).
As I've moved into my adult life, my muses have been my friends and community. I make observations and take inspiration from what I see and I collage together my own style and variations of what I like. It's like my own sartorialist catalog in my head!
JCS: Can you remember the first time you were conscious of a thing called "fashion?"
SJ: In second or third grade, I remember going to the Esprit outlet with my mom. We picked up this white jersey jumpsuit and I was so very proud of my new outfit. I wore it the next day to school and left the house struttin' and grinning from ear to ear. I was also big on headbands and my oversized BUM Equipment sweatshirt sleeves drooping over my hands, and creating a thumbhole in the cuff. I noticed that my friends Julie and Esther (who were sisters) started showing up to school sporting the same look. Imitation is the best form of flattery!
JCS: Worst fashion crime (current or past)?
SJ: Thongs showing for girls and sagging pants for guys.
JCS: Favorite trend in fashion (current or past)?
SJ: It's a past trend that's been evolving into other areas but I've been pretty obsessed with the ombré trend. I love how it went from a simple dye technique to being applied over lace fabric, accessories, hair, homeware and even walls. I think this trend is going to keep popping up in new ways.
JCS: Let's re-visit that thought of fashion being visual communication of a person. On that note, what are you trying to do or achieve when you dress?
SJ: I see getting dressed as a set up for my day. Am I going to be in meetings? Am I going to be running around? Am I going to want my arms free of sleeves for heavy lifting? Am I sitting down a lot and not wanting something that wrinkles? Am I dressing to impress anyone? Am I going to be in A/C or a stuffy room? Am I hormonal? Am I needing a boost in my mood? From my undergarments to my accessories to my shoes, I think it's important to feel confident and comfortable in what you wear. I see my exterior as an extension of my interior, and vice versa. I also believe what you wear affects others around you. Sometimes, I just want to show up to work in my pajamas and then other days, I want to get all dolled up.
JCS: Speaking of getting dressed, do you dress for others? Or yourself?
SJ: Both. I think that what you wear should be an expression of who you are and who you're expressing it to. You're not an island. Also, speaking as a mother I think I have a responsibility to model a healthy sense of self worth and self respect in what I wear.
JCS: Ame (your 7-year-old daughter) follows in her mama's fashionista footsteps. How do you see her expressing her style sensibilities? Does she get dressed on her own, or do you influence her choices?
SJ: Ame definitely has her own sensibilities but she is always open to my suggestions. In the morning she is usually OK with me picking out her outfit and if she makes comments, it's about the fit (ex: too tight, too hot, too constricting). But she loves to add her own quirk like a belt around a t-shirt, kitty ears, etc. And she often asks to go to school in a costume. One time she wanted to wear her bat outfit to church. So she did! I also ask her for her opinion on my own outfits all the time. "Do you think these shoes go with Mommy's outfit?" And she will always have a clear answer.
JCS: How has your background (where you grew up, your ethnic background, cultural heritage, etc.) affected how you dress?
SJ: I'm a Los Angeles native so I have been raised in a melting pot. I think that may have a lot to do with my eclectic sense in fashion. I have never seen myself as belonging to one trend or subculture. Instead I like to mix and match and create my own unique sense of style. I think being Japanese American also contributes to that. I've been super inspired by my mom incorporating Japanese kimono top and accessories to everyday outfits. Since entering the fashion industry, I have definitely been influenced by the brands I work for, promote and design, as well. It's like someone who has grown up in multiple cities and countries. You can hear bits of accents they've picked up from the places they've lived.
JCS: Describe your figure.
SJ: Formerly athletic, curvy and proportionate in a vertically compact way.
JCS: When do you feel most sexy?
SJ: What I wear under my clothes makes a huge difference in how sexy I feel on the outside. I definitely believe in investing in a great bra that fits well and complements your figure. I also love wearing printed bralettes and strappy bras that peek out and become an accent to my outfit. Aside from that, there's nothing I feel sexier in than a comfortable dress with platform heel sandals. Also, I used to be super self conscious of my athletic legs but feel like they're some of my greatest assets now. I love showing them off.
JCS: What outfit makes you most happy?
SJ: Most happy? It would definitely be my pajamas! I love getting home and getting comfy. That's the best feeling after a full day of work and socializing. What are my pjs? Drawstring cropped pajama bottoms from Uniqlo Japan and a basic tank top from Target.
JCS: In addition to clothes, you also LOVE nail art. When did you start getting into that? Do you create your own designs?
SJ: I used to be a BIG TIME nail biter. I finally weaned myself toward the end of high school and as an incentive I would treat myself to nicely manicured nails. I distinctly remember going to Japan in my early 20s and being introduced to a nail salon where they did some complex nail art. Way before nail stickers and designs blew up in the US. Since then, I've been quite obsessed with buying new lacquers and using toothpicks and nail tools to create my own designs. But the drawback to doing my own nails has always been mucking up my right hand! I've been doing gel nails since the end of last year and I'm hooked. I never pick at them so they tend to last up to two months if I'm good. Tip: I always get a design where the nail bed side is clear (like in the photo below) so as it grows out, it's not as noticeable.
JCS: What's the first investment piece you ever bought? Why did you buy it?
SJ: The first investment piece I bought was a classic black peacoat. I don't remember the brand but I do remember buying it at Nordstrom (which is a great place to purchase those investment pieces!). The peacoat is a classic piece that can ebb and flow with the trends. My mom has passed down many amazing coats to me. A great coat can be one of those lasting treasures that I hope to pass down to my daughter, too.
JCS: What would you say is "you" and what would you say is "not you?"
SJ: Not that it's not "me" but I don't wear a lot of designer brands. I believe in living within your means and although I drool at some runway looks, I definitely don't make my closet about trying to be someone I'm not at the moment. I'm not a flashy dresser. I like drawing a glance with what I wear but maybe not stares. I also know that I'm not a very conservative dresser, meaning I'm not super buttoned-up, high neck line, etc. That attire doesn't suit me. I'm more flowy, easy going, feminine with a bit of edge.
JCS: What do you admire about how other women present themselves?
SJ: I admire a woman's confidence in how she presents herself. It's the holistic design of what makes her stand out. Her posture, her grace, her walk, her scent, her words. And of course everything else that she chose to adorn herself with that morning.
JCS: As Brand Creative at Aryn K, you're at the forefront of the fashion industry. What trends are you seeing for fall?
SJ: I'm definitely seeing a strong 70s influence with fringe, retro oranges and greens, patchwork, tapestry fabrics, turtlenecks, fur accents and shoes with thicker heels. Lingerie and the Victorian trend is still big in terms of creative cuts, straps, back details and lace that peeks out here and there (and complementing those styles with drop necks and low backs). And for the preppy dresser, I'm still seeing a big naval influence along with some mod-inspired styling.
I think the best thing about fashion in our era is that attitude of "anything goes." It's about personal expression and mixing and matching genres and styles. I love that a different woman can take the same dress and wear it in a completely unique way. And in terms of the social side of fashion, I think for Fall, women are looking for more authenticity. We are coming off the blogger high and the idea of the unattainable "perfected" life portrayed through social media.
JCS: Shopping advice?
SJ: Shameless plug... Shop at Aryn K. Hahaha!! OK seriously-- Think Twice. A lot of money has been saved this way. Sometimes I'll find a better deal or I'll move on to something else. Trust the Eye of a Friend. It's hard to step back and see what's working and what's not. My friends have also pulled me out of my comfort zone and made suggestions that ended up being my favorite pieces. Take It In. When I shop I like to take in everything around me. What are the store reps wearing? What pieces are paired together on the mannequins? What décor ideas can I bring home with me? What's featured in the front of the store and what might be tucked away at the back that I don't want to miss? It's a hunt and a re-creation. Enjoy the moment!
Photos courtesy of Shiho Johnson.