Alina Alter is nothing short of a style prophet. Seriously. And we are ever so lucky because she is opening a women’s boutique in downtown Philadelphia in Spring 2012, transitioning into retail from several years spent working in hotels and restaurants under the likes of W Hotels and Garces Restaurant Group. The boutique, named Aoki, will feature eclectic clothes, home goods, and locally-crafted accessories. Follow Alina and the boutique’s progress at aokiphila.tumblr.com and read below to find out some of the inner workings of this style genius.
Gaby: What do you see trending now in fashion?
Alina: The look right now seems to be conservative in form yet bold in pattern. Right now I’m seeing and loving a lot of menswear-inspired jackets and blazers, wild animal/geometric prints, swackets (cropped jacket with an asymmetrical zipper), fur vests, minimalist full-body jumpsuits, and a drop-waist silhouette. This look is clean yet fun, and is easy to replicate for pretty much any body type and budget.
Gaby: What are your top 10 TIMELESS must have items for a best-dressed closet?
1. Well-tailored women’s black blazer
2. Skinny jeans
3. Fitted leather jacket
4. Neutral ballet flats
5. Mini animal print dress
6. Feminine trench coat
7. Slouchy shoulder bag
8. Menswear-style watch
9. Classic button-down shirt
10.High-waisted pencil skirt
Gaby: When was the last time you had a fashion epiphany?
Alina: My style has actually stayed pretty consistent over the last few years, but I’ve recently stopped trying to define my “look”, and just learned to dress for my body, my lifestyle, and my comfort level. It’s ok to defy expectations and to sort of dabble in different looks. I have piercings, tattoos, and at the moment, pink hair, but I don’t feel that my alternative side should prohibit me from wearing designer clothes, feeling refined and sophisticated, or being comfortable in a more conservative environment. I can finally grasp the notion that someone’s outward appearance is just one small aspect of who they are, and that realization prevents me from labeling or grouping people based on their fashion choices or perceived style.
Gaby: What is your favorite High brand? And your low brand? How do you mix high and low?
Alina: Some of my favorite high brands would be Alexander Wang, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Proenza Schouler, and Stella McCartney. For high-end shopping in Philly I check out the Barneys co-op, Adresse, Nicole Miller, and BCBG Max Azria. At a lower price point I really love H&M, Urban Outfitters, Zara, and local boutiques like Omoi, Verde, and Smak Parlour. High and low is so simple and fun to mix! It’s particularly easy with high-end vintage pieces or outerwear; I love to throw my pricey Italian leather jacket on over a more casual outfit to instantly feel sophisticated and pulled-together. And of course expensive jewelry can really transform a look and take an otherwise average outfit to a completely different level. People limit themselves by thinking that a $40 blazer or cardigan could detract from a designer blouse or dress, but in reality it adds depth, character, and charm, and guarantees that your outfit will truly be one-of-a-kind!
Gaby: What is your go-to uniform for a day of work? The weekend?
Alina: Being self-employed is wonderful for many reasons, including the fact that I don’t have a uniform or dress code that I need to adhere to! I love the freedom of being able to dress as I wish according to my plans, my mood, the weather, you name it. Although I’m frequently working from home these days while I get the boutique going, I never allow myself to wear comfy sweats all day. That’s not to say that I put on couture to sit in front of my laptop, but I think it’s important to get dressed for the day each morning, to put a bit of effort into your appearance even if you have no meetings or engagements, and to take pride in cultivating a certain aesthetic. I take myself more seriously and am more productive when I’ve gotten dressed for the day than when I’m in my loungewear, even if I’m just working from my apartment. I guess the whole “fake it till you make it” mentality really works for me.
On weekends I’m usually doing a million things and may not have time to come back to my apartment in the middle of the afternoon so I try to stick with looks that transition easily from day to night. Lately it’s been a lot of leather leggings with a flannel button-up, a fitted blazer, black wedges or over-the-knee riding boots, and a piece of statement jewelry. In winter I love layering tights with thick socks, a high-waisted skirt, and a leather jacket. I don’t go crazy with heels because I’m pretty tall to begin with, and Philadelphia cobblestone can be brutal! That way I can rush around comfortably all day and easily transition into evening for a concert or dinner with friends.
Gaby: What is your favorite ILR piece and why?
Alina: It’s tough to choose a favorite from this exquisite collection, but I would have to say the Curve. To me, the structure is almost reminiscent of the spiral hooks used and seen in body piercings and gauged earlobes, but obviously this is a hyper-feminine and delicate take on it. I’m also really into the unexpected juxtaposing of the smooth and flawless gold with the distressed sterling. It’s eye-catching yet minimalist, which can be a tricky combination to nail, but ILR really pulls it off with the Curve.
Gaby: Who are your style icons?
Alina: My style icons and inspirations are all over the place; Pharell Williams, Alexa Chung, Nicole Richie, Charlotte Free, Kurt Cobain, Rumi Neely, and Betsey Johnson. I’m also really inspired by everyday people on streetstyle blogs, as well as by Japanese fashion subcultures like Mori girls, Yama girls, Cosplay, and of course, the Harajuku district. Basically I admire anyone who takes fashion risks while maintaining their integrity and sense-of-self! I generally look to smart, educated, strong, and liberated women for inspiration not so much aesthetically, but more for the overall way they carry themselves and lead their lives; people like Gloria Steinem and Hilary Clinton. I know they’re not necessarily considered the most fashionable people, but I think style has more to do with confidence, character, and defying expectation than it does with the clothes we choose to wear. Style and substance don’t have to be mutually exclusive.