Tilly Macalister-Smith, a writer, content strategist and tone of voice specialist living in New York City.
How has 2021 been for you and which projects are you working on at the moment?
2021 has been busy to be honest, although in quite a different way. Obviously, it’s been a lot more static, no travelling around, but we had a baby boy in the spring and have been adjusting to life with our new friend! I work for myself, writing for various magazines and newspapers and consulting for brands, meaning that I have a certain amount of flexibility, and this has allowed me to work while looking after my son (granted there were some 4am writing sessions but you can be quite productive undisturbed in the middle of the night!). I love writing for magazines as it allows me to give a platform to emerging talent, as well as interview established names, which is a great privilege. It’s never the same and always exciting.
Which opportunity were you given in your career that will always be important to you. Is there anyone who acted as a mentor to you?
I met Sharmadean Reid on my very first day at Central Saint Martins. I had just moved to London and I had never met anyone with so much energy, confidence, and determination - it was clear Sharma was going to run the world one day! Her self-starter attitude was a total inspiration and has continued to be since we met.
Sarah Harris and Harriet Quick were both editors of mine at British Vogue and taught me a great deal. Sophie Baudrand was my first real boss, also at British Vogue - she ran the bookings department and instilled in me to be scrupulously organised and never say “It’s not possible.” We always found a way to make something happen!
Jonathan Saunders gave me one of my first internships and I returned season after season to help on many aspects of his brand in its early years, so I gained an understanding off all the facets of a young fashion business. And I consider my brother, who works in a completely different field, a mentor of sorts. I always sound board things with him as he has a great point of view that I trust.
Along the way there have been numerous people who have supported and helped me, often behind the scenes, such as talented e-commerce directors, programmers, IT support gurus, PRs, interns, executives, the list goes on.
Do you have any special memories of travel to Asia and favourite Asian owned businesses?
I’ll never forget visiting Naoshima Island off the coast of Japan (East Asia). Benesse Art Site is a magical place - you may know it from images of Kusama’s sculpture at the end of a pier, but there is so much more there: major works by James Turrell, Walter de Maria, Cy Twombly, Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol and more. It’s an undertaking to get to Naoshima; first you take the bullet train from Tokyo, then another train from Kyoto, a further train and then a boat. The landscape is pretty unspoilt and there is a great history of art on the island. In particular, there is a series of paintings by Monet I’d never seen before. They are housed in Chichu Art Museum designed by Tadao Ando; the gallery is partially submerged so you have a sense of walking into a sacred underworld going in, and you must remove your shoes before entering the shine-like building. When you emerge, you notice that the water lilies and flowers in the surrounding gardens have been meticulously planted to reflect the paintings inside, showing such sensitivity and reverence for the works.
Concept Foreign Garments New York is a collective and brand in New York City. CFGNY has an exhibition of clothes and sculpture called Collecting Dissonance, on in London until August 2021 which addresses the notion of “cuteness” - their work often questions stereotypical constructs. The collective was founded by Tin Nguyen and Daniel Chew in 2016 and joined by Kirsten
Kilponen and Ten Izu in 2020. Their mission statement says, “CFGNY does not wish to represent what it means to be "Asian" in the singular; instead, it encourages the visualization of the countless ways one is able to be in the plural.”
Where are you hoping to travel to next?
The first plane I get on will be to take me home to England to visit my family and friends. Then hopefully to Italy. My husband and I got married during the pandemic and cancelled all our original plans, so it would be nice to finally have our honeymoon if we possibly can!
What you are wearing and what made you choose this look from Huishan Zhang?
I’m wearing a khaki green trench coat. I was drawn to this as it’s so beautifully made, inside and out. The shape is perfect. It’s a classic piece that would feel special every time you put it on. I love brilliantly designed clothes that are functional enough to wear day after day.
Photographed in New York City wearing Mallory coat in olive green cotton. Instagram @tillymacsmith