We began with the intention to inspire consciousness in our everyday, to cultivate a culture that encourages others to uncover where and why something is made. The Connected Clothing series spotlights on different individuals – why they wear what they wear and the significance behind their choices.
Olivia Coléon is an Experience Designer and Innovation Consultant at The Vibe Project, working with hospitality spaces on music programming, and tech companies on event and partnership curation. Based in Singapore, she was previously living in Bali, and before that – working in the music industry in New York. After quitting her job in New York, she spent 9 months solo backpacking, and and it was through that time away that she decided to live more consciously – from clothing to consumption (from foods to social standards). Having been to over 50 countries worldwide, she likes to collect textiles unique to the culture in her travels and tailor make them into custom pieces.
You’re from New York, and you were working in the music industry for 6 years before moving to Asia. What brought you to Asia?
I was working and I knew I wanted to do something different. I caught myself wondering – Is this all? Is this it? Is this all there is to my life in New York? So I quit my job and went backpacking by myself for a year. I spent time in Central America, South America, Africa. South East Asia, which was when I came to Singapore and Bali for the first time. When you’re here, you realize it’s such an amazing place to be – the culture and the people. Whereas in New York, the mindset is very New York centric and almost feels insular. I went back after traveling, and it was as if I jumped right back to the rat race. I felt stuck and I knew I wanted more.
Bali is the place to be if you need to spend time redirecting, which is how I found myself there. It gives you the space and time to figure out your own journey. I was in Ubud and it is so beautiful there, you can feel the energy of the place and it’s very humbling because there’s a lot to learn from the Balinese and their beliefs. But I moved to Singapore because I wanted to build my business and felt like I needed to get back to ‘real life’.
Tell us more about your 9 month solo trip. How did it change your lifestyle to a more conscious one?
When you’re forced to live out of one bag for an extended period of time, you learn a lot about yourself. Luckily, I planned to travel to warmer climates. Packing wise, I started by thinking of things that would be easy to pair with. I also wanted to be mindful of what I wore, as I was travelling solo, especially when I was visiting countries of different cultures and religious spaces. Honestly, the clothing I brought wasn’t exciting, it was functional and it was whatever was needed.
Coming back from that made me realize how much I took advantage of the space I had living in an apartment and a closet. Even if it was a small closet, there’s still so much accumulated. When you’re forced to live out of one bag, and can’t really shop, you realize you can live with so much less. You become more mindful of how you’re dressing, how you’re representing yourself, how much you really need, and how much you can maximize your clothes.
Even moving to Singapore, I’ve pretty much moved here just with a suitcase. I brought some stuff over from New York but most of it is still in storage. Having to redevelop a closet from scratch is fun, but it also feels like I have to be more purpose-driven with what I buy.
What is your intention behind what you wear and what you buy?
Now, before buying something, I just ask myself – Do I really need this? What will this add to my closet and to my style? Can I mix and match it with a lot of my existing pieces? What types of environments or places can I see myself wearing it? Does it feel good? I’ve become a lot more conscious of what I put on my skin, and just putting less chemicals: from beauty to hair products.
How do you go about buying the fabrics and tailoring them? What’s the approach and process in that?
I think I’ve always been into fabrics but in terms of shopping i never really bought so much. What I would do instead was collect fabrics from my travels and get them made into stuff, as another means of a souvenir, but instead of buying a collectible I’d buy fabric and get it made which feels more novel and special in its own way. My mom also collects fabric too, and it’s probably something that’s passed on from her to me. Growing up, she would have a trunk filled with all these different types of fabric and I remember just going through them and thinking of all the possibilities.
When I’m buying fabrics, I try to buy just enough yardage so it just covers what I need, that way it’s minimal wastage – plus saves me the extra load when I’m traveling. I’ve bought fabric from Guatemala, Kenya, and Bali to name a few. Most of it from Bali actually. The fabric from the south of France is also beautifully romantic, very girly.
Usually, the intention is pretty instinctual. I’ll look at a piece of fabric and know if I want it made to something apparel or home focused. Take this fabric for example, it’s from Nigeria and I got it made into pillows. Of course, there are times where I’ve thought something would be cool but it really wasn’t, and of course when that happens it can be disappointing. I had this beautiful woven fabric from Guatemala and I got them made into shorts and pants, but they just didn’t fit right. Sometimes if mistakes happen, then I try to get it reworked on the spot or gift it to a friend who’d love it more.
When I know I’m going to a place where I can find a trusted tailor, I’ll collect the fabrics over time and take them all in one go. I find tailors, usually through referrals and recommendations. Their skill level varies but there’s a few where sometimes I can just show a photo and they’ll know the details of that design. Most of the time though, it’s pretty much trial and error.
Tell us more about your closet.
I’m half French and I went to University in Paris, I think because of that I really understood the basics of how fashion and couture works. I was in the heart of it and I grew out of what I wore in High School. French style is effortless and beautiful, their silhouettes are all classics, but I always felt it was more limited in its colour and pattern. I’m slowly rebuilding my closet here but most of my pieces are heavily influenced by that, the French style of timeless silhouettes with fun and unique prints.
What would your ideal wardrobe look like?
Classic timeless silhouettes with super cool prints. That would be the best. Like a pair of really nice boots or even a really nice jacket, but then you make it unique to you.
What is your personal style and how has that evolved over time?
I guess the best way to describe it would be… hippie chic? Going to school in Paris helped give me the foundation of style and fashion, and really understand how to dress for my body. French style is all about subtlety, that kind of timeless beauty. Then there’s New York, where you can be so crazy with your fashion – almost like it’s expected of you. Those two contrasting factors really influenced me.
Patricia Field, the stylist from Sex And The City, had the best store in New York and everyone who worked there were dressed in full drag. She’d have these everyday pieces but also crazy outrageous ones too. It was amazing to go in and find a piece of treasure. Having that kind of avenue in New York, where you were encouraged to wear whatever you want, was liberating.
Then traveling is a different scale of comparison, where you have to tone it down and scale down. How do you make basics and classics fun, but also respectful? Nothing unnerves me more than when people have no regard in how to dress to respect the spaces you’re in. Travel definitely makes people more aware and conscious of it.
If your house is on fire, what are the five pieces you would save – even if it meant running back into a burning house?
I have this really beautiful Tommy Hilfiger vintage emerald green kind of over dress piece, which I would definitely save. My leather jacket. My red MATTER Pants. I really like Olive Ankara, so a jumpsuit from there. A piece of New York 1950s dress with these patterns of the Eiffel Tower all over it. It’s super cute and it’s fitted with ruffled accents. I think about that one a lot, it’s in New York. I’d definitely save that one.
What is your relationship with your clothes?
It’s a fun relationship! I see it as a form of expression and I want to honour what I buy by wearing them intentionally. I want to be myself in my fashion and style and daily choices, to be the best version of me through that. But there’s also this dichotomy because it’s not one that I’m super attached too either, ever since I started getting my clothes made I realized how a lot of what I own is replaceable.
Olivia Coléon is an Experience Designer and Innovation Consultant based out of Singapore. As a natural connector and creative visionary, Olivia has always been on the pulse of emerging lifestyle trends. She has 10 years of experience working in the music industry with brands such as Boiler Room, PUMA, and American Express. Having traveled to over 50 countries worldwide, Olivia has a global understanding and sense of budding trends, technologies, taste-makers and artists — and the audience that surrounds them. Olivia now runs The Vibe Project, an experience design and brand strategy company, in addition to founding Naked Nights, an event series that celebrates vulnerability. Find her on IG here, and visit her website learn more about The Vibe Project.