A balancing act of basics and classics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2012, 12:00am


She has friends and relatives scattered around the world, a beach house in Phuket, Thailand, and travels three times a year on buying trips for Tiare, her boutique in Central. It's little wonder then that Kathleen Sweeney Lee's globetrotting lifestyle has influenced the way she dresses.

'I love structured and clean pieces, like every city girl, but I also have a soft spot for crazy prints and effortless boho-chic,' she says.

'I just bought this full-length Carolina Herrera evening gown - champagne underneath with yellow floral prints - for a friend's wedding. I don't want to look like I tried too hard, so I go for the 'in' look and take it down a few notches.'

Her wardrobe is filled with garments of all colours and prints. There's a Graham & Spencer sheer floral top, a tropical-print dress from the Thakoon Addition diffusion line as well as a tie-dye summer number from Twelfth St by Cynthia Vincent.

'It's like a sea of black during rush hour in Central,' Lee says. 'I love wearing pastel colours for the morning and going neon bright in the evening, like hot pink and electric blue.'

The SoHo boutique owner and Pilates instructor thinks seasons ahead when buying for her store, and this affects her own wardrobe, as well. 'I know we are talking about spring-summer now, but my head's already thinking about autumn. I'll probably have my autumn-winter wardrobe done at the beginning of September.'

Lee's wardrobe editing keeps a few transitional pieces on hand to make room for shopping finds. 'But I don't dress in a too trend-focused way,' she says. 'At the end of the day, I wear what looks good on me. If the trend is an itty-bitty mini-dress, I'll probably pass.'

This summer, Lee will be living in fancy florals and cool whites.

'Everyone should have a pair of white jeans for summer - I find Citizens of Humanity suits my figure. You should buy a size larger than your normal size for white denim.'

Her passion for colour and prints is also evident in her accessories. She keeps her shoes in clear boxes so she can choose them quickly.

'I'm more practical about shoes because I wear them to death, I really do. There are the classics and the basics that you need to have but also fun party wear,' she says.

Yves Saint Laurent's tribute strappy sandals in fuchsia as well as Sergio Rossi's colour-blocking flats make it to her list of favourites.

'I like to spice things up with coloured accessories, bags and shoes. I don't like to wear animal prints, but that Celine luggage with animal prints is my favourite,' she says.

Other choices include an Alexander McQueen knuckle-duster clutch in gold foil and a bowling bag from Yves Saint Laurent.

As for jewellery, Lee likes to keep things simple and gold.

'I don't wear a lot of jewellery - just my go-to gold hoops from Gorjana. I tend to lean towards gold because silver tarnishes so quickly in Hong Kong, and I just can't be bothered.'

One of the pieces Lee often reaches for is a long gold strand featuring pearls, shells and ocean-inspired motifs. She wears it as a necklace by casually tying it into a knot. It can also be worn as a belt. 'I love this piece my friend made for me. It's so summery, versatile and reminds me of the sea.'

Apart from going to fashion shows and events, Lee says her inspiration for styling comes from star watching.

'I like checking out what the celebrities are wearing. I think they really drive trends forward. Also, fashion blogs,' she says. 'In the morning, my husband reads The Wall Street Journal, and I read [fashion website] Refinery 29.'

But Lee says the fashion industry is not all about glamour.

'It's more like rolling racks of clothes in the snow, trying to hail a cab lugging hundreds of kilos of stuff during fashion week. Then my fashion uniform is probably just jeans and a black T-shirt,' she says.

'I have friends who pick out their outfits a day before, but I've never been able to do that. You have to wake up and see what you feel like in the morning.

'What you wear, especially for me, expresses what you are feeling. Sometimes you might need that extra colour pop to make you feel good.'