I met Susan Oubari haphazardly a few years ago. And as soon as we met, we became fast friends. Susan has had a fascinating career in the fashion business, working for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar while living in Milan, Paris and Morocco. As glamorous and chic as she is, though, she is one of the most fun and down to earth people I’ve met. In this interview, she offers up insights into modern fashion, as well as all the places she’s lived.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Born in California, but raised on both coasts in America with a British mom and a half-Russian/half-American Dad. We traveled often, so the world was open to me at an early age.
When and why did you move to Paris?
Like so many American girls, I wanted to be a fashion designer and Paris was the source and ESMOD was the school. I studied French in college so I could speak the language of true couture design.
How and when did you start working in fashion?
The designer dream ended when I realized I couldn’t draw. But, boy, could I lay-out my terrible drawings with flair and style. Ah. So, I took my degree with honors and before I could decide where to take it, my boyfriend (now husband) said “Come live in Milan”. I did, and Harper’s Bazaar Italy was one intern richer. A year later, I was hired by Vogue Italy to work beside their Art Director, Luca Stoppini. It was the nineties and a golden decade for fashion and super models, I was in the thick of it and couldn’t believe my luck.
I have done two tours in Milan, the first lasting six years (working in the magazine business) and the second lasted four. The latter was when I returned in 2003 as the director of Michele Filomeno’s fashion photographer’s agency. I was seeing fashion from every angle and bringing that knowledge to everything I did. If fashion is about any one thing it is about having a point of view and an “eye”.
You have moved so often (Paris, Milan, Casablanca), how do you approach each new country?
You get used to a new place, but it helped that I have been traveling all my life so I actually don’t know any other way. I was always so comfortable and excited by change that I put all my energy into making the transitions easier on my husband and children. The good news is that everyone loves fashion, so work was easy to find. Even Morocco wants to be current and turns to Paris and Milan as its fashion mentors.
A quote comes to mind, “Everywhere you go, there you are.” When I found myself in Casablanca, Morocco, I quickly became the new Art and Fashion Director for the top Moroccan feminine magazine, “Femmes du Maroc”. I brought that magazine to the next level by using artistic B&W photography and dared to be controversial and photographed women in “interdit” or forbidden places. I am so proud of the work I did there because I was able to embrace the truth that fashion can be political, but I am even more proud that they let me.
You have a new website and blog called Personal Art Director. Please tell us the details.
I have created my own company called Personal Art Director and under that banner I do just about anything that has to do with style. Simply put, I Art Direct for hire, be it an invitation, creating a customized photo album, acting as a personal shopper, organizing events or adding that element of drama missing in your home or even closet. I love working with clients and showing them what is possible and often missing. It doesn’t take much, but it does take some risk and people don’t know where to start. When you set out to do something that is “fashionable” people shut down. I want to open people up. Add humor to their clothing and décor. Add that one piece that will start conversations and get them compliments. When they feel good about their event, home, or look and forget the part I did, I have succeeded. I want people to embrace their own sense of style and own it.
As for my blog, it is a team effort with my writer in Los Angeles, Lauren Sarafan. Despite our 9-hour time difference we are constantly coming up with ideas on how to throw together photos and words. Our goal is to have a funny fashion blog that looks like no other. We put other peoples’ lives and stories in the spotlight. We art direct an event, a situation, a thought, an image and make it more important than the event itself as we reinterpret it for the blog. We freeze moments and give shape to what we believe is special. We turn our focus to what we encounter daily, be it a grand opening of another fashion icon or the best yoga class in LA that Lauren is taking. Small moments are what our lives are made of and we just want to give those fleeting seconds the credit they deserve in creating the joy in our lives. We are turning the microscope on our friendship, even though we are separated by thousands of miles we are both on the journey of living the best lives we can and we embrace our similarities and differences.
Tell us about your TV show and videos.
I love being on camera. What I relish most about film is looking back and reliving everything years later, we think we will always remember what we have done, but we often forget. Film is priceless to me because, not only is it capturing an event in time, it is representing THE time, from the cars to the production quality to the clothes. It is a true time capsule.
I have appeared on camera for NBC (“The Ticket” featuring my point of view of “la mode” in Morocco), Style.com (field producer interviewing models and designers during fashion week in Milan), Canal Plus (a correspondent for Johnny Saucisson) and I loved it! The pace is exciting, but stressful! You have to use all your resources, so I am lucky I like to improvise. There is that moment when you don’t know if you will say the right thing, or if you will even say anything at all… and then you surprise yourself and realize you are speaking and it is already underway.
I will always love television and I am flattered to still get offers, but these days I do more voice-overs in France and television interviews for America.
My philosophy is “say yes” when whenever you can because you never know what big adventure it will lead to.
What are some of the differences in the fashion world of Italy and France?
I don’t know if an average American could tell the difference, because Italian and French fashion are both elegant, but each country owns its take on what fashion is all about. They both love their little dogs, but that is where it stops. Italian women dress very elegantly, simply, in an understated yet stunning way. No sweats in the supermarket for these ladies. Quality, cut and fit are essential, they believe in superb and original products; they are proud owners of their Made in Italy label and only perfection will do.
The Parisian women take fashion seriously as well, but they are more creative and take bigger risks. Labels are less important to them than the complete look. They mix and match brands, styles and colors. Parisians are much more casual than in Milan. The French love their jeans, but know how to give that added value flair to the look, be it a vintage Chanel tweed jacket or by adding the avant garde trademark look that include their posture, haircut and shoes.
To sum up, I believe, Italian fashion is sexy and French is sensual, the difference being that the Italians dress from the outside in and the French from the inside out.
What are the key style differences you see between American women and French women?
The French woman is subtle and sensual. The American is outspoken and forthright. The French takes care of her shoes, the American doesn’t. The French woman is naturally fashionable; the American has to take Fashion 101. The French woman is thinner, but shorter and has a complete look with accessories. Americans believe jewelry is the only accessory. Fashion is part of the French culture; Americans are confused as to what culture even is and how it informs their everyday life. Despite their creativity, the French are understated, and the Americans overdo it. I can spot an American in Paris a mile away: too much lipstick, foundation and blush, earrings with a matching necklace, and, of course, sensible, ugly shoes, mostly sneakers. The American woman’s walk is even different, even the way she holds her bag, but don’t get me wrong, they are all my sisters and I love them. They are so open and curious, a lovely combination that I forget how much I miss. The French do it better, but they never let you forget it. A little of both worlds would be best (like us American Parisians peut-être?!).
We are getting closer though, thanks to the internet the world has become smaller, we no longer have to wait for trends to make their way over in terms of time. Everyone has access to fashion now and that is what is redefining everyone’s sense of style. We are living in a very exciting time and I look forward to see where fashion takes us next.
I don’t believe in “must-haves” per season because we are all different and sometimes those “must-haves” handicap instead of enhance. But, if we are talking basics here they are:
CLOTHES: 3 white t-shirts (invest in some good ones and know when do get rid of them, nothing beats a new crisp one tee that fits perfectly), black leather jacket, 1 pair boyfriend jeans, 1 pair tight jeans, 1 pair military tight pants, 4 dresses to throw on for a girls’ lunch or nice dinner, 3 pairs of black pants, 3 long-sleeve t-shirts, 2 v-neck cardigans, 2 sweaters, 1 pair leather leggings, 3 white long-sleeve button down shirts, 1 pair destroy jean shorts, 1 tuxedo style black vest, 3 skirts of varying lengths (1 black), 2 cashmere sweaters, 1 black turtleneck, and you can never have enough sexy tops, pick the colors that suit you best and stick with them, so you can easily integrate them into your wardrobe. Your signature color, if you will!!!!
ACCESSORIES: Great bras in black, beige (get properly fitted), 3 long necklaces from Marni, gold bulky bracelets, a handbag of note from Givenchy, Perrin Paris or YSL, a small Syliva Toledano clutch, earrings from Karry’O, shoes or booties from Louboutin, Wolford tights and leggings.
Grooming is not just for our adorable pets, nails (tips and toes) always manicured or buffed. A good haircut goes a long way and especially highlights or color… never let it go too long. Your haircut speaks volumes and tells us everything from your age to your fashion point of view. The final accessory that pulls your whole look together is turning up each side of your mouth. A smile goes with everything, so make sure you are brushing and flossing. And, (I know you have heard it all your life from your mother, but she was right), stand up straight, it is the instant diet and makes your clothes look their best and lie right.
Who do you think most embodies true Parisian chic?
Parisian chic is a fantasy, a dream; it is sensual, casual, girly yet sophisticated, researched yet natural, thrown together yet thought out, colorful yet subtle, mixed and matched, effortless glamour, timeless allure, romantic and mysterious; the perfect confluence of dichotomies. There’s no easy trick, but when done right, it’s certainly mesmerizing.
If you had to choose one designer who would dress you for the rest of your life, who would it be?
Can’t I have 10 designers?
COS (the high-end H&M)
Zadig & Voltaire
What do you prefer about Paris?
Paris is a living and breathing entity. It holds it’s own sensuality. La Seine. The patisseries. The food, the glorious food and it’s most miraculous resident, La Tour Eiffel. The fact that Van Gogh, Manet and Baudelaire lived and worked here is not lost on me. It is a place that feeds creativity. Living here is like constantly being in a movie with the greatest cast starring all of my friends. Simply put, j’adore Paris, I am so proud to call it home.
Richard Nahem is a native New Yorker who now lives in Paris. A successful New York City event planner and producer of cultural events, he has worked with many celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Whitney Houston, and Joan Rivers. After a teenage trip to Paris made him an instant Francophile, he visited the city frequently until he made it his home (in 2005). With 25 years of rave reviews from friends and colleagues, Richard decided to take his own private tours of “his” Paris public. His goal for Eye Prefer Paris Tours is to provide fun, adventurous, and exciting tours of Paris for the independent-spirited traveler.