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motherhood & style: tammie chaponot.

Blending fashion, family time and travel is one way Tammie Chaponot finds the modern, edgy designers whose clothes line the racks of her shop Clever Alice. She prefers smaller labels that pay attention to detail — just like she does — and pulls them together throughout the year for a well-edited pop-up shop, which crops up in urban spaces in Chicago and New York. She always looks the uber-stylish part blending skirts, leggings and tunics with a cool pair of boots. For a glimpse into Tammie’s business inspiration, how they roll on their travels, and how being a mama has (and hasn’t) changed what she wears, continue on.

Tammie founded Clever Alice years ago as a Chicago boutique. Over time, and after building a devout following, she began to experiment with sample sales and pop-ups with great success. She moved to Brooklyn not long ago with her husband and two kids, Nicolas (14) and Jade (9), and runs the business from there. But finding designers happens anywhere. A frequent traveler to Chicago (her hometown), Paris (her husband’s hometown) and other well-heeled cities, Tammie says shopping for the store is an easy part of travel and family life. “A lot of it is work mixed with play,” she says. “Your eye is always open when you’re traveling, and you find designers in the process of this.”

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What were your earliest influences; what got you into clothing and fashion?

My mom was a hairdresser, she worked for herself. So I always thought: I will work for myself. And I always loved clothing and thought about owning a boutique when I was pretty young, so that was always the goal, always the vision. There wasn’t anything else that I ever really wanted to do.

Do you have any early memories of sitting in your room going through magazines…

Oh sure! Definitely. I mean, Brooke Shields in the Calvin Klein ad, Seventeen Magazine. I spent hours ripping all the cool ads out of Vogue and Seventeen and sort of lining the walls from floor to ceiling, and then going over to my girlfriend’s house and doing it at her house because I ran out of wall space. It was definitely about visualizing it and seeing it all the time.

How did Clever Alice come to be? Did you study fashion?

cleveralice_readingI opened Clever Alice when I was 25, which was pretty young, but I’d also worked a great deal of retail, a lot of high-end, low-end and medium-ground retail experience. And I did go to the Apparel Center (in Chicago) and, at the time, the International Fashion Academy of Merchandising. I took all the business classes that were available there. And I read like crazy: business, motivational, self-inspiring books.

You’re very self-driven — have you always been like this? Was it from watching your mom?

Yes. Definitely a tremendous amount from my mom, because she worked for herself and she was single and had two kids and had to juggle everything. I didn’t really know any other way.

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How would you describe the clothes you’re drawn to, and is it the same for the clothes you tend to look for and carry in the shop?

Yes, it can be different. You’re not looking for yourself, you’re looking for those ten clients and what they do, and what their body shape is, and what their lifestyle is. So when I do the pop-ups, I keep a few rules: We love to stay with the smaller brands that pay attention to quality and product control and where things are made. But then also, how is my customer going to wear this, and does this fit into her life? Does it travel easily? Does it wash well? Does it flatter her? Does it feel good? Does she feel confident and sort of sexy in it but, yet, could she wear it to work? It’s about the benefits of a line rather than the line just having some brand name, or it being super affordable. It has to be more than that.

And the clothes you’re drawn to?

I definitely shop the pop-ups! Why wouldn’t I? (laughs) Right now, as a mom, living in New York, it has to work. I’m on the train all the time. I’m walking a lot. I want it to be machine-washable. But yet I walk into restaurants or into school  to get my kids, so I have to look sort of put together. So skirts, dresses, leggings and tunics are my staples. And navy and black because it’s urban and you’re sitting on the train and it’s a little gritty.

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Do you feel like your style changed much after you had children?

Yeah, my style definitely changed after I had my kids because, honestly, my body changed. I had two kids in my 30s and I had two C-sections, so your body does change. I like the way things drape, and I like when things are cut on an angle. I like when they have little details I can play around with. I like comfortable fabrics. It’s evolved. I don’t really want to wear what I wore in my 20s. I’m comfortable with that.

Any brands or designers you tend to wear regularly?

I definitely wear a lot of Porto, made in San Francisco. It’s a woman designer, she’s been a designer forever. And she makes everything in house. I’ve always carried her collections. Everything is cut and sewn in San Francisco. Her pieces travel — I travel a lot. And so they’re wonderful to travel with.

You travel. Where and how often, and does your family come along?

My husband’s from France so we go to Paris once or twice a year. And the kids come, of course, we have a ton of cousins. They’re really well-traveled kids. They’re used to it. I go to Chicago a lot. We live in New York. When we’re in France, we’ll go to Italy, to Milan, or we’ll go to Barcelona. A lot of it is: We’re walking around. We’re looking at art. We’re looking at new clothing lines. The kids point things out to me all the time, which I think is fun.

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What is your favorite thing to do as a family when you’re in another city?

I think because we live in an urban environment, we search for parks, quite honestly. We live by Fort Greene Park, where we go all the time. Or we go to Prospect Park or visit the Botanic Garden in Brooklyn. If we’re in Chicago, and when we lived there, we visited the Botanic Garden every weekend. Or we’d go to the Conservatory in Lincoln Park. In Paris we go to the Luxembourg Gardens. We also have a small house in the countryside so sometimes we just love being there…we have little chickens.

Any piece of advice you carry with you when it comes to balancing everything you do?

There’s a quote I’ve clung to since I was in my 20s: Success is never ending, and failure is never final. It reminds me that when there are plenty of tough situations and times, this isn’t the end. Success can always continue.

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What’s the one piece of clothing or accessory that always makes you feel really great when you’re wearing it?

You know, for someone who doesn’t like to include big name brands in the pop-ups, it’s a funny answer: my Louis Vuitton bag. My husband bought it for me and it’s my favorite bag. It’s a piece of art to me. It’s not the brown logo. He bought this beautiful sort of dark burgundy plum shiny leather, and it really doesn’t matter what I’m wearing, if I have that bag with me, I just feel good.

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Tammie’s favorite places to shop | find:

YOOX | boots | “All my favorite boots are from here.”

Le Marais | Paris | “fun vintage shopping”

New Hope | Pennsylvania | “great antique shopping”

Creatures of Comfort | clothing | “It’s just beautiful.”

From the Source | furniture | “You pick your wood tabletop and the legs. They do benches and cool chairs made out of recycled oil paints, which sounds bizarre but they’re supercool. Most of their wood is sort of reclaimed, sort of vintage.”

Thank you so much, Tammie. Find out when Clever Alice pops-up next.

{Photos courtesy of Tammie Chaponot.}

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