“It’s a distressing thought for me to wear a plain white T-shirt… but it’s painfully obvious when someone is trying too hard to look like something they’re not, or just for Instagram,” declares Angie Chen, the rambunctious fashion curator of luxury vintage site The Fifth Collection.
It’s a matter-of-fact statement from a 27-year-old who is known for her loud signature style that revolves around prints, statement accessories and plenty of headgear. For our photo shoot, Chen tops off her fiery red Comme des Garcons top and Uniqlo jeans with a lip-shaped fascinator by Benoit Missolin, which is known for its kitschy fun pieces.
Chen inherited the sartorial gene from her mother and grandmother. In fact, the fashion bug bit her since she was a toddler. “My mom and grandmother are huge influences in my life. My grandmother taught me about colour and fit, she’s only worn tailored clothes her entire life and has never stepped out of the house with less than perfect hair,” she says. “When you’re surrounded by such strong women, you tend to pick up on their habits and obsessions. Hence I think that’s why I turned out like that.”
Today, she parlays her eye for good taste through her work. For the past four years, she has been the person in charge of steering the type of wares that The Fifth Collection sells. Her job involves intense research, authentication, inspection and pricing, she says, and her team also scours through books and websites constantly to provide specific knowledge about an item – which in turn help them determine the value of an item.
She says: “When we came up with the job title of a curator, we truly mean it in the most obsessive and traditional sense. In the way a museum would curate an art or historical exhibition, we do it for the items that are entrusted to us to create the selection that all of us want to shop from.”
How do you translate your eye for curating fashion at work into your own personal wardrobe?
“I look at details very closely. This is something I’ve been trained to do since I was a kid. My mom used to force me to check through every single seam of clothes that she bought. This translated to attention for detail I guess? At my job, we see lots of pieces come in due to past season trends that are not in style anymore.
It taught me to be extra cautious about what I buy and to also only buy things that can last a lifetime (or almost). My personal style I guess has taught me to curate the extremely niche and collector-worthy pieces that we get, such as an iconic Jean Paul Gaultier or Richard Prince for Louis Vuitton bag that ends up as a highlighted piece on our website.”
Describe your sense of style.
“Schizophrenic with an OCD-level attention to details.”
Vintage or new?
“Vintage always – it’s a true testament to longevity, uniqueness and quality.”
What is a recent purchase you love?
“A pair of Raf Simons for Dior curved heel pumps that I finally managed to find. They’re such a work of art and would be a collector’s item in years to come. Also my Uniqlo jeans; they fit like a glove for petite people with curvy derrieres.”
Who are your fashion idols?
“Nobody from the influencer-sphere. I think intellect and style are correlated; I admire the style of Nancy Cunard, Iris Apfel, Jacqueline de Ribes, Mona Von Bismarck, Tina Chow, and Maria Callas. I’m also surrounded by amazing men and women in my life who possess an innate sense of everyday style that they don’t just show on Instagram.”
Who is one designer you are obsessed with at the moment?
“Richard Quinn. Those prints…”
Would you say you are a fashion collector? If so, what are the items you collect?
“Yes definitely, I tend to collect ready-to-wear pieces, specifically items from Nicholas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga, Comme des Garcons and pieces from up-and-coming young designers. I’m obsessed with clothes.”
You are an accessories fiend, aren’t you?
“I think they’re the one thing that can easily pull a look together. Sometimes with clothes, you have to think a lot harder; with accessories, it’s quite a no-brainer when you throw on a pair of architectural sandals, some Lucite cuffs, with a good pair of earrings and you’d go instantly impeccably dressed. I think I have about 200 to 300 pieces of accessories.”
The go-to brand for basics?
“I don’t buy basics… kidding! I always go to Uniqlo for them.”
The go-to brand for a night out?
“Halpern. You can’t go wrong with sequins.”
The go-to brand for shoes?
“If I have no budget, it’d be Nicholas Kirkwood for his twist and fresh takes on classic styles. If I’m on a budget, then it’d be Charles and Keith, though I make sure I’m not buying an ‘inspired by’ copy.”
The go-to brand for costume jewellery?
“77th. It’s an amazing Thai label that has all things quirky.”
The go-to brand for bags?
“I’m boring when it comes to bags, only vintage Hermes and Chanel make it into my bag rotation. My style tends to be quirky and unpredictable hence I always lean towards classic bags with linear shapes.”
The go-to brand for millinery?
“Benoit Missolin and Maison Michel. Again, boring I know. But they balance fun details with a touch of elegance so you don’t look like you are trying too hard.”