We sit down with STYLEBOP.com's fashion director to talk packing tips, style icons and the advice she'd give her younger self
“We’re going to America. If we catch any of you wearing ripped jeans or watching MTV, we’ll put you on the first plane back to Iran,” was the warning given to a young Leila Yavari and her siblings by their parents. Born in Tehran, the Yavari family moved to France to escape the Iranian Revolution in the late 70s, before settling in America. Obviously, like all children, there is a natural inclination to rebel against parents’ wishes – Leila Yavari spent most of her stateside youth sporting ripped denim and listening to Nirvana.
But fashion hasn’t always been a central focus for Yavari. She studied Cultural Theory and Political Economy of Development at the University of California, Berkeley before beginning a PhD on Brechtian theatre. It was halfway through this that she got approached to start modelling, scouted one summer whilst hanging out with her sister at a shopping mall in Beverly Hills. At first she thought it would be a fun sideline, but the modelling jobs increased and soon she was travelling the world. Yavari later made the decision to focus on a fashion career full-time – it was through modelling that she first discovered the roles of a fashion buyer and editor.
In 2010, Yavari joined German luxury e-tailer STYLEBOP.com, where she is now fashion director. “I never really intended on being a buyer, but I think that my experience in the industry combined with strong analytics and creative skills made me a good candidate,” she explains. “Like any buyer, my role is multi-faceted. But I suppose, when it comes down to it I’m a bit of a storyteller – weaving the different aspects of the season into a narrative that will engage our customers. That is the most fun part of the job because you get to engage directly with each designer’s vision. Another brilliant part is developing great friendships with so many amazing talents. It’s also incredibly rewarding to be able to create a platform to support and nurture young talent from around the world.”
The all-important question for any brand is who is that woman? “We pride ourselves on the fact that STYLEBOP.com appeals to such a wide and diverse range of women across the globe – different ages, different professions, different tastes,” explains Yavari. “If I had to pick on commonality, I’d say they all love to balance luxury with a touch of the unexpected. They have a creative spirit (regardless of profession), and thrive on discovery. They turn to fashion not for trends, but as a mode of expression and are not afraid to have fun.”
No day is ever the same for Yavari, who currently divides her time between various cities. “I’m never anywhere for more than a few weeks at a time! On the bright side, some of the more frequented places, like Paris, London, New York, have become quite homey: I have favourite neighbourhoods and go-to spots, where I know the staff and they know me. FaceTime also helps, as it feels like I’m never too far from my favourite people.” There’s little time for rest – but a dream day for would be “perfectly simple,” involving a leisurely breakfast and time to read a newspaper ("a print edition, not online").
We meet with Yavari at the end of London Fashion Week, days before she will fly straight to Milan. Her impressive, efficient packing technique relies on multi-tasking. “I’d love to say that I travel with trunks and trunks of clothes, but the reality is that I am pretty streamlined and only favour pieces that work for many occasions. As a rule of thumb: I usually start with my essentials (a blazer, trousers, a trench and loafers), throw in some current favourites for spice and hope for the best.” And her shopping tips? “Always trust your instincts and go with pieces that elicit an emotional connection. You always look your best in something that you enjoy wearing. It really shows.”
Obsessions? “The furniture of Pierre Jeanneret. I love his take on mid-century: it is earthy, rich – not austere at all, but welcoming. That mood feels really timeless but also right for the moment.”
Style icons? “Charlotte Rampling, who shows how amazing it is to age gracefully and naturally; Jane Birkin, because her ilk of Gallic chic always looks good, and, of course, my mum who taught be the importance of always looking occasion appropriate.”
Advice for her younger self? “Don’t be so serious. There’s plenty of time for that later.”