UPDATE: We ran into Ms. Auster in Tribeca today and couldn't help but notice her major swag. Here's a flashback look at four of her rad summer looks. This story was originally published on June 14.
When we met gorgeous, on-the-rise singer, Sophie Auster, we were blown away by her genuine ease and radiant style (no wonder Ferragamo chose her as one of their Icona shoe ambassadors!) But spending the day documenting her favorite summer looks meant delving into the born-and-bred New Yorker's work-and-life philosophy and finding out just what it takes to "make it" in such a finicky biz.
To start, there's Auster's knack for songwriting (which runs in her blood, thanks to author-parents, Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt). Her lyrics are thoughtful and thought-provoking in a way that makes each melody a ballad, even if it's not a ballad. Cue Fiona Apple comparisons. Add to that her rockstar outfits, which mix vintage tees with Celine crossbodies, and well, you've got a star.
Photographed by Justin Chung
What is your first musical memory?
“My first musical memory is when I discovered I had a gift for music, and that it was something that I wanted to do. When I was eight, I was in the school choir. My teacher pulled me out and made me sing this gospel song in front of the entire class — I was trembling. She said, ‘Oh my God, you have such a great voice!’ I said, ‘I do?!’ I started getting solos in the choir after that, and she encouraged me to pursue singing and music. Thanks to this one teacher, that’s what sparked it for me."
How did growing up and living in New York all your life foster that passion?
“There are so many musicians in New York. You can wander into different Lower East Side clubs and discover different people. Just being around that kind of environment definitely nurtures your creativity. You learn so much from fellow musicians, and going to see different people perform. You can take things away from it like, what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. I think it makes you better the more you’re surrounded by it. I think New York City really cultivates that kind of atmosphere for artists. It’s a good place to be."
Ferragamo bag and shoes, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Joseph pants, vintage shirt, Screaming Mimi's suspenders.
Who do you consider to be your musical peers? The community is really huge, but oftentimes, pretty small, too. Who do you run into a lot?
“An acquaintance of mine is a girl named Sonya Kitchell, she’s a musician. Also, Trixie Whitley — I’ve never met her, but we play with a lot of the same people. I like what she’s doing. They’re my peers. We’re all on our way, but we’re not necessarily breaking out. Jared Samuel, who plays in my band, has his own band that I really like — he’s producing my next record. There’s a band called Lake Street Dive that I’ve seen a few times that I really like. It’s the atmosphere of performing, you meet a lot of different people.”
Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Ferragamo?
“They had gotten in touch with me a few years ago about attending some event. I hadn’t really heard from them in a while, and then I got this e-mail asking me to participate in the project. I thought it sounded fun. I think the shoes are super cute. I was honestly more flattered than anything else. It’s a super elegant, well-known famous company. I was lucky enough to perform at the event, which was really fun. It was in the space where Sleep No More was, so it had this cabaret vibe. It was fun! I got a beautiful portrait out of it. Everyone was really lovely and nice.”
Do the ideas come to you in an epiphany or do you designate time to sit down and work on music?
"No, I always sit down and designate time. Sometimes, yeah, I have an idea that forces me to sit at my desk with my guitar and am immediately inspired. I write everyday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I come out with something that I like all the time. I feel like it’s kind of like exercising, you know? Your muscles get stronger the more you do it. I feel like, if I do it everyday, I get better. So, flexing that muscle of writing, playing, and singing everyday makes it easier to make material; it’s not as difficult anymore. That doesn’t mean the next thing is better than the previous, but at least you have a lot of material to choose from.”
What is a piece of advice you’d give someone starting out in the music biz? What’s a mistake you’ve learned from?
“I think a good piece of advice is that no one’s going to care about your career as much as you do. You can’t rely on anybody else. You have to really take the bull by the horns, especially in today’s climate. Everything is done so independently that that’s a real lesson to take with you. You first and foremost have to be in charge of your own art: staying on top of everything you’re doing, and being a very active artist — write everyday, play all the time, don’t sit back and expect things to come to you because that’s not how it works.”
Reformation top, vintage jeans, Vera Wang shoes, Ferragamo bag.
How do you view the intersection of music and fashion?
“I think they’ve been intrinsically connected for a really long time. If you think about various famous artists — the dress that I wore is a Stevie Nicks era kind of dress. These iconic musicians had iconic style — Mick Jagger, Billie Holiday and that beautiful flower in her hair. I think that the fashion aspect of it symbolizes who people are and what kind of music they’re making.”
Can you talk a little bit about your writing process? It’s so cliché, but where do you find inspiration?
“I think I usually start with lyrics inspired by something going on in my life, or some experience I’ve had. I take a lot from my dreams because I’m a very vivid dreamer. I’m constantly having these bizzaro subconscious dreams. Those have found their way into my lyrics. Also, of course, the relationships are always inspiring; whether it be heartbreak or new love, or something like that. Those themes occur often in my writing.”
Is there anything musically and style-wise that you would never try?
“Yeah, those Prada slipper shoes and the mink Celine slippers. I just don’t see the point in wearing slippers in the summer. They have all that fur. I won’t be trying those anytime soon. Music-wise, techno.”
We know you were brought up performing. How do you face critique? What’s your positive affirmation?
“At the end of the day, anyone who chooses to go into this extremely high-pressured, difficult world of performing, has to believe that they’re good enough. You say to yourself, ‘I’m good enough to compete in this.’ It’s kind of like holding on to that when everyone’s telling you you’re not. It’s definitely hurtful. Most people that are attracted to this world are extremely sensitive, so it’s this really funny juxtaposition of really vulnerable people in one of the toughest businesses around where you’re under a microscope and people are critical, and don’t consider your feelings. I think you just have that determination — the ‘I can’t live without this, there’s no other option for me’ kind of drive. That’s what keeps me going."
Topshop dress, vintage hat, Celine bag, Costume National shoes.
What would you be doing if you weren’t playing music?
“I’d probably be acting or painting. Definitely staying in the arts.”
Do you have a weakness for musicians in terms of relationships?
“No, but I’ve had horrible experiences with actors.”
Do you care to dive in?
“Nope! I’m just gonna say that.”
If you could collaborate or go on tour with anyone, who would it be?
“I think I’d really like to go on tour with Antony & The Johnsons. That’d be really cool, the music would fit.”
What are your favorite date spots in New York?
“I actually went to this place, Edi and the Wolf, and I though it’d be a great spot, but I wasn’t with a date. I kept thinking that someone has to take a date, it’s so nice! I think Smith & Mills is cute. Someone took me on a date there years ago, when I was like, 19. It’s an old carriage house for horses, so it’s really small and dark. I like good lighting on dates, nothing bright. There’s this restaurant in Brooklyn called Al Di La that’s really pretty. Oh, and The Richardson in Williamsburg, and Marlow & Sons.”
What do you want your fashion to say about your music and vice-versa?
“I think that the music is very eclectic. It’s definitely pulling from a lot of different genres. It’s a little folksy, it’s a little rock, it’s a little bluesy-jazz, and so, I try — especially when I perform — to have an elegance on stage with what I wear. It’s not punk rock. I’m not going to show up in a ripped up T-shirt and cut-off shorts because it just doesn’t symbolize what I’m doing. I like to be more elegant and have more fun with it, but as the music’s evolved, my style has gotten more old Hollywood, more classic — classic with a twist, maybe.”
Skaist Taylor dress, Topshop shoes, Aurelie Bidermann ring.
What’s the last big splurge you made?
“My guitar. That was my last big splurge, six months ago.”
What do you do on the weekends? What’s a typical Saturday?
“Well, I’ve been trying to mooch off my friend’s country houses in the summer. I hate being in the city during the summer. I’ve definitely been calling friends I know are outside the city. Usually, I’m seeing friends or working. With this kind of job, your schedule is up in the air; sometimes I’m in the studio on Saturday and sometimes I’m not. I kind of float on the weekends.”
What’s it like being in the studio? Do you have any superstitions before going on stage?
“If I’m not even a little bit nervous before I go on stage, I have to get myself a little more sharp. When you don’t have a shred of nerves, that’s when you forget something that you know so well. It’s happened to me before. I thought, ‘I got this,’ but then I couldn’t remember any of the lyrics to a song that I knew so well. I wrote that song!”
What did you do?
“I made it up! I started making up lyrics on the spot and hummed. I kept thinking, ‘I gotta snap to it!’ In the studio, you just kind of sink in, you don’t realize how many hours have gone by. You’re in your own warped little world. I like it."
What’s been your biggest accomplishment in the past year? What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?
“I think my biggest thing has been producing my own record, and writing the record, Red Weather. I’m also working on a full-length record now that I feel super proud of. I think those are big accomplishments. I’ve developed and grown a lot. I’ve seen myself come from one place and gone to another — it feels good. I’m pretty happy with that. Hopefully, other people like it, too. My mom loves it, but you know, it’s a good feeling to get something done and put your art out into the world because at this point, I’m like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t care.’ I just want to put it out there. It is what it is.”