Update: We're channeling Sophie's red, white, and blue looks this weekend and you should, too! This story was originally published on June 20, 2013.
It takes a lot to make it in the creative world of NYC: drive, a good eye, serious personality, and of course, a fabulous wardrobe to go along with it all. Well, we've found just these qualities (and more) in artist Sophie Aschauer, the mind behind adorable, handmade rug company SerpentSea. Taking nods from the water, but perfect in any urban setting, her woven mats are just as unique as Aschauer's own eclectic closet.
To complete her everyday aesthetic means including at least one eBay item (Aschauer is a pro at finding the best vintage on the auction site), a pair of throwback designer shoes, and a modern piece of jewelry or sunnies. And, luckily, we've got four of her summer outfits that are anything but ordinary. Think: a lobster dress, an updated T-shirt-and-jeans combo, and of course, how to make it in the Big Apple without being too cut throat. Yep, it's safe to say we've got a girl crush.
Photographed by Katie McCurdy
When you moved to New York, what was your grand entrance into the city like? How did you make friends? How does someone come to New York and become not only successful, but a style star?
"I think I was really lucky. I came by myself and lived at the Chelsea Hotel. I felt I could meet people there because I didn’t know anyone. My father had a friend in Austria who knew someone and said I should call up that woman. I was very formal on the telephone. I think I said something like, 'Would you maybe consider going for coffee one day?’ I met these Austrian artists and I went out with them. They knew a ton of people. So, I met a few people. This girl I phoned called me back and said, ‘Oh, it’s Thanksgiving, you’re new in town, come to my house!’ So, I went. I had basically met everyone at the dinner except for her. Those artists were there as well! These people I met at a gallery earlier were there, too! I felt like it was the weirdest thing. They’re all my best friends now, and that girl, Sabina, is a great stylist. She gave me a lot of her clothes when she cleaned out her closets. That was a great start; it all happened in the first four weeks. I wasn’t even sure if I would stay, but since I met all these people, I felt like I could."
Chloe for Opening Ceremony shoes, Comme des Garçons pants, Wilhelm Walter T-shirt, SerpentSea bracelet.
Speaking of your friends, you mentioned that Chloë Sevigny named a dress after you. Can you talk a little bit about that? Do your friends any of your weaving for your rugs?
“It’s different with Chloë. She’s my boyfriend’s sister so it’s more like family. Paul was very inspiring. I used to love sailing when I was a kid in Austria. He was a big sailor; he grew up sailing and he got himself a sailboat when he was older. In the beginning, I was a little scared of the ocean, but he was really good with it. I started to look at all his books, and try to involve myself a little bit. That’s where the whole net thing came from. He had the books, and a boat in Connecticut where I got my first rope from. He was very helpful, and I guess an inspiration.”
How have you developed and grown your e-commerce store?
“I started it from scratch! Again, thanks to friends. A designer friend of mine helped me with the website; another friend does branding. So, through my friends I got together the basics. It’s really press that directs business to the site. I mean, without press I don’t think I’d have any business! Who would know that I have a website or that I even exist unless I’m making a rope mat. I’m really grateful for the press.”
You say you shop a lot online — specifically on eBay. What are your eBay tips? What are the tricks of the game?
“I only look by designer because otherwise you never know. The pictures don’t really show what they’ll look like or how it’ll fit. Say I’m looking for Yves Saint Laurent; I know the quality will be fine no matter what. It’s not going to be polyester when you thought it was going to be silk. I never look for something like "silk print trousers" because that’s too broad — it’s hard to find things that way. I only buy stuff cheap so if it doesn’t fit, I won’t care. One time you could be unlucky, and another time you could find something that’s worth a lot. It all evens itself out in the end.”
What’s the last big item you scored on eBay?
“Ah! I got a vintage Versace dress for $70, which is already at the top-end of my spending. I would probably have paid $700 at a vintage store for this. It arrived in perfect condition, but it's already lost three of the pearls. I was really happy about this one.”
The Rodnik Band dress, 4eyes by Stephania Pia glasses for Selima Optique, vintage heels.
Look! At Sophie's vintage shoes...
Can you talk to us a little bit about your beauty routine? What’s happening with this bold lip that’s staying on all day long?
“Well, my beauty routine is pretty basic. I always put on mascara, lipstick, and a little bit of blush. The lipstick is Sisley, but just the lipliner. I only use the lipliner because they give a great matte quality that lasts all day long. Whereas the lipstick is smeary, it gets on your teeth, it doesn’t last, and it’s shiny! I prefer a matte. I love Sisley and Chanel No. 21, but I think they discontinued that one. Now, with eBay I have to try and find the discontinued colors.”
Do you change up your beauty for the summer versus the winter?
“Yeah, a little. It changes once I have a tan because what looks good in winter doesn’t look good with a tan. I guess I use less makeup in the summer. I think a nice natural look is good. I like to darken my eyebrows a little bit as a blonde. Even in the summer, I find it doesn’t work all the time — it looks weird with my skin tone. So, those tricks are reserved for the winter.”
Yves Saint Laurent shoes, Moschino skirt, American Apparel Top.
Can you talk a little bit about your summer plans?
“I’m going sailing in the Bahamas for two weeks! We’re starting in Hope Town and then Harbour Island, hopefully. That’s the planned route. I’ll be sleeping on a boat for two weeks, which is a little testy."
We love the detailing on this vintage Moschino skirt!
How do you pack for that?
“Hopefully, very lightly. I hope to pack just bikinis, swimsuits, and very light summer dresses. The boat is small, so I can’t bring a ton of stuff; otherwise, it’d get stuffy. The less the better. Ideally, I’ll be in swimsuits for the whole two weeks.”
What’s the future of SerpentSea? How do you want to expand?
“I’m starting to do more accessories because I think a lot of people want to get a mat, but it might not fit the style of their apartment, or they’re too expensive. It seems like an easy product for everyone. I’m guess I’m moving really slowly. The next thing I’m launching besides the bracelets are playing cards. I’m really excited about that because I love playing cards. I’m trying to incorporate more interests of mine that fit with the whole SerpentSea thing. I know I shouldn’t think about it too much, and just try things, but it’s my precious SerpentSea company that I don’t want to mess it up with some stupid decision.”
Chloe Sevigny for Opening Ceremony dress, Christian Louboutin shoes, Stephania Pia necklaces.
How did the playing cards come to be? Explain your love for them.
“I’ve always loved playing cards as a kid. I loved the queens, the kings, and making little scenarios. I love playing Solitaire. My mom also loves playing it, too. We always played. I love the idea of gambling — I’m not a gambler, but I like to read books on gambling and learning the psychology behind it. I love the symbols. I know they can drift into something cheesy, but a lot of people love it. I’ve always loved experimenting with different patterns, and when I found the pattern for the cards, it seemed like
a perfect fit. There’s a great playing card company in Austria that
makes the nicest cards in the whole world. It’s always been a dream of mine to have my own set of playing cards that have my drawings and all that on them.”
What is your philosophy of buying modern pieces and why
aren’t you drawn to buying contemporary designers?
“I think there are two reasons that stem from the whole eBay thing. I can’t afford to go to nice stores and buy designer clothes, but I don’t want to always wear H&M or something. It started from that. It’s some weird addiction I have. I find things so cheap on eBay that nothing else seems reasonable any longer. Am I crazy? Even H&M seems expensive; a nice wool sweater costs like $60 or something. I’ll find Sonia Rykiel shoes for like $19 on eBay. It became a weird obsession to only buy things on eBay. I only want to find things super cheap. But a lot of things might not fit properly, or they look old fashioned — for a while, I looked like a grandmother. Maybe if I started making more money, I’d start buying more modern clothes.”
Who are your favorite modern designers?
“I really like Comme des Garçons. I don’t know, though. I don’t allow myself to think about it because I know I can’t have it. I think about things that are more in reach. If I had money, I’d go to Barney’s and buy whatever I wanted. The first thing I’d buy — as cheesy as it sounds — would be a brand new Alaïa dress. I had one Alaïa dress I had to resell because it didn’t fit. It was so painful. After years of looking, I finally found a $100 Alaïa dress and then it didn’t fit. So, I sold it for $300 and I was happy again.”