As Lily Gatins and her brood stride around 798 on the day of our photo shoot they turn heads and draw stares; passersby stop to photograph them or simply gawp. The family seems neither to notice the strangers’ interest nor to care about it. In between photos Lily’s sons Martin (age 5) and Etienne (age 3) are as apt to amuse themselves with her Chanel lipstick as with their best friend for the day, a beetle in a matchbox. High-fashion and public curiosity clearly don’t faze these boys.
Lily is from the Dominican Republic, and her husband Phillip is American. They moved to Beijing a year ago because of Phillip’s
posting as a public servant. His work has taken them to Lima, and Washington DC previously. It was while they lived in Peru that Lily began Le Report (lereport.com); a website which features collaborations with and coverage of the personalities and trends in fashion, art, and design, which inspire her. She has become a tastemaker and cause célèbre in the world of avant garde fashion, a lodestone for like-minded creative people, and a champion of lesser-known designers from all around the world.
We spoke to Lily about her style and aesthetics, and their place in her family dynamic.
How did Le Report come about?
We were living in Peru, a very conservative country which suffers from a serious lack of style. There are amazing creative people in photography and art, but fashion there is essentially stuck in the 90s. Still I saw potential all around me in the young kids there so I decided to begin interviewing people who fit with my aesthetic; people with a little edge.
When we moved back to the states I attended New York Fashion Week. Friends gave me pieces to wear and invited me to shows. New York is very commercial, and that’s a little boring to photograph, so photographers were interested in me.
After we moved to Beijing people kept encouraging me to come to Paris, telling me that I was an inspiration to kids on the sidelines who wanted to put out their own creations. The public only recognizes famous avant garde designers like Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto. But there are amazing designers from all over the world that people don’t know about. Unfortunately all the major fashion editors hype mainstream labels. Since then I’ve done the Paris shows twice, and this season will be my third trip.
How did your style come about?
The Dominican Republic is a tropical country so everybody dresses in very brightly-colored florals. As a kid I was always uncomfortable; I was skinny, I had a gap in my teeth, and I was very shy. In photos of me as a little girl, I look stilted – as though I’m wearing a costume.
When I was ten my grandfather whom I was very close to passed away and I wore dark colors in mourning. For the first time I felt comfortable with the way I was dressed; perhaps black symbolized our closeness. At 16 I moved to New York, and on the subway I encountered this amazingly stylish Asian man, dressed in Comme des Garçons from head-to-toe. And that was it – I was hooked and I’ve never looked back. Black became my second skin. It feels natural to me; I just put it on and go.
How does your look impact on your life?
People usually find me intimidating and unapproachable before they get to know me. I get it: black is a serious color, like a stop sign. There’s a perception that if you’re a mom, you’re supposed to wear sneakers and comfortable clothes, and I’m different. Black is a controversial color. There’s a dark and bitchy persona that’s expected with this look. When people meet me they’re surprised that I’m domestic and warm. I love to cook and host dinner parties, talk to my friends on the phone, and watch TV with the kids. I don’t see myself as a fashion icon, and I’m not showy. I’m just enthusiastic about fashion.
I’m not interested in judging others either. Recently I was invited to participate in criticizing street style pictures of people; thumbs up or thumbs down. Each person probably felt so good when they had their photograph taken, and then I’m supposed to say they look awful? That’s not something I want to be part of. I’ve been made fun of myself. I was mocked on the Parisian version of Fashion Police. Even my husband says “Just because you like it, doesn’t mean it looks good!” But my style is not about being pretty.
Why is a sense of style important for kids?
Clothes are just another way to express personality. Style gives you confidence, and communicates who you are as a person. They boys are artistic and they should show it. Of course if later on in life they want to dress differently than how I dress them now, that’ll be fine.
Do the boys have their own sense of style?
They both love the rocker look. They’re obsessed with their black leather jackets and can’t wait for the winter to come so they can wear them again. They naturally gravitate toward black. Sometimes I play a game; just to see their reactions I’ll put on a multi-colored Comme des Garçons collectors piece which I never normally wear. Martin immediately says, “Mom, you look silly.” He thinks I shouldn’t wear any other color but black. They’re my style consultants.
How would you describe each family member’s look?
Martin is the most naturally stylish in the family. He’s visual, into details, and notices anything new or different. When I told him we were going to Japan for our family vacation the first thing he said was “Awesome! We’re going to go to the Comme des Garçons store and Transformers.” My husband looked at me and said, “What are you creating here?”
Etienne is following in his big brother’s footsteps, but he’s a little bit more laid back in terms of clothes. He’s a performer with a funny, extroverted creativity, whereas Martin is reserved and thoughtful, like a little man.
Phillip’s style has changed over time. He has gradually updated his look to match the rest of the family. His clothes are more monochrome and he’s started wearing suits with skinny pants.
What do you wear day-to-day?
I would like to dress avant garde all the time, but the heat in Beijing is too much. I wear clothes which are still edgy but simpler, and in a breathable fabrics like cotton. I’ll emphasize one piece, like an avant garde bag or bangle. You can look cool without piling it all on. My mom is definitely one of my main influences in terms of how I present myself on a daily basis; she wore makeup all the time. Some days I don’t feel like dressing up, but I still put red lipstick and sunglasses on.
How do you think wearing black affects the boys?
It reinforces our family identity. It’s like being born and raised in a family of ice skaters or basketball players – it’s our thing. Our family look is iconic, as though we are a tribe. I think it gives them an inner strength. They will always have these memories and images, as a kind of legacy. They can show these visual mementos to their future wives and kids.
Where do you shop for them, and what do you buy?
I do most of my shopping online and every time I travel I go to kid’s clothing stores. I love Stella McCartney for skinny jeans, Zara Kids for basics, and a French brand called Finger in the Nose for more rock n’roll gear. Their shoes are always the same; Converse, Vans, and Doc Martens, and Havianas in summer. I like them to look good but I can’t justify spending USD 300 on clothes they’ll either mess up or grow out of in six months.
Kids love t-shirts with cartoon characters on the front, and mine are no different, but to me it is unnecessary propaganda. If I see something with strong graphic design – like the batman logo – I’ll get it, but when I find a good plain black t-shirt I buy four.
What do you enjoy most about being a mother?
The best thing about being a mom is their unconditional love. It’s my number one favorite thing in this world. They’re going to love you without makeup, with your hair all messed up, wearing whatever you’re wearing – they don’t really care about any of that. They just have this pure love for you.
Photos by Sui