left: Mary Jo Matsumoto, my favourite California girl / right: “Laguna Shimmer”
(Laguna Beach, Southern California, is Mary Jo’s native place and where she is currently living and creating)
I like to approach each one of my interviews as the starting point of an ongoing, constantly evolving conversation that, in turn, will continue to influence me and what I do. I don’t want the dialogue to stop at the end of each interview. That is why I value so much when a previous guest accepts a new invitation. I literally get to keep the conversation going and this whole process leaves me positively charged. It motivates me. It makes me present. You become more aware of the changes in your own life, because you yourself and your work are somehow the result of everything that has happened to you and of all the people you’ve met, listened to, talked to, admired, been challenged and inspired by.
Formerly a lauded bag designer, Mary Jo Matsumoto has lately been pursuing her passion for drawing, painting and sculpture. As much as I miss her beautiful designs and distinctive perspective on fashion, I must admit I am happy to see her artistic soul evolve in a new direction and her creativity come to life through her art work. I find it interesting to delve into the subject of personal style in this particular stage in Mary Jo’s professional life, something I didn’t feel the need to approach when she was in the fashion field. Maybe because, right now, she seems to me more like herself than ever before since I’ve known her. Without further ado, here is my latest conversation with my friend and favourite California girl, Mary Jo Matsumoto.
You live in California. How has that informed your personal style?
I never really thought of myself as being tied to California style, but spending the last year in New York City made me aware that there is a style difference between the two coasts – even the kind of art that people respond to is different. My theory is that having a lot of bright light and space can’t help but influence the way one sees and approaches the world. For me, growing up in Southern California created an imprint and nostalgia for a certain open and bright lifestyle. My home is filled with light and I spent a lot of time these past few months making sure that my studio has diffused sunlight pouring in so that my work would reflect this.
Would you say personal style should be something very well established, carried out by certain rules, or should it be more about discovery, exploration and transit? What is your style line in your wardrobe?
I think personal style is a lot like a fingerprint, it’s different for every person. As we become more accepting of who we are, we know what works for our bodies and lifestyle and what doesn’t. Looking back on to the things I wore when I was in my 20s makes me laugh because I was so adventurous in my fashion choices – a nice way of saying a red hot mess, but at least I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes.
These days I like a silhouette with a soft drape, nothing skin tight, but not baggy either. I wear less black and more navy, white is still my favorite color and wearing more bright color is on my to-do list, but I don’t always get around to it. I have a weakness for British designers because of their humour, aesthetic and point of view, but most days I’m in the studio just wearing a tee and jean shorts in the summer or a tee and jeans in the winter. My friends have made it clear that I should really stop wearing my Canadian puffy vest, but I can’t seem to part ways with it. Despite my best efforts, I’m still a closet hoarder of designer sunglasses and shoes.
Do you have any unexpected sources of style inspiration?
I like to follow the beach style of Australia and Hawaii on Instagram, it’s an endless source of pleasure for me. I’ve always loved looking at old photos of stylish people, especially writers, musicians and artists. Indigenous cultures, ancient sculpture, recurring symbols throughout time and the concept of ancestral lineage are also my inspiration. And nature. Nobody does color better than Mother Nature.
Do you think California, and especially Los Angeles, has contributed to the casualisation of fashion?
I’m not sure if it’s California, or the constant glamorizing and branding of a free flowing boho lifestyle, which seems to be more of a lifestyle movement than a fashion trend. At the root of it, maybe it’s a collective yearning for a less complicated life. I also think the internet changed the lifestyle of a lot of people, who now work from home, so the need to dress up is less necessary.
Your wardrobe piece with the most beautiful story.
When I was in college my parents came to visit and we went shopping in Union Square. My dad bought me a couture Calvin Klein suit (left image). The cut was almost Japanese, the jacket had no buttons but hung beautifully. I remember trying it on in the dressing room – the jacket and trousers were fully lined and I still remember the euphoria of how it made me feel; it was a magical fashion moment.
What is the one item any Californian girl should embrace? And the one that every woman should embrace?
I’m such a believer in being true to one’s own style that I’m not sure I can answer this, but if I had a daughter, I’d advise her to be healthy so she’ll always look good in whatever she wears. (I’d also tell her to invest in a great pair of shoes).
How do you wear the white t-shirt?
I don’t wear much white these days because of the paint situation – it gets on everything. But I did get one last month from Aloha Suprette that I love.
The jeans style (and brand) you swear by.
I’m tall (with hips), so flare bottom jeans are the easiest for my body type. This past winter I wore Stella McCartney, Paige and 7 for All Mankind flared bottom jeans. During the summer it’s pretty much whatever jeans shorts I don’t mind getting paint on.
Mary Jo in her studio, in an Aloha Suprette t-shirt, holding one of her prints, “Big Wave”
What do you collect?
I collect beautiful art books wherever I go. Last year I sold all my furniture, put everything else in storage and lived out of a suitcase for 14 months. It really brought home the fact that I don’t need a lot of things to be happy. I’m always bringing home furniture, but try not to get too attached to it.
Do you wear makeup? What is your beauty philosophy?
I don’t wear much makeup, so you’d never know I was a beauty editor for over 15 years. Luckily, before that I was a yoga fanatic and took classes from Gurmukh, the founder of Golden Bridge Yoga, for many years. Back then she taught a weekly women’s class out of her house and I was lucky to learn a lot about healthy food and beauty over two decades ago. Many of the routines she taught are still things I follow to this day: dry brushing, natural oils for moisturizing, staying away from chemical products, eating fresh organic foods, and daily prayer and meditation. I think good skin is the most important part of a beauty routine and that comes from diet as well as skin care. It’s been easier to stick with my organic vegan ways since I returned from New York.
You used to be a fashion and bag designer and now you are following your passion for drawing, painting and sculpture. How does your work define your style?
left: “Under A Wave” / right: “I Have This Thing with Pink”
Do you have a favorite American designer? And what American designer is the most American in terms of his designs or of dressing America?
I’ve loved Diane Von Furstenberg for decades because she designs for real women; the way her clothes fit, drape and her bold colors – she’s an icon to me. But there are so many great American designers. I’d also have to include Ralph Lauren for capturing the American dream and turning it into fashion, Calvin Klein for his clean lines and Donna Karan for her vision of the modern working woman when there was nothing like this out there for women. I also love the funky originals like Anna Sui, Norma Kamali and Holly Harp, the creator of the ‘rich hippy’ look. Claire McCardell, who influenced everything that’s happening today and innovated the sportswear-as-fashion concept is another great, and Charles James was unbelievable… I think all of them still have a lasting impact on younger designers and the way women dress.
Who, in your opinion, man and woman, best personifies American style?
Olivia Pope in all her white Prada and cape-wearing glamour! Even her pajamas are amazing. She has the ultimate fantasy wardrobe and apartment – it’s the updated American working woman’s dream wardrobe. Even though none of it would be practical for me, I like that a character like her exists.
What do you think the Americans have in terms of style that the rest of the world doesn’t?
The elements of American style that I’ve always loved include a quality of openness, an almost iconic carefree optimistic innocence that leans toward natural beauty.
Would you say you have a laid back approach to life? Or how would you describe your lifestyle?
I would say my lifestyle is about being true to myself. There’s nothing laid back about my work schedule, but I’ve tried to make my environment as comfortable as possible to compensate for the amount of time I’m in the studio. The challenge is about trying to achieve a balance so that life still feels sweet at the end of the day.
left: Mary Jo in her studio. “I only can wear a nice blouse if I’m drawing, but never painting.”
photos: courtesy of Mary Jo Matsumoto. The prints featured here are available for purchase on the Mary Jo Matsumoto online shop .