You may not immediately recognize Nancy Chen, but if you live in Toronto and have a pulse, you’ve likely danced at one of her techno parties. Or perhaps you’ve seen her crowned among Marketing Mag’s recent 30 under 30 set. Nancy splits her time as creative strategist for Mosaic and co-founder of Mansion and still finds time to travel around the globe, research new talent, consult within the arts community, cook adventurous meals for her friends, and hone a refined personal style. Her compulsive drive to explore new places and experience new things while she’s still ‘under 30’ spills over into the work she undertakes to pull off some of Toronto’s most impeccable music and art events.
I first met Nancy after one of her Foundry parties. I mostly remember her wicked lace-up heels climbing out of a taxi and her take-no-prisoners approach to getting us into a weird after hours where the djs were mixing polka. Since then she’s continued to impress with her thoughtful style choices and the ease with which she pulls them off.
Flash forward a few years and we’re chilling with Nancy in Cindy’s bedroom discussing the particularities of dressing for our jobs and how the work of styling oneself helps to communicate certain messages in the workplace — the power of clothes in translating confidence and how to best bend workplace dress codes. We’re laying about styling Nancy after helping her put together the outfit she wore in her Marketing Mag shoot, but our process is always collaborative. Her discerning attention to detail in mixing proportions and respecting clean lines while being persuaded by voluminous, dramatic shapes reflects her working style and her aspirations for the city she loves. She tries on a leather lattice-cut dress and tugs at the hem, noticing that it doesn’t fall exactly right and that it just doesn’t work. She casually passes elaborate new event ideas by us while thumbing through pieces in Cindy’s closet and swiftly pairs seemingly inauspicious pieces together in the mirror to her quiet, knowing approval.
Nancy’s drive to dive deep and push boundaries while keeping people guessing has made her one of our city’s best kept secrets. For all these reasons, we invited Nancy to be our first Pack Profile. We spent the day shooting her around Parkdale and asked her some pretty probing questions. Click after the jump for our full interview with Nancy, as well as all of the looks from our shoot!
The Pack: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Nancy: In work… follow a career path with interesting, hardworking people that want to teach you how to be better. Because, lets be real, we’re all shitty at what we do at 20-something and need guidance. In life… constantly have new experiences, even stupid ones, and constantly be open to meeting new people because that cumulative experience/knowledge is your biggest creative advantage in life.
P: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
N: Let’s be real. So…
P: Most used emoji?
P: What kind of style phases did you go through growing up?
N: I’ve had a lot of phases: Tomboy, Babyphat, Slutty-ish, Boring, Brand-Obsessed Asian, Confused, Partygirl (not to be confused with Slutty-ish). Current phase: Future Classics (aka, I’m lazy so I need awesome basics that match themselves)
P: When were you happiest?
N: The summers between college and real life where I didn’t really have any work. Literally months on end of lounging, traveling tons, partying for an entire weekends, and meeting new people. It was that in-between phase where you are old enough to appreciate new experiences in different places, but young enough to not really give a fuck about anything.
P: If you had to wear one designer for the rest of your life, who would it be?
N: Acne. Or Zara if I’m not doing so well haha.
P: What do you do to get inspired/creative/productive?
N: Inspired/Creative: A glass of wine. It reduces the inhibition in your brain so rather than self-censoring, you just let all your thoughts and ideas out – whether good or bad. I’m pretty sure this is scientifically proven or I just really love to drink. I also look at Pinterest (I know.), but I think an overload of interesting visuals really help inspire my thinking even if its not related at all.
Productive: Coffee and Fish Oil.
P: If you could have a different name, what would it be?
N: I wouldn’t change it, even if it is an old lady name.
P: What, or who, are your biggest style influences?
N: I don’t really have any people I look to determine my style and I’ve changed it up so many times there hasn’t been something or someone consistent. Right now I’d say The Pack is pretty awesome 😉
P: What do you most value in your friends?
N: Being understanding.
P: What one thing do you most wish was in your closet right now?
N: I really want this pajama/going out outfit right now. It’ll make the transition from party to bed super smooth.
P: What is your least favourite fashion word?
N: Fashionista. Ugh. And if I can add 2 more – Marc. Jacobs.
P: What is your greatest extravagance?
N: Probably food. Not even eating out that much right now but definitely investing in really fresh, high-quality groceries. Doesn’t hurt that I live in Kensington. I pretty much don’t buy anything prepackaged and I love weird or super rich tasting ingredients, then figuring out how to use them when I cook.
P: If you could have a couple more hours in a day, you would fill it with…
N: I wish I had more time to really learn something totally unrelated to my work, like coding or making clothes.
P: A movie recommendation?
N: My boyfriend and I have consumed so much popular TV and movies, it’s hard to make just one recommendation. In terms of classics, I do love Dr. Strangelove, it’s just a perfect comedy that is timeless. In terms of TV, Boardwalk Empire. People don’t really like this show for some reason but I like that it’s slow and thoughtful. Also, if you pause the show at any point in time the color palette is ALWAYS perfect.
P: Least favourite trend?
N: This is going to sound so pretentious, but any time a trend becomes derivative to the point that it’s unflattering (because Forever 21 decided to make it out of polyester), then it becomes my least favourite trend.
P: What’s your best secret weapon item of clothing in your closet?
N: I guess I’ve been wearing the same leather pants for 5 years now. Literally goes with anything. So probably that.
P: Describe your most ideal 24 hours.
N: This is going to be super cliche and simple… but waking up in a foreign place I’ve never been to before (i.e. Barcelona or Istanbul or Mumbai) with my boyfriend and close friends. The entire day is planned by a friend who lives there, so we get to experience what locals do and discover places people don’t normally find. Eat tons of new food in a market or something. Then we go back to our cute AirBnB and my family happens to there for an authentic home cooked Chinese dinner. Then we end the day by going to a great local dance club, party till the AM and then get street food after. So my ideal day is essentially eating all day…
P: If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
N: I don’t know if I’d want to reincarnate. I kind of like the finality of living one life and living it well.
P: Recommend us something to do in the city you’re currently living in.
N: I love all the events going around the city that represent different pockets of culture, whether its at Bambi’s, Bedroomer, Day + Night, BreakandEnter events. These people really care about what they do and creating a platform for their scene to thrive on. The best cities are the ones that can support diverse pockets of culture rather than just a monoculture. Toronto isn’t there yet, but it will be.
P: Advice for people who would like to do what you’re doing?
N: Well I think when it comes to throwing music events or being a creative at a marketing agency, you have to treat it like a science as much as it is an “art”. For example, constantly tweaking your methodology/processes to create better events/programs. So you are not only throwing cool events/activations but understanding what worked, what didn’t work, and the exact effect that had on people’s experience. Then, using that knowledge to make calculated risks, and to produce innovative thinking that is both insightful and realistic. I’ve seen a lot of people who’ve had their moment and grown really quickly, then fall into obscurity because they didn’t really understand what made their own schtick work. Essentially what I’m trying to say it’s not all fun and pure creative work, it’s really a lot about working hard on the part that isn’t fun. That makes you stand out from the sea of aspiring professional creatives.
P: Fuck / Marry / Kill: Rob Ford, Olivia Chow, John Tory?
Oh god. Fuck: John Tory (gross but at least I don’t have to live with him). Marry: Olivia Chow. Kill: Rob Ford (obviously)
look 1: frayed denim top by Marques’Almeida, baggy jeans by J Brand, vintage ivory trench
look 2: neoprene crop top and sneakers by Zara, skirt bought in South Africa, coat by Topshop
look 3: vintage denim coat and suede wrap skirt, grey top by Topshop, shoes by Pixie Market
look 4: vintage white shirt, asymmetrical dress by silence + noise, sneakers by Zara
The Pack Profile is a brand new feature that spotlights inspiring and stylish women from right here in Toronto. If you would like to be a future Pack Profile or would like to nominate someone, please get in touch.