I think the secret is to truly don’t give a sh*t about what others think…
“I’m not wearing any make-up.”
Five words we don’t often hear moments before a photo shoot. Yet, when Nejla Matam-Finn utters them ever so insouciantly, we can’t say we were all that surprised. Because, pardon the stereotype but, how French is that? (😍)
Although she doesn’t consider herself to be French (born in Paris, raised in Algeria, studied in Switzerland between the ages of eight and 18, lived and worked in Paris for about a decade and now calls Singapore home), there is, unmistakably, Parisian in her (“Paris has rubbed off on me.”)
It is 11am on a Thursday. We’re at Chez Nejla. As the founder and CEO of The Fifth Collection gives us a quick tour of her home — which she shares with her husband and business partner, Michael, and their daughter — we collect more evidence of it. Colour scheme: Predominantly whites and neutrals. No French windows, but ample Singaporean daylight. Art in this house is an eclectic display of French posters, Chinese calligraphy in a sepia newspaper clipping, Bolero’s Mona Lisa in the bathroom as well as ethnic sculptures. Vintage suitcases are stacked to moonlight as
a console table. Ikea and designer furniture co-exist in an ironic but harmonious fashion. Well-curated coffee-table books: Check. And of course, there were miniature Chanel perfumes and a collection of iconic orange Hermès boxes to be found in the bedroom.
It’s a disparate array of things that appears as though (the operative word being “appears”) they have been effortlessly and randomly thrown together and, somehow, winds up looking all sorts of cool and fabulous. You can’t quite put a finger on what it is. It is… je ne sais quoi. The 38-year-old has the same flair with jewellery, completely unfazed at the idea of mixing diamonds the size of candies with costume jewellery. And she’d rock them with a plain white tee and jeans. In fact, she prefers it that way.
So there she is, standing/sitting/posing/regaling us with stories about her daughter before the camera in her signature je ne sais quoi: A pair of DL1961 skinny jeans, a spiffy white shirt from PYE (and then a white Uniqlo T-shirt in Look #2), and her army of arm candies. Comfortable, chic — she looks right at home.
And yes, she put on some lipstick just for us. 💋
In collaboration with The Canary Diamond Co
What will we never find in your closet?
Nejla: Never say never, but if I have to right now, it will be anything from Vêtements.
What is your one true signature item?
Nejla: For me, it has to be jeans and white tops. I did not even know it was my signature look till someone approached me at a corporate event to ask if I was the girl working in that building who always wore jeans and white shirts. I think what defines a signature look is that you and only you never get bored of it. So now that I get to make the rules on office dress code, it’s jeans every day for me.
What key wardrobe essentials do you think every woman should have?
Nejla: To each her own, but for me, it will be a great pair of jeans, well-cut white shirts and T-shirts, neutral-coloured ballerinas, and a pair of
nude or black pumps. A cashmere cardigan (yes, it has to be soft) and a well-tailored blazer. A bag roomy enough for everyday use, and one black bag that can double up as an evening bag. The part where I won’t restrain myself are accessories such as belts and scarves.
How on earth is it possible to look simultaneously like you don’t give a sh*t and chic? You, for one, are not a fan of too much, if any, make-up, and you love your jeans-and-T-shirt ensemble, yet you always look effortlessly fabulous. Trust me, I attempt this ALL the time, but never quite with the desired result. What is the secret?!
Nejla: That’s very sweet of you. I think the secret is to truly don’t give a sh*t about what others think about what you are wearing. You have to feel comfortable in what you wear and own the look, versus having the looks own you. More importantly, dress for yourself and don’t overthink it. And last piece of advice: Prioritise great material and good cut!
I tend to wear the SAME thing every day. So you will ALWAYS see me with a pair of diamond stud earrings, lots of ARM CANDIES, my engagement ring, wedding ring and a DIAMOND pendant in the shape of ‘5’.
DRESS FOR YOURSELF AND DON’T OVERTHINK IT.
- you go to the office? Jeans. Depending on what’s on my agenda, I will wear skinny jeans, boyfriend jeans or coloured ones. I have a big collection of white shirts as well as T-shirts. You will always see me in flats — either a pair of ballerinas or slip-on sneakers. Finally, I always have some sort of cardigan with me in case I can’t deal with the AC.
- you have an important meeting: Still jeans, but in a very dark wash with a shirt tucked in. Sometimes I add a jacket to the look and a long necklace or scarf to add more polish. I generally keep colours to neutrals.
- you’re chilling at home: My husband’s T-shirts, leggings and socks.
- to catch a long-haul flight: Funny you should ask. Over the years I have developed my own “flight uniform”, which consists of all blacks and greys — like a black tracksuit and a black long sleeve top which I wear with a long grey cardigan that’s light, soft and keeps me warm. I only wear ballerinas as it just makes all the airport security checks easier. I will have a pair of soft and warm socks and a cashmere scarf in my carry-on. For short flights, I swap my black tracksuit to the slouchiest boyfriend jeans I own.
- you’re off to a fancy dinner: Something black and tons of accessories. And yes, sometimes a pair of really high heels.
I did not even know it was my signature look till someone approached me at a corporate event to ask if I was the girl working in that building who always wore jeans and white shirts.
What is your guilty pleasure du jour?
Nejla: Lots of Breton striped tops.
Because diamonds are a girl’s best friend, let’s talk jewellery. What does your jewellery collection consist of?
Nejla: It’s a pretty eclectic collection from contemporary pieces to vintage and ethnic pieces. However, I tend to wear the same thing every day — I guess I also have my signature look when it comes to jewellery. So you will always see me with a pair of diamond stud earrings, lots of arm candies, my engagement ring, wedding ring as well as my diamond pendant in the shape of “5”.
What are some of your favourite pieces?
Nejla: That’s a tough question… I have a vintage sapphire ring that used to belong to my grandmother, my first diamond stud earrings (let’s say they are so tiny that only I know that they are diamonds), and then a pair of tutti-frutti earrings that I got with my first bit of savings when I started working.
What about the most important or meaningful piece?
Nejla: Apart from my engagement ring, I think it’s a bracelet that I had made years ago where I used all the tiny pendants I wore growing up — each of them represents an important moment of my life. It’s not beautiful, it only makes sense to me and that is what counts.
When jewellery shopping, how do you know when a piece is the piece?
Nejla: When I fall in love with a piece, I always wait to achieve a milestone I have pre-determined. When I reach this milestone, if I am still in love with the piece, then it’s the piece.
Finally, what is your style mantra (and will you repeat it in French please? Merci!)
Nejla: Être bien dans ses baskets. Hard to translate, but it means something like “Feel comfortable in your own skin.”
STYLING & PHOTOGRAPHY // Karman Tse
JEWELLERY // The Canary Diamond Co
VINTAGE HERMÉS BAG // The Fifth Collection
The Canary Diamond Co is located at 402 Orchard Road, Delfi Orchard.