Clare Waight Keller Talks Chloé: 'My First Collection Was Scary.'

21 March 2012 by

It was May of last year – and a few months after that John Galliano incident – when the cogs and gears of the now highly gossiped-over musical fashion chairs machine really whirred into action. Central St Martins-trained Hannah MacGibbon departed from Chloé – after steering the slinky Parisienne ship since 2008 - and in came fellow Brit, Clare Waight Keller, who had previously stepped down from her creative director role at Pringle of Scotland to fill the same position across Le Channel.

Chloé A/W'12 backstage

It’s Chloé’s 60th anniversary this year and Clare’s second full collection (third if we’re including pre-fall) is proving already that she’s the woman to take the brand forward. We loved autumn/winter’s chic sportswear vibe in those classic putty colours Chloé is so well known for.

But of course, being the nosy parkers we so naturally are, we’ve been totally OB-sessed with what it must feel like to start afresh at a fashion house after all that speculation and rumour, and to then switch from creating one signature look to another. Well, what with the Raf Simons exit from Jil Sander and the original designer returning, Stefano Pilati leaving YSL and Bill Gaytten remaining as Galliano’s successor at Dior, you can hardly blame us for the fascination!

Fortunately, thanks to the Financial Times we can now find out via a published talk between Jerry Stafford (Tilda Swinton’s stylist) and Clare. Here are the highlights...

On meeting each other:

Clare Waight-Keller: We (Clare and Jerry) met when I was working for Pringle and thinking a lot about who we’d like to collaborate with, and it was Tilda Swinton. So everyone said, “You need to talk to Jerry, Jerry takes care of Tilda,” and I thought, “This is going to be a big drama.” Our first communication was a text. You were in ...

Jerry Stafford: Houston, Texas.

CW-K: I’d sent a polite little message and you replied with a rambling note saying, “You can’t imagine where I am, I’m seeing this and it’s fabulous” – and I thought, “I’m going to love this guy.” Then our trip to Scotland with Tilda turned out to be hysterical ...

On her first Chloé show:

CW-K: My first Chloé collection was scary, because there’s a lot of anticipation. I’d really only been here for six to eight weeks, and I was taking things home at the weekend and wondering, “Am I doing this right?” It was an intense six weeks of reworking. Now I feel, “OK, I’ve got a few new reference points that are going to become mine, and a few old ones that I’ll put a new spin on,” but it’s a difficult time for designers. You’re always toying with, “Is this new enough? Have I seen this before? Is this right for women as well as the brand?”

On moving to Paris from London:

CW-K: I don’t have that many fears – I left home at 17 – but moving my family here for this has brought more fear than everything, because I’m putting them into a situation that’s being created by me but has a huge effect on them. They don’t have the confidence to speak French, which is the same problem I have.

JS: It’s like swimming, sometimes you sink, sometimes you get a warm reception, or they just say “Sorry?”

CW-K: Then you feel more humiliated.

On John Galliano:

JS: Funnily enough, when John Galliano first moved to Paris I was one of the few people he knew here. Galliano’s an incredible guy and he’s still living in Paris, which I think is commendable after all that happened to him. John Galliano is a survivor.

On travelling and design inspiration:

CW-K: I’m into extreme nature. In October I drove deep into the black and white deserts in Egypt. I drag my poor family on these huge adventures. We got up at 4.30am and met a guy in Cairo, drove two hours into the desert – you’re driving in the dark and you see the sun rise. At 8am we arrived at a Bedouin’s house, drove another two and a half hours – by this point you’re six hours from Cairo.

JS: What do you wear?

CW-K: I was in some big old thing, not chic.

JS: A lot of designers use trips as inspiration ... John Galliano did that, with the trip as a departure point for his next collection. You do the opposite.

CW-K: You must have known John Galliano from the beginning of his career.

JS: I probably met John at the time of Taboo, Leigh Bowery’s London club. John was probably just finishing his final collection at Saint Martins [Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design]. He was a club kid. It was very competitive. Walking into a club like Taboo, you had to be courageous, you could live or die on an outfit.

To read more of the interview, click here.


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