Written by Cyan Leigh Dacasin
September 15, 2023, marks the return of an undeniable force in fashion. Clare Waight Keller is known for her iconic tenures at Chloé, Pringle of Scotland, Gucci and Givenchy. Her work led to her recognition as the Designer of the Year Awardee at the British Fashion Awards 2018. Now, Clare is making headlines again, this time for partnering with Japan’s global pioneering fashion and lifestyle brand, UNIQLO.
Since its inception, UNIQLO’s brand identity focused on the three pillars of having classic and timeless pieces for a stylish yet long-lasting wardrobe. This time, everyday essentials will receive a chic and elevated interpretation of boy-meets-girl attitude dressing, with Clare taking the helm on Uniqlo: C, a new womenswear collection within its LifeWear category.
Clare’s name became synonymous with fluidity, duality, and, as we like to call it, “effortless elegance meets British sensibilities.” During her time as the Artistic Director at Givenchy, she was able to carve her aesthetic within the fashion house’s enduring legacy, which became viral for its signature looks to the point that even the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, tapped her to create the iconic bridal gown she wore for her wedding to Prince Harry in 2018.
And regarding her latest collection with UNIQLO, she is demonstrating precisely what she’s great at; Clare’s signature style comes back with the Japanese brand’s penchant for using innovative textiles, coming to life in the form of 38 distinct pieces, which will be sold globally in all physical stores and on its e-commerce websites.
For her first collection, Clare utilized the famous concepts UNIQLO is known for – such as the Ultralight down nylons, easy care cotton, and a new fabric that later on became the core of her collection, transforming each piece into the signature looks that we know the designer for.
Here at Great Social Club, We were able to chat exclusively with Clare about the latest collection, her beginnings as a designer, and what’s next.
I was pretty young because my mother initially trained me. She was an amateur dressmaker/ seamstress who was exceptionally talented at cutting and adapting fabrics and patterns in more ways than usual. We would go to the local market, buy, drape and then she’d say, “Oh! Maybe the sleeve should be a bit longer, or perhaps we should do something else.”
That’s when she would ‘paint’ to me how to make the pattern fit the most economically out of our fabric. So we didn’t have much waste, and there would be no need to buy extra yard because fabrics and the trimmings that came with it can be expensive. But at age five, I was already in that headspace because she liked making dresses – not just for her, but also for me.
I remember seeing bits of fabric on the dining room table where the sewing machine was; even if it wasn’t used all the time, it was there even when we would go to town and find things. I later realized that it subconsciously became something that I truly enjoyed. My love for art grew as I got older, but I was still at a fork between two roads, thinking if I was fully committed to fashion. I did an Art Design course for two years, and in the end, I revisited the idea. I never looked back, nor did I have a Plan B, let’s put it that way.
I was mainly helping my mum, but the one thing that I did independently that I had complete control over was, surprisingly, knitting. I became a skilled knitter to the point that I could knit without looking while watching TV.
When It came to design, I did stitches with lace, pearls and other varieties of stitches. Again, I was young as well. The first thing I did was a scarf, which was nothing exciting.
But when it comes to making clothes, we usually make a new kind of dress at Christmas, and I did a deep Bordeaux-coloured velvet dress made with gathered skirts and long sleeves, and I remember the colour vividly. It was rich and lovely.
It’s been interesting because when I work with different brands, I sink myself into the DNA of what that brand is about. Much of it primarily stems from looking at the heritage and legacy behind it. At the same time, it’s about the feel of the aesthetics and trying to understand that this is not just a new journey for me but also for the house.
At the beginning of my career, I was under the creative direction of these top-notching industry heavyweights, where I followed their line of thought.
Once, I stepped outside of that and became a Creative Director myself. It was interesting because you’re not developing your DNA but evolving with the essence of each component you find yourself gravitating to each time, and this is what I have been doing in the past 15 or so years. At each house I’ve worked at, there have been these ‘signatures’ that I keep returning to. It’s what I love, and it comes in the form of outerwear, dresses, pants and coats.
Ultimately, it became a defined style that simultaneously delved between contrast and connection, boyish but ultra-feminine. It’s an integral part of my cultivated aesthetic, and it felt natural to go there with UNIQLO: C.
I always think about what women want to wear now or what they might be looking for in the next year because you’re always designing far ahead. So I’m trying to project myself and think, Okay, this is where we are now, this is what I’m seeing around, and these are some of the frustrations I’m hearing from friends or things I’m finding myself.
Those are things that I refer to when I’m thinking about how to design this line, going back to fundamental essentials. For a long time, we’ve had this obsession with big shoulders and statement shapes with many busy details. Frankly, it can get quite overwhelming. While I love big layers and strong fabrics that hold silhouettes for runways. It’s not our reality; you don’t see people wearing that on the street.
I knew from the onset that I would be signed up for at least two or three collections, and that’s when I realised that I have the time to evolve and start by creating fantastic basics with a fabric-focused and innovative brand like UNIQLO.
Well, that was one of the most exciting parts — I got approached for plenty of projects, but I was considering which direction I wanted to go with. This was the first time I worked on this scale. Truthfully, I was already a fan of the brand, and I’ve been buying it since the Jil Sander collaboration days.
There is an incredible sense of quality with innovation and fashion that they bring together; it felt right to work in one of my favourite destinations in the world, Asia, specifically Japan, a country renowned for the precision they incorporate in the way they work.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in Tokyo. Being part of the challenge was amazing, and I didn’t hesitate with it at all. The brand was looking for someone who stood for femininity, and it combined well with the innate sense of ease and effortlessness I continuously design and create clothes which perfectly match what they are trying to do with their LIFEWEAR story.
It’s new, but despite having plenty of stores globally, their actual collections are highly curated, and the collection I worked on is significantly edited to around 35-38 pieces. It’s incredibly focused, and I had to be precise about what I wanted to do because there was little room to say, ‘Oh, I want to have this coat or that coat. I had to be clear and say it would be that trench and that long, puffy coat. Those are the two coats and the wool cashmere, which is the last piece.
When you break it down and think about your three essential cores or four primary dresses, you begin to judge why you chose something because, in the end, you’re also working on that scale. You have to know that you are not only trying to appeal to someone who lives in the UK or Europe but also to someone who’s in America, South America, India, the Philippines, Japan or China. And we’re talking about global temperatures all over the place.
That was one of my biggest challenges while working on the collection. I addressed that by saying, Okay, everything I’m going to design will be a light layer that you can lay up to four layers, but you won’t become bulky because they’re all thin layers, which became a crucial part of the storytelling.
Technology is at the forefront of what they do; internally, they speak about functionality. Personally, it is one of the most exciting parts that separates them from the crowd because it’s not just fashion. For them, timelessness is more important than fashion because it’s a concept where you will constantly come back for those forever pieces. I’m wearing one of their men’s cashmere crew necks, and I’ve had this for 5-6 years.
At the same time, it is simple because it’s a men’s basic but it’s the thought that you can always get that shape. If you love it, it will still be there. What they offer for their core essentials is brilliant because not many other places on the High Street provide that, especially at such reasonable prices, which sets them apart.
They are! This was one of the things that I began with when I got there. I said, ‘Okay, so I want to design an entire collection which includes accessories, handbags, and they were like, that’s great! Then I asked, what about shoes? And they said, ‘Oh, we don’t do shoes, then finally I asked, why don’t you?
The first time they did, it didn’t work, but they approved footwear for this line and decided to start again. Considering the scale of what consumers buy and the footprint in their stores, I’ve got four styles that would take up plenty of shelf space, and that’s significant.
The shoes are fantastic. For instance, the loafers are comfortable and come in black and deep cherry brown. All the styles are made in vegan leather and are deemed ultra-classic, especially with the Chelsea Boot; the best part is that you can wear it with every outfit that goes with this collection’s multi-functional wardrobe.
It’s been floating around. There have been some conversations, and I won’t ever say no. But I haven’t thought about it, specifically, I have been busy with the collection for UNIQLO.
No, I have some other clients that I work with, but it’s more on a private basis. This collection is the big story for the year.
VIETNAM / ASIA
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