Chloé’s designer visits the archives to explore the label’s long-standing love affair with the ultra-feminine blouse, shown off by some of the clients who inspire her.
Chloé blouses, as elegant today as in the 1970s, and the women who wear them
‘I love to be well put-together – though not in a stiff way. I want comfort and freedom’
Sitting calmly going through look-book images with her French PR in an east London studio, Clare Waight Keller is filling up time having turned up half an hour early for her portrait sitting. She is perhaps one of fashion’s most unassuming creative directors, batting off too much hair and make-up styling as she steps up to be photographed wearing her favourite oversize blouse from her spring 2015 Chloé collection with a denim skirt (also Chloé).
Waight Keller, 45, who has twin daughters and a son with her husband, Philip Keller, an architect, has an enviably relaxed no-fuss air about her. This resoundingly low-key attitude rings through her work. Having led the Parisian house for four years, she has been quietly putting her touch on the label
‘Every designer at Chloé has worked in their moment; it’s about a spirit and capturing a point in time’
Clare Waight Keller
‘A blouse can express many moods. It can be quite prim and proper, or relaxed and rock’n’roll’
to the point where it is now having what fashion types like to call ‘a moment’.
‘I think when you come in [to a company] you feel like you can cope with a lot, and the reality is that you can, but you sort of helicopter over a lot of things because you are just absorbing it all,’ she says of her Parisian baptism, which came after a six-year stint as the creative director of Pringle of Scotland, before which she was a senior designer in Tom Ford’s Gucci atelier alongside Christopher Bailey and Francisco Costa (now the creative director of Calvin Klein – Ford clearly knows how to spot talent). ‘When you start you’re always trying to mesh yourself into the whole brand and culture,’ she says. ‘Moving to France was a big part of the change for me – it took a while to get into the cultural side of life. I brought my family as well, so there was a lot of just setting things up.’
Waight Keller is following in illustrious footsteps: previous incumbents of her seat include Karl Lagerfeld (1963-78 and 1992-97), Stella Mccartney (1997-2001) and Phoebe Philo (20012006). ‘I’ve really tried to evolve Chloé from what it was before and what it has been known for over the past 15 years and try to bring it into this era,’ she says. ‘ Every designer at Chloé has really worked in their moment; it’s about a spirit and capturing a moment in time, so for me it’s important to have my take on what I think fashion is about today, and what’s relevant.’ This translates into ‘the mix of the very feminine with the boyish, or let’s say street, feeling. I like the mix and the tension of those two things, which I think creates something quite modern.’
Her a/w15 collection includes elegantly louche 1970s-inspired maxi dresses tempered with military-tinged coats and lace-edged slip dresses worn with chunky black ankle boots (albeit fastened with thick velvet ribbon). The show’s soundtrack was Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and there was more than a whiff of Stevie Nicks about it (setting the tone for fashion’s current affection for all things 1970s).
‘I grew up in that era,’ Waight Keller says, ‘and I think it’s something that still has a massive influence in the brand; it has always dipped into that spirit.’ Mixed in with this, Waight Keller says, she was influenced ‘a lot by the Bloomsbury set. I wanted to keep an urbane feel to the collection and also reflect that the set was a mix of men and women. The more structured, military pieces referenced masculine tailoring, then all the flute dresses
with botanical prints were influenced by that era.’
With a label such as Chloé, which was established by Gaby Aghion (the woman said to have invented the phrase prêt-à-porter) in 1952, there is always a significant sartorial back story, but it takes a confident designer to be able to embrace an archive and run with it in their own way. Waight Keller laughs and explains, ‘I literally arrived as we were doing a 60th anniversary retrospective exhibition, so I had a massive immersion into the archive. We have an extensive amount of Karl’s sketches from his era.’
What surprised her, though, were the images by ‘more avant-garde photographers such as Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton’. She says, ‘There is this perception of Chloé being overly girly – not sexy, not a confident woman – but then seeing these images you get another perspective, of quite a powerful look and of strong women, which was actually very much Gaby herself.’
As she riffled through the archives of Chloé, one thing stood out as the archetypal piece: the blouse. ‘It was the first piece that Gaby felt expressed a sense of freedom in an everyday wardrobe,’ Waight Keller notes. ‘She said that men have it so easy, they just put on three pieces every day, a shirt, a trouser and a jacket. She wanted that same ease for women. The blouse was something she felt could be that everyday staple. It was always her starting point with the collections.’
The silky, easy, flattering voluminous blouse has become a signature piece. This season Waight Keller offers black and cream silk versions with elegant silk-covered buttons and trailing neck ties, which at the same time look perfectly modern and charmingly retro. They are the ideal classic pieces. To test this theory Waight Keller has brought a selection of archive blouses from the Lagerfeld 1970s era as well as new-season Chloé for us to shoot as worn by her current muses – all women who, like her, have that natural confidence with a slightly bohemian air.
‘Lace has always featured quite heavily, and crêpe de Chine is the iconic fabric we use,’ Waight Keller says as she flicks through the pieces selected for the shoot today. The three women she has chosen to wear them epitomise the sort of ‘rawness’ that she believes the Chloé woman has. ‘Someone who is very immediate, incredibly natural, free-spirited and confident.’ Which all sounds like an appealing proposition. Rather like Waight Keller herself.
‘I think of myself as a bit bohemian and having that 1970s mentality of not really caring too much’
Valeria wears silk crêpe blouse, Chloé by Karl Lagerfeld, 1972; trousers, £840, Chloé; shoes and jewellery, her own. Clare wears blouse, skirt and jewellery, all Chloé s/s15 and her own
Cecilia wears lurex blouse, Chloé by Karl Lagerfeld, 1979; trousers, £460, Chloé; necklace, her own
Jemima wears silk crêpe blouse, Chloé by Karl Lagerfeld, 1975-77; jeans and jewellery, her own