In fashion terms, Clare Waight Keller has always been in the right place at the right time: New York in the 1990s with Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren; London with Tom Ford in the early 2000s; creating knits with the artist Liam Gillick and films with Tilda Swinton and Ryan McGinley for British knitwear brand Pringle of Scotland at the turn of this decade. And now she’s in Paris – where else? – four and half years into her tenure as the creative director of Chloé, where she has made the label the go-to house for a look that is feminine and romantic, yet sharply fashionable at the same time. It is her cleverly paced development of the brand, and her fine balance of the intellectual and the emotional, that keeps Chloé, which has just celebrated the reopening of its store in The Dubai Mall, at the top of Bazaar’s best beloved brands list.
“I knew what I wanted to do from the moment I arrived at Chloé,” says Clare, herself an exponent of the minimal make-up and loose hair look that the house is all about. “At first I went for some strong reference points – the tailored shoulder on the coat; a new boyish trouser shape for each season. And now it’s all crystallised: the 1970s denim, the carefree spirit, the beautiful workmanship and the lace. It was about harnessing and translating an attitude, and capturing the moment in the 1970s when Chloé became a major name. Other brands have product icons, we have a period. For me there’ll always be this air of the 1970s hanging around, infused into the collection.”
Over previous seasons, Clare has refined the accessories on offer too, following the successful Faye and Baylee bags with the covetable Drew – an updated saddle bag launched last year that immediately appeared on fashionable shoulders everywhere. But for summer 2016, it’s all about footwear. “As a ready-to-wear label, we’re always thinking about the collection, but building the business is about having a strong accessories stand,” she says. “We’ve really worked on the shoes, we went through months of development. I shouldn’t be the one to say it, but they are fabulous – lower heels and wedges, strong colours. It’s part of the cool, slouchy attitude we’re going for.”
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Clare lives with her family – her American architect husband Philip Keller; 13-year-old twins Amelia and Charlotte, who already share their mother’s elegant composure; and three-year-old Harrison – near the Bois de Boulogne. “Four years in, I’ve really got into the rhythms of the city,” she says. “You feel the shift in the seasons so acutely here. There are tourists all summer, and come October it’s more local again. The produce in the market is so specific to the time of the year.” Weekends are spent rummaging in flea markets – the apartment is an intricate jigsaw of unique pieces from vintage stores and markets far and wide, from Palm Springs to Brussels, as well as eBay – and playing tennis, “though I failed to play this summer. My tennis teacher called me in the end; he thought something bad might have happened to me.”
Meanwhile, Paris seems to have claimed her as its own, particularly in Fashion Week terms. “The Chloé show was on the Monday when I started,” she says, alluding to the hierarchy of the catwalk schedule. “Then we moved to Sunday, and now we’re on the Thursday. We show at Grand Palais, right next to Karl at Chanel. I’m up on the balcony, and Chanel is in the huge area with the dome. They have to erect a barrier so I can’t see into his space.”
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The flagship store on Rue Saint-Honoré, an elegant townhouse with limestone floors and two sweeping staircases that Clare worked on with the interior designer Joseph Dirand, has proven to be the favourite spot for the Chloé faithful, as well as other shoppers new to the brand. For of course the 1970s are in the air not just at Chloé right now; the decade is a major trend. “But even in minimalist moments, Chloé holds its own,” she says. “Because it’s always about dressing a real woman.” Indeed, it was the Egyptian founder of Chloé, Gaby Aghion, who is supposed to have coined the term prêt-à-porter upon the label’s launch in the 1950s. And Chloé has never been more ready to wear than right now. — Caroline Roux