After graduating with a Diploma in Fashion from The London College of Fashion and Clothing Technology in 1972, Clare was fortunate to be invited and gained an apprenticeship at The House of Sir Norman Hartnell Ltd, where, after weeks of picking up the pins and polishing them before putting back in the tins whilst on floor duty, she quickly progressed to sit at the top table with Gladys, the House’s top hand. Remarkably, she worked with her on many prestigious clients commissions, including those of the Queen and Queen Mother’s, especially their outfits for the Silver Jubilee Celebrations and those worn for Princess Anne’s Wedding. This haute couture experience really cemented her passion for the whole process and gave Clare a deep-rooted love of silk and lace fabrics.
Where did your passion for outfit/dressmaking come from? • I think I was born with it! I cant think of a time when I was never sewing. When I was at boarding school, which I did not like at all, I escaped by “doing my sewing” which really annoyed my headmistress and on more than one occasion my parents were called down to the school to try and “talk some sense” into their daughter. It was all to no avail as I carried on. My father replied to the headmistress that she should stop trying to force me to give up as “one day Clare may be making clothes for The Queen”. Little did they know, this was exactly what I ended up doing and it was with much pleasure that a few years later I was able to tell my headmistress this. She just smiled.
For your designs and creations – Where do you find your inspiration? • Being an Artist I find inspiration everywhere, but more particularly by the sea. I find that just being there and watching the elements work together I am able to convert this to fabrics which in turn create a design in my mind. For instance , the waves breaking on a beach and rolling up the beach remind me of Chiffon and how it moves when the air gets under it. The undulating moves of the sea on a calm day reminds me of silk satin and the way it folds and drapes on a body and when I look into a rock pool and see the shadows, anemones and seaweed wafting around and making shapes it reminds me of lace. This is just one example of how I am inspired.
Why is upholding ‘the design element’ so important to you? • The design element is very important to me because each design speaks its own language. Whatever a design is created for, it has to echo the elements of the particular person or occasion in order to create the right impression. By understanding where and how the design will be worn and by whom is so important, as it is then that I can introduce the elements of the person or occasion. Every occasion has its own energy and every person has their own aura. By marrying the two together this will create a design that has the design elements suited to both.
You trained at a prestigious Haute Couture House, after your diploma in fashion with (The London College of Fashion) – Enlighten a bit on that – and the experience it has given you? • Before I had finished training at The London College of Fashion I knew that I did not want to go into retail. I was not inspired by mass production of design at all. I wanted to create one off designs using beautiful fabrics. By complete chance an offer from Sir Norman Hartnell came to me which I immediately accepted. I became an apprentice right after finishing College and never looked back. On arriving I was told to forget all I had learnt over the last three years as from now on I would be relearning old skills. My first six weeks were spent on my hands and knees picking up dropped pins, polishing them and putting them back in tins and watching all the sewing hands make incredibly beautiful garments. I did wonder what I had done to deserve this but was assured that to be called “a sewing hand” this was a necessary discipline. After this period I was put with a wonderful woman called Gladys who was on the top table and responsible for all the Royal Clothes that passed through the workroom.
I was very flattered to be considered good enough to be with her. For the next three years I worked with Gladys and learnt from her the couture way to make clothes. It was long hours and very little pay, but I am proud to say I worked on The Queen’s Silver Jubilee clothes and many others that she wore for various occasions. Working at Hartnells was an experience that I have never forgotten and something that has stayed with me all my working life. I still base the way I work on that time, although I have relaxed in picking up the pins! The way I sew a garment together is still how I made when there. It was the best experience of my life and one I shall treasure forever.
You mentioned your love and inspiration from the sea – Have you a design collection that reflects that? • As I described above , the sea is very important to me. It fills me with a feeling that other elements don’t reach. I have recently designed a capsule collection that has been inspired by my love for the sea. It is called Nereides, who are the godesses of the sea. Each design is named after a Sea Goddess . The fabrics I chose are representative of how I feel the sea. Satin back silk crepe dechine reminds me of the undulating calm sea, silk chiffon reminds me of the waves breaking and rolling up the beach and laces remind me of looking into a rockpool and seeing anenmoes and seaweed wafting around.
What is the future objective for Silk Rose and yourself? • Silk Rose is going through a change right now. Whereas a Silk Rose design was entirely made by myself, now I am hoping to step back from the actual making process and concentrate more on the design element. I hopefully have found someone in the UK who will execute my designs without losing the Silk Rose signature enabling me to be able to travel a bit more and get inspiration from other sources. It is very important to me to maintain the Made in Britain element to my designs. I would also like to offer Silk Rose Designs to exclusive establishments and hold In House Designer Days for them, making it possible for their clients to have the dress of their dreams designed and made exclusively for them.
What tip would you offer to any bride-to-be in successfully obtaining the dress of their dreams? • Every bride has a dream dress. Be realistic in how much you are prepared to spend in order to achieve this dream. A wedding dress is a magical dress. It is so much more than “just a dress”. It is your past, your future, the bringing together of two families, respect for the church or place of marriage and your personality. With all this in mind, finding the right wedding dress to wear on your special day is very important and must be right. Therefore searching for the right dress, naturally, can be somewhat daunting. My tips are: Set a limit to one that you can afford and be realistic. Discuss with your designer/dressmaker what and how you would like it to be, and listen to any advice that she gives regarding choice of fabrics and style that will fit in with your budget. If you don’t feel happy with anything that is discussed make sure you tell your dressmaker before she starts working on your dress, because it is very difficult to change afterwards. This way you will have your dress as you want it and avoid any disappointment.