The designer discusses beauty standards, her TV addiction, and her first memories of creating fashion.
Ahead of the launch of the new Xtreme Sports collection, Document’s Alice Lefons sits down with London designer Claire Barrow to talk about her unique point of view on fashion, the multidisciplinary aspect of her work, and the very beginnings of her career.
Alice Lefons—Since you stopped doing the seasonal, on-schedule shows your work, your archive, doesn’t go out of date. Did that in a way inspire this decision?
Claire Barrow—The main decision at the time to exit the schedule was that I felt that I wasn’t getting enough time for my ideas to progress, and the whole process of the strict schedule and being part of the system—I felt like it was hindering me slightly. It didn’t suit me particularly and it was just my way of gaining control back. I had kind of gone from college, from university, straight to doing shows at fashion week. I was only 22 and it was a lot of pressure. It’s still a lot of pressure because I do so many projects at once. There’s always stress that never goes away when you’re making fashion or clothing I feel. The whole process of making garments and working with other people and getting something together is really underratedly stressful. People don’t talk about it but there’s just something about manufacturing clothes that’s extremely hard.
Alice—In what way?
Claire—I don’t know. It takes so much more time than you would expect. Even if you finish the design process, there’s always a struggle to get the right fabric, always a struggle to get the right person to make it. I mean I love it, but I don’t know…
Alice—Are you a perfectionist?
Claire—I’m actually not a perfectionist. All that I care about is that I get what I want. It’s my way or the highway. If I notice a mistake, I embrace the mistake, it becomes part of the design sometimes. If other people tell me no, I can’t fulfill the aim of what I’ve given them, then that stresses me out. That feels like a failure that’s out of my control which is stressful.
Alice—I get it. It is being a perfectionist, in a way.
Claire—In a way, but also I do embrace the mistakes quite heavily. Especially when I’m drawing, it has usually been happy mistakes which make my favorite drawings rather than something that came up perfect. With my drawings sometimes, it seems to be the first thing that I do that I use. It just comes straight from my head onto the page and that’s the most organic way or comes straight from my heart. But stuff that has taken a long time, I usually reject in the end.
Claire—I only noticed that when I started actually taking it seriously after, while I was at uni. It is weird actually. If I spend too long on something it tends to be a bit rubbish.
Alice—Do you feel, when you do art, it’s basically only you being in control of the outcome?
Claire—Sometimes. If there are people behind me saying, “Hurry up you need to finish,” that’s a bit different. But that also sometimes makes good work, that bit of pressure of not letting other people down sometimes makes you feel like there’s some kind of responsibility with it. I do feel responsibility with everything I do though to impress, to inspire other people, it actually makes it fulfilling what people expect of me. But going back to your question: generally, yes. I don’t get to make art that much, so that’s a bit disappointing sometimes.
Alice— How does your creative process work? Do you have a starting point or a specific path that you follow or does it come more naturally?
Claire—The process can be different each time. Sometimes it could be that I have a bigger picture in my mind. I can see the whole thing together, and I need to piece together each element that will make that vision happen, and sort of discovering it as I go up, I can see the final thing. I dream quite a lot, so sometimes I see it all in a dream, and I need to go back and think about what was it like, to piece it back together. And then while designing, I just go by what feels fun or funny or what sparks emotion. This week I’m spending a full week painting and drawing the prints, so that’s how I would work really. I would do the prints and then start thinking if that’s definitely the sort of style it should go on, like what kind of garment it would go on.
Alice—Do you work by yourself for these collections?
Claire—I sometimes have freelance people help me out, but I like to be on my own if I’m making art, because I get distracted quite easily. I have my own little habits too, I’ll need to be doing it and listening to something at the same time, like an audiobook, or sometimes having breaks where I watch TV for half an hour because I’m a TV addict.
Alice—[Laughs] What do you like watching?
Claire—I watch absolutely everything. I mean I’ve got a little bit better. It was actually like a full-on addiction at one point, I used to watch Eastenders every day. I I’m really addicted to Game of Thrones, to a worrying level. I even listen to podcasts about what might happen in the new season every single day. I listen to the audiobook, I watch old episodes again and again, so yeah that’s kind of taken over weirdly.
Alice—Your collections and your process is quite personal, and you can’t control necessarily who’s going to wear your clothes and how they’re going to wear them. If you could pick from real or fictional characters, from past, present, or future, who’s the dream and who’s the nightmare wearer of your garments? Who would they be?
Claire—I don’t have anyone in mind when I work. I like the idea of feeling like anyone could wear it. There’s no, like, dream person in my mind of who should be wearing it or who shouldn’t be wearing it. I mean, if super right-wing or racist people started wearing it, that wouldn’t be okay. I’d be like, “I need to assess something here…” Even if it’s old people, that would be absolutely fine, that wouldn’t worry me. If people didn’t get it, that would also be fine. I think that I’m trying to create a space that feels accessible.
Alice— What is your own definition of beauty?
Claire—I’ve never thought about that. I think my definition of beauty would be happiness. Like a shining light coming out of people. I think that it’s also a tricky subject for me because I don’t have the most self-confidence in the world. I kind of do have self love, but that is something that I do need to work on a lot, generally. I do like to wear quite crazy makeup and kind of dress up in a feminine way rather than, I guess, in a conventional way…I do wonder if my idea of beauty is actually very warped and that I think it’s normal when it’s actually not. I was picked on growing up. I had these really big teeth and had to get braces to push them back. People kept calling me “donkey.” But, I look back at photos now and I’m like, “Oh that’s so cool, I wish I didn’t get any braces.”
Alice—Is London home for you?
Claire—Yeah definitely. I don’t think that I’ll be leaving any time soon. Unless I go back to America for a while, but I kind of overdid that. I was there so much last year. I mean I was, like, living in LA for a while, traveling to NY a lot having a really good time, working on different projects, but there’s something about. At the moment that I’m really enjoying being grounded again. Like I was saying, I sort of did the Marie Kondo tidying thing and binned half of my shit and I’m getting a lot out of being grounded, because I was traveling so much.
Alice—What would be your very first memory connected to art?
Claire—I entered a coloring competition at Asda. [There was a] rabbit in the picture, and I made it green with purple spots and I won. I won money, and it was [out of] 100 kids so that made me feel really good. That was stepping outside the box because I don’t know why a rabbit would have huge spots on it. I was probably thinking about a teddy or a plushie at the time, rather than a real rabbit, but it was a realistic sort of rabbit.
Alice—That’s amazing. And do you have a first memory for fashion?
Claire—When I was about 13 or 14 I started drawing fashion designs. I had this whole folder full of fashion designs and it was my own brand and my sister used to laugh at it. I would take it so seriously, but it was good! There was, like, maybe 100 drawings of different clothes that I wanted to make.
Alice—Oh wow. Did you ever make any of them?
Claire—I didn’t make them because I don’t think I knew how to make clothes then. But, I remember going to our local fabric shop and buying this strawberry print white fabric, and I made a dress of one of the patterns that you could get, the ready-made patterns. My grandma helped me with that. I wore it once, it didn’t really fit very well. That’s the first garment I ever made.
Alice—Out of your archive and all the collections that you’ve made, is there one piece specifically that is your favorite?
Claire—I don’t always like everything, some stuff I’m like, “Oh that was crap.” I like the dress that I made for my graduate collection. It’s all hand-beaded and dyed. It felt like the most chic thing that I made around that time. It came with a hat as well. It was like painted with pink because it was meant to look like paint was completely dripped on someone. I remember my tutors getting a shock or something; “That’s actually really beautiful.” They were hard on me.
Alice—Despite you already doing collaborations?
Claire—I think that’s why.
Alice—To push you?
Alice—Did it work?
Claire—[Pauses] It worked, but to be honest, I was so driven at that time anyway. I was kind of [pushing] myself. Being like, “You have to impress people. You have to.”