People come to fashion from many places, some through education, others through circumstance, but each has a story to tell, and so it was that I caught up with Claire Fleury who is committed to doing fashion her way. The designer brings her decades as a director, writer and performer in the theatre and her time as a curator and a gallery owner into her perspective born of fabric. I had plenty to ask
You started out in the theatre, then moved across to fashion, some would say that fashion is just a form of playing a character, but do you think that from the start of our lives we’re playing the role we were born to play. Is identity a moveable concept?
As far as my costume design is concerned, I definitely moved from being on stage myself, to letting my costumes speak instead. I think identity is a moveable concept for some people, not so much for others. Some people like to change their identity or play with different identities on a daily basis. Others find comfort in presenting themselves consistently with one identity, much through their whole life. However much I can admire that, I like to play with presenting myself more feminine or androgynous on different days. I also enjoy not having to choose one style of dressing to be my only style. When I was a teen it was unthinkable to wear punk garments one day and go all disco the next. Because those styles were full-on identities that came with political and lifestyle connotations that you could not simply overhaul the next day. It is different now, and while I can long for certain elements of a style being so definite, I enjoy the freedom of expression through all these genres of fashion. As for the theatre aspect of my fashion designs: I certainly ask a certain level of performative commitment from my customers.
Do you think we’ve seen the unthinkable become the norm, in the 90’s The Club Kids were considered eccentric and extreme but in the last 30 years the staid safety of “normality” has given way to experimentation?
I’d still love to see more Club Kid style fashions on the street any day! I am all for experimentation: I love it when people create their own style, mixing designer wear with vintage and possibly something homemade. That said, I think there’s only a small group of people who dress like that. I do think that fast fashion has put everyone in the same clothes and made the street view rather boring, so the norm I think is still not very experimental at all.
What does gender fluidity mean to you personally?
For me it means I can express different aspects of my gender at different times. The fluidity is not confined to clothing, but it definitely gets emphasized by them. When designing garments, I have no specific gender in mind. I design for ‘someone tall’ or ‘a dancer’. Any gender will do. And I’d like to think my garments can be worn by anybody with any gender expression. Whoever wears it might change the gender expression of the garment, not vice versa.
How did you come to a more accessories focused approach during the Covid crisis
At first it was a pure fight or flight reaction to the pandemic: there was a need for masks, combined with the fact that all my costume assignments for the year got cancelled. I started making masks and made over two thousand so far. Somewhere in there I thought: there has to be something else I can make, or I’ll go nuts. Seriously though, all my in-person fashion selling channels had been canceled as well (I sell at pop ups, trade shows, galleries, exhibitions etcetera), and online selling from my website seems to work better for my smaller pieces.
As someone who has a varied career, moving across theatre, gallery owner costume design and fashion, which of the skills have you drawn on from each to help you through these difficult times?
All of them! Fortunately, I love to cook. I am pretty resourceful, and I combine many skills to sustain myself during these times. Plus trying to add a few new ones: I’ve taken up knitting for example which has transpired to me creating knitted hats which have been really popular. I can even knit a quote into it so it really is personal to you or whoever your buying it for.
Why do people love a pom-pom so much, it’s one of those few things in fashion that transcends multiple borders and cultures?
It does! They’re just so fun and playful! And you can put them on anything, not just hats. Within my design I play with shape, particularly circles, they feature heavily and to me pom poms run in the same vein. They just bring joy, I cannot think of anything their attached to which is negative.
There is often a line drawn between fashion and the arts, but should there be a line between them or does there need to be a shift to seeing both inn equality as creative endeavours?
Just because something also has a function, like fashion, like cooking, like furniture design, etc; does not mean it is not art. Fashion is an art form for sure. But just like with cooking; there is just your simple daily food and then there is a chef’s creation. Both are valid in their own right, but one of them is art and the other is probably not.
Let’s take photography. Everyone takes a million pictures a day, that are beautiful, silly, crappy or just plain. Some might be art. Most are meant for communicating something (look at my face! It’s the same face I had yesterday!).
And then there are professional photographers who take photographs, not pictures. Is photography not art? Because it is used so commonly now?
You’ve been working with soft fabrics lately, but what for you is comfort?
Comfort in clothing to me means a garment that makes you feel good. Empowered, sexy, very ‘you’; whatever it is that you want to feel. Soft fabrics can be a plus, but I honestly don’t even think it is about the actual physical comfort. Not for me anyway, but for plenty of people it is. That’s why there is active wear. That being said, I do make costumes for dancers which have to look light as a feather but be sturdy like a Mack truck, and comfortable for the dancers to wear.
By Ross Pollard – Emerging Designers Editor