PARIS — What do photo bloggers have in common with Clare Waight Keller, Chloé’s new creative director?
Both have an appreciation for the way clothes and accessories come to life when real women wear them in unexpected ways and combinations.
“It’s more inspiring,” Waight Keller said in an exclusive interview ahead of her runway debut Monday during Paris Fashion Week. “There’s that personal sense — how women interpret it.”
Indeed, Waight Keller’s favorite era in fashion — the Sixties and early Seventies — was when women were freed of the formal codes of the Fifties, and style icons like Jean Shrimpton and Charlotte Rampling assembled more freewheeling ensembles, even incorporating mannish clothes.
“It’s more interesting for me to see how women wear other designers,” she said, dressed in a favorite pair of distressed jeans and a blue, boyfriend-style striped shirt, the sleeves pushed up past the elbow.
Most recently creative director at Pringle of Scotland, Waight Keller is the latest in a string of young British women at the creative helm of Chloé, part of luxury giant Compagnie Financière Richemont SA. She succeeds Hannah MacGibbon, who steered the brand for three years and before that worked behind the scenes with her former Central Saint Martins classmate Phoebe Philo, who had taken over from Stella McCartney.
Waight Keller acknowledged the pressure of expectation to return the buzz Chloé enjoyed during Philo’s heyday. But the mother of three — a four-month-old son and twin daughters, 8 — stressed that only an “evolution,” and not a revolution, is needed for a brand with strong codes.
While her runway collection was still in flux at the time of the interview, Waight Keller said she planned to showcase its feminine aspects with lots of silks, some pleated, played against a “boyish” spirit in the shape and feel of pants and jackets.
“I love color as well,” she said, describing a palette of makeup shades accented with “soft brights.”
She also said there would be “slightly less of a vintage, heritage, archival” mood.
“For me, the Chloé girl is a lot about her attitude and her spirit coming through the clothes,” she said between sips of green tea at the Bristol hotel here. “It’s very much looking to the future with the brand and trying to bring my point of view.…There’s always that personal side I’m trying to capture.”
In her view, Chloé “appeals to such a wide group of women, but the spirit is very youthful and joyful.”
“Natural, very effortless and quite joyful” were other descriptors that peppered her conversation. “It’s not nostalgic, but there’s something there that makes you smile.”
Before her 11-season stint at Pringle, Waight Keller was a senior women’s wear designer at Gucci, working under Tom Ford. Prior to that, she was design director for Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label men’s line. Her first job was as a women’s wear designer for Calvin Klein.
Waight Keller is known as a knitwear guru, an expertise she plans to bring to Chloé as the category accounts for roughly half of its ready-to-wear business. But she said silk, a key ingredient in “flou” or fluid styles, is woven throughout the history of the house, due to celebrate its 60th anniversary next year with a retrospective exhibition.
Waight Keller has yet to meet Chloé founder Gaby Aghion, but she has already soaked up some of the company lore in the corridors of the fashion house, including the time Aghion compelled Karl Lagerfeld, then at the helm of Chloé, to churn out a range of blouses, insisting customers should have a large selection.
“I love the fact that [Chloé] was started by a woman, and I love the fact that it speaks to women,” she said. “It’s not a conceptual brand. It’s much more sensitive. It’s intuitive to women.”
Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, the firm’s chief executive officer, has described the 2010-11 fiscal year as a record one for the brand.
Chloé is categorized under Richemont’s “other businesses” and its sales are not broken out. Market sources estimate Chloé generates revenues approaching 300 million euros, or $422.9 million at current exchange rates, reflecting wholesale and royalty income from fragrances and other licensed products.