Clare Corrigan is a successful British designer and Central Saint Martins fashion alumni, who began her career in the early 1990s in Paris at the French fashion house of Mugler. She interned at Chloe and later worked alongside the German maestro Mr. Karl at Lagerfeld. For the past 10 years Clare’s career has been “a perfect scenario” as she now works with one of the most successful fashion designers – Marc Jacobs, the visionary at Louis Vuitton. Clare had collaborated with Marc Jacobs on his own label’s runway jewelry and hats and his home collections before joining the creative team at Vuitton as Costume Jewelry Designer. See Clare’s personal blog at http://www.nuscheluard.blogspot.co.uk/
This year Central Saint Martins’ 2nd year Fashion Design and Marketing students had a great opportunity to be tutored by Clare during their last term Tailoring Project, for which students had to produce a full tailored outfit with an impressive research and present it in front of a judging panel of tutors: Felipe Rojas Lianos, CSM MA 2010 grad and successful menswear designer, pattern cutting tutor Jan Bigg-Wither, Heather Sproat – head of FDM course and Clare Corrigan.
1Granary would like to thank Clare Corrigan for an insightful interview where she shares with memories of her own CSM student life, speaks of personal experiences and gives priceless advices to students on how to be ready for the fashion industry in the real world.
Please tell us about your student years at Central Saint Martins. And what was different back then at CSM on Charring Cross when you were a student?
I studied here at Central Saint Martins from 1986 to 1991. I did the Foundation Course at the Charing Cross road building, and then, the four year course. I was here at the time when there were only two courses; there was 3 years or 4 years course. You either decided to do knitwear or print or womenswear; it was much more reduced offering. I think that Foundation Course is still structured in a very similar way based on the Bauhaus philosophy: you learn about sculpture, fine art, weave, metal work, color wheel, construction, making, craft and that was something that always really appealed to me. It was really about research and making.
For me, coming in here these last few weeks, the main difference has been the architecture; at the old CSM building on Charing Cross road there was the age, the dirt, the grubbiness and the filth of it all. Everyone was in there together; it was on the Charing Cross road, off Soho, but not Soho as it is now; it was very much like the Red Light district area. The pubs at Soho were still important and it was still very much like the artistic hub; now it is more like a commercial district, which leads to the Oxford street in Central London. So, I think for me, the main difference now is that it is more modernized, high tech, 21st century version of what that was then.
Do you think that the major changes in the 21st century fashion industry has an impact on the way we are being taught at Central Saint Martins?
Definitely. I think that now there is a real access to the industry. Also, there is an awareness that you are trained to leave college for real jobs. Particularly now, the FDM course already has a marketing part within the course, so you already learn about the potential of your designs, and your ability to earn a living, and function in a design team in the outside world. That, for me, is the biggest difference now to what I see in Central Saint Martins to what I saw then. Also, I think that there are obvious links to the industry: there are Louis Vuitton sponsored courses, and there is a lot of interaction with internal and external tutors.
Do you keep in touch with your classmates?
I always say about CSM: “All of the people that I met in the first week of school are still my best friends.” I met them when I was 17, and we all shared the same corridor at the hall of residence, and eventually, flats, squats and bedsits together. The relationships that you form at that age are incredibly influential. At Charing Cross building you were next door to the Fine Art department, everyone knew everyone.
Who would you say has influenced you the most during your studies at CSM?
I would say that it was my tutor Shookoh Akhami. She was Persian and was an incredibly generous spirited and knowledgeable woman. She came to London from a sophisticated world of Tehran before the revolution in Iran. She understood the world of couture and, I think, she also understood that we had the energy to create. She was very clever in how she managed us in our time with her. She would say, “If you want to go clubbing to Fridge in Brixton, or Daisychain, or Ascension, or whatever club that we were partying at the time, I want you to make your outfit in my lesson, but I want you to make it to a couture standard.” So, she would bring her world into our world and that was, I think, an incredibly clever thing to do. Shookoh was just an amazing person, truly inspirational woman!
What were your first years like after graduating from CSM? Please tell us about your personal journey inside the industry and how you started to work with Marc at the house of Louis Vuitton.
When I was at CSM, I used to go clubbing a lot in the outfits that I used to make in lessons with Shookoh. There was a club called “Fridge” in Brixton and on Tuesday nights I used to go clubbing at “The Daisychain”, and there, at the bar, I met a director of Thierry Mugler, who said, “Here is my number, call me when you graduate. I want you to come and work with me in Paris.” After the first summer, I moved back home and was working in a restaurant to pay off all my bills. I decided to move to Paris, called him and that’s how it all happened.
After a year at Mugler, I went on to work with Karl Lagerfeld and then I went to work for Louis Vuitton with Marc. I have known him a little bit before, just briefly through Peter Copping, who was his first design director at Vuitton, so I saw Marc at the shows and used to go and see him in the studio with Robert Duffy, his Business partner; they both interviewed me… I always felt that Marc had created something very similar in feeling to Central Saint Martins. Marc is very accepting: of people, of their eccentricities, of their habits or how they work. I met Marc 15 years ago and went to work with him 10 years ago; the people that he and Robert have brought into the company make up a really fantastic team. Marc pushes and pushes us so hard every season as well; that is incredibly inspiring! It’s kind of an ideal scenario really. It’s a great team, great shows, great access to facilities, incredible resources for development, Marc’s creativity and curiosity; it is all extremely enriching.
What personal qualities must one have in order to work in a fashion industry now?
Stamina. A real curiosity… keep your eyes open! Flexibility and versatility. If you want to work in the industry, you can not think that after leaving CSM you will be working as a textile designer for the next 20 years because, for example, you may be asked to do scarves, or you might be asked to work in the studio directly with Marc, developing fabrics. You must have that kind of open mindedness and must be adaptable…
In your opinion, is it more difficult for a woman to work in the fashion industry than for a man?
I would say that it is very important to keep a balanced equilibrium between your work life, personal life and emotional needs. It is a really tough industry and if you do want a family and have a relationship, you will definitely need a really tolerant partner. (Laughs)
How important is it to know different languages? Italian? French?
It is very important. You know, the majority of you will be working overseas after graduating; all the people that I know from school are now working either in Paris or Italy. You must be able to speak Italian and French or at least understand it because when you’ll go to the factories in Italy or ateliers in France, you must be able to communicate with people.
What do you look fore in a perfect intern?
In an intern I look for stamina. Someone who is really pleasant, on time and who is very detail orientated. A perfectionist. You know, especially now, when there is such a massive culture of interns, the intern world has created it’s own competition in a way. When I was interning 20 years ago, it wasn’t like that, but now, it seems that you graduate and do an internship after internships and so on.
What would you not want to see in a portfolio?
I dislike overdone portfolios. I would love to see an amazing messy scrapbook or sketchbook. Things that I want to know: what you are looking at, what exhibitions you are seeing. I just want to see that thought process and I don’t want to see a really polished portfolio. What I really dislike is work being presented on laptops.
What is your fondest memory of CSM?
Oh my god, there are so many… All of my friends! All the funny nights out, meeting people and just the craziness of it all! (Laughs) I remember that it was always amazing feeling of turning left into the Charing Cross road building and into that front door, knowing that you are a Central Saint Martins student. (Laughs) There are so many incredible memories!