Clare Vivier’s eponymous handbag line all started with a simple laptop case. Struggling to find a fashion-meets-function bag to suit her busy lifestyle, the former television journalist simply designed one herself. The rest, as they say, is fashion history.
Since 2008, Vivier has been locally producing leather goods in her adopted hometown of L.A. And we aren't the only ones pretty much obsessed with her minimal-yet-striking designs, with the fashion world quickly embracing the designer’s cool yet sophisticated, L.A.-meets-Paris goods. (Originally from Minnesota, the designer later spent time in Paris and ended up marrying a French documentary filmmaker.) She's collaborated with tons of cool labels like Theory, Steven Alan, and Wren, and her bags have been worn by magazine editors and celebs alike. She also has a standalone boutique in L.A.'s hip Siverlake neighborhood, where she lives and works.
We caught up with Vivier to learn more about how she managed to build her brand from scratch--and as it turns out, she's far from slowing down with lots of plans on the horizon (like doing footwear--yes please!). Read on to find out how she does it...
What was your relationship like with fashion growing up? I have always been interested in fashion. When I was little I would dress up in my mom’s clothes and carry my dad’s briefcase around, which was my businesswoman look. In high school I created collages on my walls from fashion magazines and always kept up with trends and designers as much as I could from my Minnesota bedroom! I always knew I wanted to work in the fashion world I just never quite knew how.
How and when did you end up in LA? We moved from the Bay Area in 2001 to be closer to my husband’s son--my stepson--Simon.
You worked in television before starting your label, how did you decide to go into fashion? While working in television, I discovered a huge gap in the market for stylish and functional bags that could go from day to night, from work to an event or dinner. That's what inspired me to make my first laptop case. From there, I just continued to experiment with beautiful leather I found, seeing what shapes the leather could take and what I imagined my friends wanting to wear. The necessity for something functional and beautiful led to my new career path!
Did you have any design experience? I learned how to sew when I was younger and made my own clothes throughout high school and my adult life, but I have no formal training in design.
What were some of the early obstacles in starting your own label? Trying to find the right price point and getting press. I knew what I thought the bags were worth, but it was hard finding a middle ground of that price and having an unknown label that people would only pay so much for. It was incredibly helpful to start my own blog when the line launched to promote the line for free. I was able to get attention from friends and friends of friends and then outsiders and press started taking notice.
What is the ethos of the brand? The brand is a marriage of classic French glamor with minimalist Los Angeles cool. All of the bags are as chic as they are utilitarian. We engage in ethical manufacturing practices without compromise. From conception to construction, all of the bags are made in L.A.
Have you had an 'I’ve made it' moment? I don’t think I have had one, and don’t know if I ever will because it’s an ongoing process. I feel grateful for all of the minor and large successes I have had, you never know how long something like this will last and you have to be grateful for every moment. But I did feel like things came together in a special way the night we opened the store. It was an amazing evening full of friends with so much positive volition from so many people who work on the line, designed and built the space – a great coming together of forces that felt really special. That it was the first time my line was featured on Vogue.com was just the icing on the cake.
What’s the best career advice you ever received? I’ve tried to live by a lot of pieces of advice, I’ve heard, gleaned, or read. My good friend Heather Taylor and I are constantly talking about this: Business rules to live by. We have a lot of them written down, but one I like particularly and think has been helpful to me is to have tunnel vision. What I mean by that is keep your eye on your dream. Be inspired by others but don’t compare yourself to them. That, and try to say 'yes' to as many opportunities as you can. And, take failures in stride and take successes one day at a time. I could go on!
Do your French roots influence the designs? What about living in L.A.? My French in-laws and the time I spent living in Paris definitely influence my designs. Our line is a marriage of French and California style. French women just have an effortless way of putting their outfits together; it never looks like they are trying too hard and it always looks smart. Our bags are functional and contemporary, designed for the busy working girl or frantic young mom who wants something they can use and feel good about. I was particularly influenced by Parisian storefronts in the design of our first store here in L.A. I snapped photos of my favorite stores and used them for inspiration during the design process.
Who are your muses and style icons? My friends and the girls I work with are my style icons and muses. They are all these incredibly beautiful and talented women who just make such smart choices with the way they dress. I design with them in mind all the time.
Do you have specific inspirations when starting your new collections? I always begin by sourcing leather. From there I create an inspiration board with pictures from books, magazines, works of art, and experiment with the leather in terms of the shapes it can take.
What’s on your current ‘mood board’? Pictures of belts and shoes and other accessories because that is the next direction I want to take the brand in. I also have other pictures form magazines, art, and design photos I find inspirational.
Do you follow the fashion world closely? Who are your favorite designers? Of course! From magazines to designer’s Instagram accounts, I love seeing what other designers are doing. My favorite inspirational designers are Celine, Lanvin, Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Marni. In terms of what I like to wear most often? Maje, Isabel Marant, Vanessa Bruno, Hope, and Steven Alan.
How do you describe your style philosophy? Classic, minimalist, with treasured vintage finds mixed with more contemporary pieces.
You've worked with brands like Theory and Steven Alan. What do you look for when doing collaborations? What are some labels or brands you’d like to work with? I look for a brand or designer with a similar aesthetic. I have to be able to visualize both of our designs complementing each other and will successfully meld both of our design sensibilities. I would love to collaborate with a French company like APC.
Who would you love to see carrying one of your bags? Hmmm... I’m already in heaven when I see Vogue editors carrying the bags, and think I would die die if I saw Charlotte Gainsbourg or Kate Moss with a Clare Vivier bag!
Do you think you’ll ever expand into ready-to-wear or shoes? I would love to do both, but I think that shoes will be the next project we tackle!
How do you balance family life with owning your own business? It's incredibly difficult to try and balance work and home life. I am so lucky to have a husband who has been so excited by the growth of the brand and he’s taken on more responsibility at home, and he’s a really good cook, so that helps. Sometimes I have to leave work to get (my son) Oscar from school and bring him back to work with me, but we make it the best of it. Plus, it’s pretty cute when Oscar comes to the studio and chats with the girls or does his on his homework at the desk next to mine. It’s showing him that parents have lives outside the home, which could be good for him.
Any fun plans on the horizon you can share with us? We're hoping to open a store in New York some time this year, and as I mentioned, shoes and other accessories are definitely on the horizon!