Young, fervent and imaginative womenswear designer Clio Peppiatt makes bold garments for modern women. Founding her fashion label after graduating from Ravensbourne University two years ago, Clio has amassed a cult following of switched-on supporters who value the effort she puts into quality and concept. Gouregous traditional embroidery and Clio’s own hand drawn illustrations are what makes the London-based designer’s collections so highly coveted. Feminine with a hint of dark humour, her spellbinding presentations at London Fashion Week are works of art in themselves and her distinctive garments have been worn by the coolest of gals from Adwoa Aboah to Susie Lau. But behind the opulence of the fashion world, Clio is just a down-to-earth London girl following her heart and her beliefs. She often uses her platform to bring attention to serious issues and is keen on community and giving back. Curious about the love and labour that goes into the making of a contemporary brand, we met up with the perceptive designer to talk being inspired by film, her passion for drawing and why fast fashion needs to change.
Words by Kadish Morris & Photography by Mel Lou
How did you get into womenswear?
I’ve always loved to paint and draw but I didn’t want to go into fine art and fashion felt like the closest thing because I could still use those skills. I come from a creative family which is amazing because they’re really supportive and understanding. Both my parents work in fine art as curators and art historians. So growing up, even though they weren’t the ones painting, all of their friends were artists. It was such an interesting way to grow up. There was art everywhere.
What artists and illustrators are you inspired by?
I’ve always loved anything very detailed. Something you can stare at for hours and still find new elements. Artists like Erte, Aubrey Beardsley. Really stylised and intricate works. I love the work of Paula Rego too. Her paintings are beautiful and she paints clothes and captures light and shade so well. I’m also influenced by film. Often a starting point for a collection is film.
Did a film inspire your current collection?
Yes. The Love Witch. It came out early last year. It’s only the directors second film as far as I’m aware but it’s garnered this massive interest and is a bit of a cult film already. It’s really aesthetically beautiful and plush and sensual but it’s got a dark twisted core. It’s about a witch who men fall in love with and die but it’s unclear whether she’s killing them indirectly or whether they are dying of a broken heart or because they’re so in love with her, they can’t handle it and are destroyed by it. She’s very beautiful but also such a force of nature – its mad that the world finds those two characteristics hard to reconcile – but theres this contrast throughout the whole film. It’s also done with a sense of humour. You watch it with a lot of mixed emotions. It’s very multi-layered.
That’s interesting because a lot of female characters in films are quite one-dimensional and not very complex at all…
She’s a real representation of an actual person. When I first watched it, I really identified with the contrast of something looking beautiful but having a twist. My garments may look traditionally feminine but they always have a sense of humour and there’s something dark in there because that is a real representation of the people wearing the clothes.
Is that part of the brands ethos?
Yes definitely. The clothes being beautiful isn’t what I consciously set out to do. I love embroidery and I love beading and those things are very beautiful and play a heavy part in my work but I never try and make something look pretty. That’s not the main motive.
“My garments may look traditionally feminine but they have a sense of humour and there’s always something dark in there.”
In terms of embroidery, what interests you about that technique?
I’ve always been in awe of old traditional techniques. It used to be such a done thing but it’s something that is slowly getting lost. So for me, it’s important to keep it alive in my work. I like incorporating non traditional imagery with very traditional methods. Of course these crafts are associated with things that women traditional did so I like using them and flipping them on their head. There’s a rebelliousness to it.
How does your first collection compare with your most recent?
My first collection was two years ago and I started with a very DIY approach. I was making everything from my bedroom completely on my own and getting friends to shoot and making them something to say thank you. I had the idea of starting my own label for a very long time but actually putting it into practice, I did very quickly. There’s definitely a lot to be said for people who plan things really carefully. That’s smart in a lot of ways but there’s no better way to learn than by just doing it.
Has the fashion industry changed in any way since you started out?
There was something happening right before I started out in regards to the way we approach the fashion system and schedule and the selling of clothes. People are now starting to think outside of the traditional formula of how a fashion label should be. Whereas when I started, it was very much ‘This is the way you have to do it to be taken seriously’.
People do seem to be questioning the future of fast fashion a lot lately. Producing two collections a year seems like a lot of work…
And it’s really expensive as well! But I think social media is changing everything. There’s something exciting about this shift. You don’t have to play by the rules and you can forget how everyone else it doing it and work out what’s best for yourself. It would just be great for everyone to do what’s right for them. No one’s journey is the same. It’s crazy that we’re all squeezed into this rigid structure.
Everyone works at such different paces. There’s no set amount of novels a writer should publish each year or how many albums a musician you should release. Why aren’t designers given this same freedom?
And working at that speed – it’s difficult to stay ethical because you’re going so quickly. The most important thing it to research where your fabrics are coming from and where things are being made. But that’s not always easy when you have this pressure on you to always produce things.
“My first collection was two years ago and I started with a very DIY approach. I was making everything from my bedroom completely on my own.”
Your recent banquet themed presentation at London Fashion week was so enchanting. Could you tell me about the work that went into it?
The original idea for the set came from the tea room scenes in the The Love Witch. It’s a completely pink room and there are flowers everywhere and someone is playing the harp. It’s ultra feminine and opulent. My idea was to take that scene and turn it into an evening setting. I worked with one of my good friends who does set design but I played quite an active role in all of it. For example, I picked all of the plates myself. I had a strong idea of what I wanted, especially this season. I’m naturally finding my voice more and more. I went to the market every Friday and Saturday for a few weeks looking for knives and forks that would fit into the scene. Also, the embroidery of the tablecloth and the napkins were done by my best friend. I paid a lot of attention to detail to make it feel like a beautiful version of reality.
Do you think much about the label growing bigger and having to give away some control?
One thing I can’t ever imagine giving away is the hand drawing aspect. It’s a lot of work because it’s for every single embroidery and every print. I do all of the sketching myself. That part for me is the strongest representation of my voice so I couldn’t imagine giving that away. Maybe there’s someone who could closely imitate what I do but it’s not the same. It’s not coming from the same eye. I think that’s the bit that feels like my handwriting and my voice and it’s always present in every garment. It’s something that is very personal to me. It’s also the part I enjoy the most. I love being able to shut myself in in the evenings and watch a film and just sit and draw. It’s so peaceful.
How do you balance business with creativity?
I try and see creativity in the business side of things so I’ve always enjoyed that side of things. I don’t enjoy it quite as much as sitting and drawing but it’s amazing to have control over how things are developing and growing.
And I guess if you want to be solely creative, you could just work for another designer or brand…
Or work with a business partner and focus more on the creative side. There are quite a few people who I go to as mentors. I haven’t got any business training at all but I’ve tried to learn where I can. My favourite thing to do is watch interviews with different designers and artists and hear how different everyone’s journey is. Some people are really transparent and say it’s really hard and it’s a lot of work whereas some people say they just “fell into it”. I think that’s a really unfair message to send out because for someone who is just starting out and is working hard, that can be disheartening to hear that others just fell into it. I think it’s important to admit that there are lots of difficulties and it’s not always easy.
How do you approach challenges?
I’m really vocal about when I’m experiencing something difficult. I will talk about it with people. I will try to get different advice. Especially with these time schedules. You’re tightly wrapped up into it all and sometimes you need to step back and one of the best way of doing that is someone else looking at it through their eyes. My mum, my boyfriend, my close friends, the people I work with – I’m always bouncing ideas off them. A lot of people don’t have that and I feel incredibly lucky. My mum will come and stay with me the week before fashion week every season and will stay up and help me out or make me dinner. She’ll give me moral support. She understands so well how I feel about my work. It’s something that we share that I don’t think either of us share with anyone else.
“Seeing one of your pieces integrated into someone’s actual wardrobe is really fascinating. You can’t predict those things and you’re always going to be surprised.”
What is it like seeing someone wear one of your garments?
It’s so exciting. My favourite thing ever is when I’m walking somewhere and I see someone wearing something and they don’t know who I am and that I’ve designed it!
You’re making clothes and then dispersing them into the world. You never know when or where you’re going to encounter them..
Also, just seeing them taken into reality is really interesting. Of course, it’s amazing doing fashion week. You get to put out this strong vision that’s in your head or see amazing stylists and photographers interpretation of your work in editorials. But there’s something special about seeing it in reality. In a normal environment. There’s a fantasy element to fashion and it’s definitely something I play up to but seeing one of your pieces integrated into someone’s actual wardrobe is really fascinating. You can’t predict those things and you’re always going to be surprised.
How does living in London feed into what you do?
I grew up in London and I think that’s central to the story of the brand. London is so visually stimulating. You see such personalities here. The way people express themselves through to the way they dress. What I love about London is that you get people who stand out as individuals and others who blend in and associate themselves with different tribes and troupes. I think that’s fascinating. Because if you take someone out of their group, and place them in another part of London, they become one of those people who are sticking out. I was actually born in France and there is quite a big difference from the way people dress in Paris compared to London. From my personal experience from spending time there, t’s much more uniform. It’s much more about blending in. So having that contrast from France to London has been interesting.
How does the internet affect the way you work?
The internet gives you this incredible direct dialogue between the people who want to wear your clothes. I’m also make mood boards and I often use the internet for that but I also like to use books and old magazines. On the internet, you can find an image and you don’t need to know anything about where it’s come from or what it’s rooted in. You can just take it. You can’t do that with books because there’s always context there. It’s very important when you’re referencing to know the context. On the internet, it’s all too easy to screenshot something without looking further.
That’s so true. There’s always quotes floating around and no-one can confirm who said it…
Yes. Or someone said it 10 years before and they’re not being credited! I think the internet is the most incredible tool and we’re still working out the best way to utilise.
You previously co-curated a show raising funds for FGM survivors and have also partaken in various charitable projects. Is actively supporting causes an important part of what you do?
I think that if you can, you should bring attention to things you care about. You have a responsibility to. I’m aware that not everyone can do it but because I’m lucky enough to have the means to, I feel I have to. It’s crazy that fashion doesn’t endorse important causes more often. I know that sounds strange because people don’t think the fashion industry cares about serious issues but imagine if these huge fashion houses with so much money used their power and influence to spread awareness.
“If you have a platform in any way, you should spend some time using that to bring attention not just to what you do but to things that matter.”
I totally agree with that sentiment. Plus it would help the industry as a whole appear less “shallow”…
Exactly. There is an element of fashion that is extremely superficial. That’s definitely true but I’m really surprised that there’s not more involvement. I also think that, small or big, you can do something. If you have a platform in any way, you should spend some time using that to bring attention not just to what you do but to things that matter.
I think that’s a really admirable way of thinking…
Thank you! The FGM female matters exhibition I did in collaboration with Ione Gamble and Polyester Zine, I met people since who found out about the brand through that exhibition which is kind of an unusual introduction to a clothing brand but I think it was nice because it sets out that it is a brand with some core values. I also think that customers are very smart. A lot of the time, we don’t just want to buy a great piece of clothing anymore. We want there to be something more to it. We care about where we are putting our money and the things we’re investing in. It’s not just about it looking good anymore. What you wear is about expression. People don’t necessarily just want something that looks great. They also want something that reflects something they believe in.
In your opinion, what is one thing a young designer should focus on mastering?
Finding your own voice but also leaving room to develop and grow. It’s natural to be reflective about your work but once you know who you are and what the brand is about, give yourself the space to develop. There should always be an element of fluidity. Things should never become static. Let yourself grow and flourish. That shows a real connection to your work.
What excites you about your future?
I’m really lucky to be doing something I love. I just hope I can grow it and maintain it all. I think fashion is coming into this exciting period where the rules are dropping away a little, and there is freedom to decide what works best for you. I would love to have a Clio Peppiatt store one day. Having a physical space where people could visit and I could see them trying things on and also build relationships with people. That would be great. I’d also love to use that space to bring a community that already exists to life. Whether it was by having exhibitions, talks or workshops there and connecting with other people that link to my work or are muses. And also to just give back to people who are younger than me. I want to make sure that I’m still always feeding back because there isn’t a better way to make an impact than to give a helping hand to other people.