French fashion house Chloé brought its singular brand of laid-back chic to Los Angeles on Tuesday night, hosting a fashion show and dinner at the mid-century modern Brody House for guests such as Zoe Saldana, January Jones, Jessica Pare, Nicole Richie, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and others.
Chloé was founded by Gaby Aghion in 1952 as a more laid-back alternative to the formal, haute couture clothing of the day. Under the direction of Karl Lagerfeld, it became an iconic 1970s brand known for feminine blouses and fluid boho dresses. Beginning in the late 1990s, a string of female designers took the helm, including Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo and Hannah MacGibbon, and gave the brand a more modern, tomboyish spin. They also boosted the accessories side of the business with popular pieces such as the padlocked Paddington bag, the horseshoe-shaped Marcie satchel, and the studded Susanna boots, all of which garnered a following with celebrities.
British-born, Paris-based designer Clare Waight Keller took over the post of creative director in 2011, and her spring 2014 collection of beat-the-heat pieces in an earthy palette was her best yet, with a standout floaty micro-pleated white silk cloque dress knotted over the arms (pictured above); khaki micro-pleated silk pants with loose ankle ties, worn with a navy peaked shoulder blouse; chiffon-weight knits; burnished khaki leather pants and blue crochet lace dresses.
Keller's slouchy trousers, relaxed jackets and jumpsuits have been embraced by Hollywood as a kind of everyday uniform, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Katie Holmes, Cate Blanchett, Victoria Beckham and others wearing them in recent months.
This week, I caught up with the designer to talk about her love of L.A., the inspiration for the spring collection and why tomboy style continues to be so pervasive.
When was the last time you were in L.A.?
In the summer actually. I love California. I was here for a few weeks in August, when I rented a couple of houses, one in Malibu and another in Laguna. My girls are really into surfing, and they love being in the water. I also have a friend who lives in Palm Springs, so we were all over the place.
Was California part of your inspiration for the spring collection?
Not really, it was more about dressing for the heat. In Europe, we don't experience the heat as much, but when you travel a lot and go around the world, you realize that in California, in the Far East and Southern countries, you get a different impression of how you're going to dress. And really, most of the world is in that climate now. So this was something I played with in the show. That's where the desert-like color palette came in, and the dry fabrics, the sense of having something very light on the skin without being transparent.
The micro-pleating was just incredible!
It took me two months to work on the fabrication, the pleating structure and the shapes. It's a special Japanese fabric. With pleating you have to be careful, because it can look old quickly, like you're wearing a granny thing. So it was quite important to get the dimension and weight of the pleats right, to use them horizontally so they have a little bit more bounce and fall away from the body rather than clinging.
Are the pleats done in silk?
It's a poly silk, you need polyester to keep the pleats in place.
There is a heritage of pleating at Chloé, right?
Yes, it's part of the DNA of the house, but it needed to be refreshed and modernized.
The brand has really resonated in L.A. with celebrities looking for a kind of off-duty, daytime uniform. I like the fact that you focus on daywear so much, when so many designers really don't. Is that something that's a priority?
One hundred percent. A more playful approach to daywear is really part of Chloé.
I get the feeling that a lot of the celebs wearing Chloé are going and buying it, but correct me if I'm wrong.
Yes! For me, it's continually surprising. With the blouses, crepe de chine dresses, and light, soft layering we do, having the right boots and your hair done in a certain way, so much about the Chloe look is attitude as well.
And indeed, in 2012, the brand celebrated its 60th anniversary with a book titled "Chloé Attitudes." You've had a lot of success with bags, too, including the Alice satchel and the Baylee duffel. Are they named after anyone in particular?
When Gaby first started the company, she named each collection via the alphabet. So we restarted that from the 60th anniversary with accessories. We thought it was a nice nod to her roots. We started with the Alice, which was in a collection inspired by Helmut Newton's wife Alice Springs. Baylee was a name I had on a list for the letter "B," and I just loved the boyish spirit about it. The bag is a kind of boyish duffel, so it worked.
You brought up the word "boyish." The tomboy idea is such a part of Chloé's legacy, and it's become such a reference point in fashion in general recently. Why?
By adding boyish elements, it stops you tripping into that overly girlie territory. It's bringing that mix together that creates tension and makes it more modern and easier.
You mentioned Gaby, the founder. Do you still see her?
Yes, she still comes to the shows. She's in her late 90s now, but she's still completely obsessed with fashion.
So much of fashion branding today is about entertainment, and making a big statement on the runway. What kind of challenge does that offer for a quieter brand like Chloé?
It's harder when you're a couture house, and you have to balance modernity with a high level of couture with that polish. Chloé has always been about a sense of ease, so it doesn't feel strange to keep steering in that direction. And I really believe that, because I wear it every day, and everyone in my office wears it every day. It's very much about women for women.