It started with four crisp hundred dollar bills and a blog. Stumbling upon the money on an Oakland sidewalk two decades ago prompted designer Clare Vivier to buy a sewing machine so she could start making handbags for her fledgling business, borne of her futile search for a cute laptop bag while working as a journalist.
Then she started a blog. The hope? That her life as a young mother with a French husband, spending time in LA and France, starting a fashion business without prior experience, would inspire people to support her business. It worked.
Clare V is amongst the first small businesses to evolve on social media. What brought her legions of fans? Her “do-it-yourself” ethos. The realness of her personal life interwoven into the brand’s identity. The marriage of classic French glamour and shapes with a playful Californian sensibility and modern detail.
Whilst Clare V’s line of handbags and apparel are chic enough to be coveted by the fashion world, the brand represents being comfortable in your own skin, rather than an unattainable ideal of beauty. Bohemian, colorful yet classic, joyful, and tongue in cheek are all words that capture the essence of Clare V.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of her eponymous brand, there is an impressive array of events happening this fall. Rizzoli released her debut book La Vie de Clare V.: Paris Chic/L.A. Cool. The joyfully hued volume takes readers on her journey. From her early years in Minnesota to her time living and working in Paris, to the creation of an iconic brand. The book is as much for fashion lovers, fellow mothers trying to balance the competing aspects of life, and those interested in an entrepreneur’s journey.
Parisians have the rare chance to buy her beautiful products locally at the brand’s pop-up, her 15th store, in the Marais until December 31. October 24 marks the launch of her upcoming collaboration with Monoprix. Clare V. x Monoprix will feature women’s clothes, kid’s apparel, hand bags, tabletop ceramics and home entertaining essentials. It is the first time the beloved French brand will be available for purchase in the United States at Clare V. stores and in France at select Monoprix stores.
We recently spoke to Clare about her journey thus far.
L.A. and France are a huge part of your brand’s identity. What brought you to Paris?
I moved to Paris after college. I had a fascination with Paris. I knew I would love to come live in Paris and learn French. I ended up getting a job at a restaurant, working, being paid under the table and I had an internship at a documentary film production company.
How did you end up in Los Angeles?
I was in the Bay Area, and my husband and I moved down to Los Angeles together, mostly for his work. He was working for French television, covering a lot of entertainment stories. So, it made sense for us to move at the time.
What about LA inspires you creatively & as an entrepreneur?
The answer is kind of the same. What I find so amazing about Los Angeles is the space that we have. Unlike other Metro cities that we love, where things feel very cramped, in Los Angeles, we’re allowed to have a nice space. We have beautiful light. The nature of Los Angeles really inspires me. I feel like because of that space, we are also allowed to be a lot freer and not have to pay much attention to what our contemporaries are doing out in the marketplace. We really have a lot of artistic and creative freedom. That’s something that I’ve always really appreciated.
In LA, there is the sense that you don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done.
Right, exactly. There’s this. There’s still a real freedom in Los Angeles. So we’ll go West to the ocean, towards new beginnings and do what feels right.
Though very different, there is also a certain consonance and synergy between LA and Paris. How did you capture that with Clare V.?
One of the things that I love about Paris is the history of fashion here. And there’s the French style that we all admire so much. I think that comes into play with a little bit of the classic side of my brand. The other side of it, is kind of the bright and fun side from Los Angeles.
There’s something very French in your use of graphics, fonts & wit. The French perhaps don’t get enough credit for their sense of humor.
That’s true. I agree with you. Of course, all of our text is in French. For me, that’s a way to not be so on the nose with whatever message we’re trying to get across with the graphics.
I’m fascinated with typefaces and hand painted signs. I take a lot of pictures in France in general, of the hand-painted signs that I see. There is a humorous side to it. I appreciate very much that French people still find humor in the way that I approach French t-shirts and slogans.
In the early days of Clare V, you started a blog to market the brand. How did you know to harness social media in that way? Many artists and entrepreneurs are held back by not using social. What would you say to people who don’t feel comfortable putting themselves forward in that way?
For the first part of your question about the blog and how I thought to do that – really, it was just out of necessity. I was starting a brand out of my house. I didn’t have any financial backing at all. So I had to do things that didn’t cost any money.
And at the time, blogging on Blogspot was a thing that was just emerging. I was reading blogs at that time of a few people, like a woman who lived in Paris. I thought, if I’m interested in reading her blog, maybe someone will be interested in reading mine.
I knew that there had to be a story behind the brand. Otherwise, why would someone buy it? So it was my way of drawing people in. I think people, especially even more so now, are feeling that they need to have connections to brands in order to not only buy them, but also be big fans of them.
For the second part of your question, it is very hard to put yourself out there. I completely empathize with people who are more introverted than I am. One thing that I don’t do is, I don’t want my entire world on my social media. I very rarely include my family, my kids and my husband, because there’s this real tendency for people to project this fantasy life.
So something that people can do is really set parameters. What are the parameters for your social media? What are you going to show? Like if you’re a musician, just sell your music but don’t show other parts of your life.
What gave you the confidence to pivot from journalism to handbag designing?
I think I was smart enough to know how to delegate. I know the things that I’m good at and the things that I’m less good at. So, for example, I’ve never been extremely comfortable with getting paid or asking people for money. I think that’s a big reason that small businesses fail – because they don’t get themselves paid.
So very early on, my first employee was a part time bookkeeper because I knew that I was not going to be the person to ask the stores to pay me and to make sure that I was not spending too much. I mean, I knew how much money was going out and how much money was coming in.
And that person was very instrumental in early success. She was my bookkeeper for the first, I don’t know, five years.
You’re married to a French man, speak the language and are a citizen. What are some striking things about French culture that have surprised you?
Oh, gosh. It’s funny because I feel like it’s not even new to me anymore. We were walking through Paris, getting around on foot mostly and we were passing all the restaurants at lunchtime. The restaurants were so packed and people were sitting down enjoying nice meals.
And I feel like that’s not really the case in the U.S., especially for lunch. Lunch in France is a big deal. That’s probably the most important meal, especially among family. So that’s kind of a difference to me. Like on the weekend, my husband always wants to have a proper lunch and I’m always running around doing things.
Tell us a bit about the pop up.
The pop up is from October to the end of December at 97 rue de Turenne in the Marais. We have our entire collection there. It’s a beautiful shop. And from October 24th, we will have the collaboration with Monoprix and that will be really fun as well.
La Vie de Clare V.: Paris Chic/L.A. Cool
Written by Clare Vivier; forward by Christy Turlington; afterward by Jimmy Kimmel
Published by Rizzoli
Clare V – Paris Pop-Up
97 rue de Turenne
Until 31 December
Head to Clare V.’s Instagram for more details.
Clare V X Monoprix
At select Monoprix and Clare V stores starting October 24. Also on Clare V.’s website.
Kids and baby apparel, handbags, tabletop ceramics, and homeware.
The collection ranges in price from $9-$395.
- Where to go for one stop shopping and activities for the whole family? Check out our recent discoveries at Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann.
- If you know where to look there is Art Hiding in Paris everywhere.
- French fashion is timeless, chic, and elegant. Find out what makes it so.
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