Celtic queen is designer to the stars
By Brenda Woods
Award-winning designer Claire Garvey is promising Ireland a lot of latex, rubber and flowers – all mixed together for this year’s Rose of Tralee Festival in Tralee. It’s never happened before and it will be a major talking point.
The Dublin native and mother, is working on a new catalogue for the Fashion Show in The Dome in August, which will be firmly based on roses – what else?
“I am very excited about this. It will be a great chance for me to present in the largest fashion show in Ireland,” says Claire.
Claire, who lives in Clondalkin, in Dublin, with her husband and their son Luc, is one of Ireland’s most talented fashion designers, with creative bespoke masterpieces adorning not only the warm interior of her shop in Temple Bar, but also on the adoring shoulders of celebrities, such as international disco pioneer and songwriter/producer, Nile Rodgers.
Nile strode down the red carpet at the Oscars in a fabulous eclectic dynamic and shimmering jacket from Clarie’s collection.
Not only that, but TV3’s Dancing With The Stars judge, Julian Benson, has been wearing Claire’s creative endeavours – working it with sumptuous jackets throughout the series and bringing the sparkle and love for couture onto the dance floor with dramatic aplomb.
Claire’s connection with television personality, Julian Benson, goes back a few years when Claire was submitting to the Smirnoff Young Designer Competition at college in the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. “I met Julian in 1991 and little did I know he would be doing the television programme, Dancing With The Stars, and he asked me to design the jackets for him. I suppose it is all like a snowball effect. I had to design the jackets one a week and go with what I thought would suit him. I match the person’s personality to the pieces.”
For such outstanding and unique designs, Claire herself is truly down-to-earth and a joy to speak with. Humble and grateful for her continued success, Claire also designs stunning accessories – headpieces and hand-dyed scarfs.
A hard worker, she explains how she first encountered the world-class musician Nile Rodgers. “At first, it was the two girl singers in his group who had seen a set of photos of my work. They were in Belfast and I got a phone call from Nile,” says Claire.
“He mentioned he was doing ‘X-Factor’ and he wanted to wear one of my designs. I thought it was a joke. But then I was flown to the ‘X-Factor’ set and found myself hanging about in one of the trailers. It was surreal. People were waving in at me, so I gave them a little wave back. From then on, Nile has been a great supporter of mine and I am very thankful.”
It’s all been a welcome curveball for Claire as she initially shunned menswear design in college, but now she’s working on designer jackets for the famous!
“Nile reintroduced me to the idea of working on menswear. At first, it was very simple and one design led to another and Nile ended up wearing one of my jackets at the Oscars and it glowed in the dark!”
That was almost three years ago and now Claire’s unisex range is rocking. “I noticed that a lot of people were wearing men’s blazers and that they were very versatile, so I worked with that,” she says.
Claire traces her love for design from a young age. Her mum is Joyce Garvey, a successful artist in her own right. “She is a terrific artist and that helped me in my education. I also remember being interested in design at a young age. When I was six, I sent one of my illustrations to the world-famous designer, Mary Quant. She sent me back a signed autograph and said she would keep me in mind for the future!”
With her outstanding pieces, does Claire get mixed reactions and how does she deal with it?
“I never worry about what people are doing. There is plenty of room for everybody to be what they want to be. I love doing what I do. It is like a joy to come into my shop in the morning. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The versatility of the work is appealing to Claire. “I design bride’s dresses and Happy 21st dresses. In one case, the lady wanted the dress to look like one worn by a music box ballerina and she wanted a key in her back. Another lady wanted to be a tree.”
Claire takes inspiration from her surroundings, even casting her mind back to the time she removed some of the chandeliers from their first house and reusing them as part of the design on her wedding dress. “I remember my husband Brendan walking in one day and asking me where had the chandeliers gone. But I knew they would look lovely on my wedding dress!”
Even her son Luc offered his old rugby ball up for creativity and Claire turned it into a wonderful hat.
Twenty years ago Claire studied in Russia and brought back those cultural influences into her pieces. “I also bring in the Celtic knights, Celtic warriors and love the long flowing symbolism of Irish mythology.
“I worked on the Miss Universe Ireland in 2015 and it was based on a Celtic mythology landscape.”
Ireland’s Miss Universe hopeful Lisa Madden was representing the nation in Miami, Florida. The outfit was shown on The Late Late Show. The design was not a modern traditional dress and took in influences from the Celtic tradition. Claire admits that getting it into the suitcase in Ireland for Miami “was difficult!”
How does Claire handle different reactions to her work and what advice does she give those who want to pursue their own path? “I have to expect people to have their own opinions. They either love or hate my designs. But I would say to anyone, don’t listen to other people, follow what you believe in. People say you have to be very commercial – but I would just say believe and trust in yourself. It’s not a competition,” she says.