Mother, Supermodel, Designer, and Breast Cancer Survivor. I think it’s safe to say this woman’s been through it all. I remember when I first met Claire during New York Fashion Week, I was automatically struck in awe with her elegance, poise, beauty, (and amazing British accent of course). So sweet from the second I met her, I quickly could tell that there was more to her than met the eye. Attending her first ever New York Fashion Show later that week, I can easily say that her show was one of the most entertaining, with models who actually looked happy to be on the catwalk and with Claire who ended the show with the ultimate banger by doing the best strut I had ever seen down a runway. Major advertising campaigns, big shoots in Europe, and fashion shows in Milan, Paris, and London, Claire had already mastered many of which people could only dream of accomplishing in fashion as a model. But when she got diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2009, she shifted gears to focus on fashion in a different light, coming up with what is now her line called Claire Farwell London. Meeting up with Claire and learning more about her life, her line, and her message of inspiration she hopes to shine on other women, the interview below so easily shows why Claire is not only my inspiration of the day, but one that is such an inspiration to many other women who have or are battling cancer, or simply just trying to accomplish a dream.
Fashionlaine: How would you describe your line?
Claire Farwell: I call it “elegant designs with a British accent”. When I originally started out, I thought my line was going to be for a specific demographic because there’s a huge gap in the market for women that want to be elegant but with a bit of an edge– for the business women, traveler types that want something comfortable, practical, and slimming. So my first collection was a bit of everything for everyone. But now I’m in LA and I’ve got these fab designs on 20- 25 year olds because they too want to be smart with a bit of an edge. So now, my line has turned into something that is for everyone and for anyone that wants to be comfortable. To me, it’s not about the clothes, but about the women in them and being self-confident in it.
FL: You first started your fashion career as a model. How did that come about?
CF: I was born in a village on the countryside of England. Originally I wanted to be an actress, but then I realized I was obsessed by the fashion of the actresses when I was constantly pulling out pictures from magazines of clothes and looks that I liked. And so from there, I decided I wanted to get into modeling. But this was in the 80’s before the time of supermodels, so I thought to myself, how am I possibly going to become a model with my height? I always had a vision and always got what I wanted in the working sense of it with the obstinate and determined way that I am. So from the village, I went to a finishing school in London. But I was so determined, that at the age of 16, I went around to all of the reputable model agencies to show myself, yet no one would take me because I was six feet. And little did I know that later on Elle Macpherson, Rachel Williams, and I would be in high in demand. I found a little agent in London that Naomi Campbell was with, and she and I would plot parties and work on setting the pavement. And suddenly Naomi and I are in Paris booking Elle and Vogue. And then go back to London and things got crazy and then everyone suddenly wanted me there also.
FL: From there, how did you decide to go into wanting to become a designer?
CF: I never realized at first that when I was pulling out pictures and was sketching, that it was the fashion that was more interesting to me than the actual modeling itself. I was sketching and making clothes and taking my great grandmother’s smelly old wardrobe that she didn’t want and make it my own. So all the signs were there, but I just never saw them at first. I had a sewing machine when I was living in New York when I was 17. I would do all the work for my shoots for magazines and etc on it. And when I saw schools like Parsons, I would think to myself “well this sounds romantic”. But of course because I had a career going, I would only do sewing in my spare time, yet people would always compliment me on the clothes that I would make. I never appreciated the fact that I had a talent for something I was passionate about, so I never did anything with it until two years ago when I put on a show for Breast Cancer. I had a Breast Cancer diagnosis from 2009 all the way until 2011, and what happened in that period is that I became so creative again. It was like all of this came rushing back. And I remember I was going to a ball for my children’s school and I was so determined to make my own gown. So I made this gown that everybody was going on about, but that cost me $20. And still even then, the thought of designing didn’t sit with me. It was only until I put on an event for 300 people for Breast Cancer and I decided that I was going to do a fashion show in the middle of it that it slowly hit me. With the help of a seamstress who would show me how to use certain techniques, I designed 22 pieces by hand that ended up selling for $4000 in the auction. From there, I started doing other charity events, trunk shows, and etc, learning about what women wanted. And from then on, I moved here to Los Angeles a year ago and started building the ground for my brand. And suddenly here I was, with my line in New York Fashion Week.
FL: How did it feel to have your line be featured in New York Fashion Week?
CF: The funny thing was, I’ve modeled in all of the fashion shows in Paris, Milan, London. Yet, I never walked in New York because it never worked out. I was doing all of these major advertising campaigns and all these swimwear campaigns in the Hamptons and etc, but I never did the shows. And so knowing that I was doing New York Fashion Week for my line, to me it made a lot of sense because as much as I love LA and have so many things to use as factors here, my line’s high-end, contemporary, runway, and LA’s not quite there yet. And New York is where it’s at. So doing New York Fashion Week was just such a natural thing for me. It was an incredible experience and amazing to have– with celebrities wearing your clothes and your friends and family in the front row all apart of it.
FL: Who or where do you pull inspiration from for your line?
CF: My inspiration comes from all the creative parts in me that have been bottled up for so long. It comes from my osmosis in the fashion industry, it comes from complete passion and obsession with noticing fashion in every walk of life, it comes from being comfortable. I don’t believe in suffering for fashion. Women are doing so many things, they don’t want to be worried about feeling uncomfortable in a dress– it shouldn’t be a hindrance. In terms of designers, Ellie Saab is incredible. But then you look at the Ralph Laurens, Burberrys, and Louis Vuittons, and they just have this ray of different things that I want to get into. My current line is just the essentials– ready-to-wear. But I want to get into resort wear, shoes, bags, and more, so this is only the beginning for me.
FL: How do you compare living in London to living in Los Angeles?
CF: I think London is the edge, the European descent and I need that in all that I do, hence “elegant designs with a British accent”– there’s always a little bit of British in every piece of my line. London is so international and so diverse and gives you so much of every cultural sense with all the history, so it’s a great launch pad for everything Europe. But LA, it’s all about being comfy with the beach and everything outdoors. So here, you’ve got all those creative people that are gathered from all walks of life. It takes a lot of courage to leave where you’re from to go after a dream and LA is filled with people doing just that. And for that reason, I think that much like London, there’s a lot of similarity between the two places where London is the fashion or financial capital of Europe and LA is the hub of Hollywood; there’s a lot of similarities, but thankfully there are a lot of things that make them different from each other as well.
FL: As this month is Breast Cancer Awareness month, what does that mean to you and how do you relate that your fashion?
CF: Breast Cancer was like this little monster that just showed up. So you take everything with a positive attitude and outlook– you just have to face it. For me, all the positive was that it brought out this creative stuff. It’s like the old cliche “you’ve only got one life, and until something happens…”. The first thing my doctor said to me was “you’re not going to die, you’re going to have a drink.” You go through stages and for me, that strength of the person that I was at that time and that I have become even more of is a necessary inspiration I have to give to all people. And that’s why I’m so passionate about sharing my story. My brand is Breast Cancer Awareness through fashion because I am my brand. And I want all women to be inspired and living their life to be all the woman they should be– cutting out all the banter that goes on in their heads. That’s why I think I got Breast Cancer, to become even more of the woman I am and to inspire to a higher level than what I had been in my past life.
FL: What is the best advice you can give to someone trying to figure out what they want to do in life or fulfill a dream?
CF: My best advice is for people to really see and understand that there’s a timing for doing what you’re supposed to be doing, which is probably the hardest part. I’ve spent all my life asking myself what that was. But I always say, if you don’t know, then you don’t know. For me, there was just so many things I was interested in that it wasn’t clear. So I literally had to go through everything in my life to get where I am now and to be doing this. So my advice would be that anybody that’s on a journey trying to find out what they want to do, or are in the works of making it happen, let the process happen and let things unfold when it should instead of forcing it to.