Visitors to avenue Percier, in the genteel 8th arrondissement, usually hear nothing more than the click of heels and the rustle of leaves from the trees that line the street. Today, however, it is in a state of high drama. Due to a parade, roads are blocked, drivers are sounding their horns in fury and police officers are blowing their whistles. Yet at Chloé’s headquarters the scene is as serene as in a spa waiting room. Fresh white walls display images from the brand’s instantly recognisable advertising campaigns, candles flicker and lifts silently deliver members of staff and visitors to various fashion fiefdoms.
This mansion is the centre of an empire that has directed some of fashion’s most influential looks. Pattern cutters snip away in the house’s atelier, and fabric and garments are nipped and tucked around the company’s full-time house model. There are also sections devoted to embroidery, print, knitwear and accessories.
It’s what makes Paris fashion unique
At the centre of all this is Clare Waight Keller, Chloé’s creative director, who moved from London to Paris with her family to take on the high-profile role. ‘Having an atelier here is such a huge luxury,’ she says. ‘It’s what makes Paris and Paris fashion unique. In Italy, houses have factories or perhaps a workshop, but here there is a proper, miniature-scale factory one floor underneath my office. There’s an extraordinary amount of knowledge and skill involved. We have someone retiring soon who has worked in the atelier for more than 40 years. That kind of expertise is unparalleled.’
Clare Waight Keller’s office is pristine. There are more white walls, expansive windows and a row of high heels lined up against the skirting board. Waight Keller, who is English, follows some very impressive names, including Karl Lagerfeld who was creative director at Chloé in the 1970s. Later on, Stella McCartney was given the position, followed by Phoebe Philo and Hannah MacGibbon.
‘It’s daunting taking on something new on a scale such as this,’ says Waight Keller, whose spring/summer 2014 collection will be her sixth at the house since she joined in 2011. ‘I was excited to come in and put my own spin on what Chloé could be in the 21st century. It’s an exciting opportunity to give the Chloé past a new context.’
An era-defining fashion house
It’s a past with a rich history. Chloé was founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion, who was born and brought up in Egypt. Under the creative guidance of Karl Lagerfeld, Chloé was favoured by the socially liberated women of 1970s Paris. When Stella McCartney took the reins in 1997 the house once again defined an era, thanks to McCartney’s vivid prints, slogan T-shirts and relaxed approach to evening dressing. Waight Keller is now putting her stamp on the house.
Since moving to France, Waight Keller has noted how Parisian women approach clothing. ‘I am more careful and precise about the choices in a collection because I’ve noticed that French women are like that. They select things in terms of luxury and quality, above fashion. It’s about the perfect five blouses and how they work with the rest of the pieces in your wardrobe. It’s about building key things and how to work them together.’
Celebrating 60 years of Chloé
In celebration of its 60th anniversary in 2012, the company held an exhibition, Chloé Attitudes, in the city’s Palais de Tokyo. ‘Researching the exhibition made me realise that each of the designers at the house has really had his or her own take on who the Chloé woman was at that moment, and there are fascinating interpretations of the Chloé woman along the way,’ says Waight Keller. ‘That’s part of the allure. With Chloé, it’s about the attitude of the woman, it’s not about specific details in the clothes. It’s an all-over mood.’
Although the exhibition has closed, some of Chloé’s legendary creations are now housed in Chloé’s head office. An archive going back to the 1950s has been put together, with designs collected from the around the world. Gypsy dresses with ornate embroidery designed by Karl Lagerfeld jostle for space on rails beside Stella McCartney’s pearl-encrusted bustier corsetry and Phoebe Philo’s white organza lace gowns with three-dimensional flowers. All of them have taken a place in fashion history.
The Chloé woman
Turning away from past and towards the future, Waight Keller is clear about what contemporary Chloé customers expect and about the label’s identity. ‘Our Chloé woman is a mixture today. She travels a lot, she’s curious, she’s independent and she embraces femininity in her own way. She’s less hooked on vintage references and is more about expressing herself.’ Which could be a tidy summary of Waight Keller herself, a designer who is adding her own elegant signature to this revered Parisian fashion institution.