Los Angeles, CA
Clare V. is a collection of bags and accessories made in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles, CA
Clare V. is a collection of bags and accessories made in Los Angeles.
To sit immersed in one of Clare Vivier’s stores, or the Clare V. world, as she calls it, is truly a magical experience. Carefully merchandised bags and accessories not only highlight the beauty of her own products, but also the close relationships she has with other female designers in town. Curated jewelry collections, leather sandals, woven linens and scented candles represent who’s who in the LA design scene, and women who happen to also be Clare’s friends and muses. People clearly love to work with Clare. Her own collaborations tie in charities, film studios, a Beastie Boy, and local artists to her brand. Besides wanting to buy everything in sight, we were more won over by Clare’s modesty and socially conscious mindset. To be clear, this is an ambitious hard-working woman, but there is no doubt that she will continue using her growing empire as an engine for good.
Most recently I was working as a prop stylist for photo shoots, primarily for Kelly Wearstler and the Viceroy Group. I would go to Neiman Marcus, or the Prada store, and just say that I was doing a shoot for Kelly, and they would allow me to take anything I wanted.
I learned so much on those shoots, from the great photographers, and from setting up shots, that turned out to be so helpful for my own company. I learned how to make something desirable in a photo. [At Clare V.] I started off with no marketing money, just my blog, and my goal was to make my bags appear covetable, which I think worked.
I have one person who I brought on. We’ve been friends for 20 years now, so it was a big deal when I asked her to work with me, because you never know if you should work with friends. When I opened my first store in 2012, I asked her if she would come in and run that store and merchandise it. It was really the first time that we were going to create our [Clare V.] world. I didn’t have the time to do it because I had to be at the studio, running a company. I knew that Greta understood me, my vision and my aesthetic better than anyone else. She has really great taste herself, so I learn a lot from her as well.
I think there is just a personality type where you should be working for yourself, and doing your own thing. I always felt a little insubordinate in a way. I see it in some of the girls who work for me now, and I see it in a lot of women who have businesses. It wasn’t really an obstacle, but not the best quality to have to stay in an office environment and try to move up the ladder.
None. That’s always been my fear, but my theory very early on was you don’t have to do everything yourself. You can always find people who are good at doing things that you’re not good at doing.
I don’t like paying bills. I personally never liked doing it. So, very early on, I got a bookkeeper. She used to come to my house and pay all the bills for the company, which were few bills at the time, but she kept everything running in good order. She still works for me today. I just think it’s one of those things: you need to know what you’re not good at.
I don’t want to sell myself short, because I know that I now run a sizable company. I don’t want to be like, “oh, I don’t know anything about business.” Obviously I have learned a lot about business at this point, and I do an okay job, but I didn’t do any formal training.
Previously I was working with my husband in French television. We used to travel a lot to do stories, and I had to travel with a laptop. I realized that there were all of these apple computers, in their fairly early days, with their cute weirdo blueberry laptops. They were putting a lot of effort into the design of laptops to make them marketable to women, and to people interested in style, so I didn’t understand why there weren’t bags of the equivalent quality. I didn’t want to carry any ugly laptop bag, I just wanted a cute one, so I made one.
"Try to keep looking forward, instead of around you, because it’s very easy to become intimidated, or think, it’s not a great idea, somebody else is already doing it. Just stop looking around, and keeping looking forward and putting one foot in front of the other, because you’re going to have setbacks along the way. You are going to go two steps forward and one step back for a long, long time. Maybe always."
First customers were just friends who wanted cute laptop work bags as well.
Steven Alan has been a great, first mentor, now friend and colleague to me. He is a partner in my business now. He’s mentored a lot of young fashion brands; he is kind of known for that. But we got along well and became very close, and I have to say he’s been influential and a great mentor. But I hate to call him a mentor, because now that sounds weird.
It was completely self-funded. I just put whatever I made back into the business, so I wasn’t bringing in money for a long time. I did have the luxury of having a husband who paid the mortgage. It wasn’t the luxury of having anyone funding my business, but I had a roof over my head, and I had food on the table, you know? Other than that, it was completely, as I learned to say, bootstrapped.
When I set out the vision of the company, from the beginning, I really thought it had a lot of potential. I just thought, “well, there are no cute work bags for women, this is a huge market.” I really believed in that, and I still do. I think we haven’t realized that complete vision because we are still a relatively small company. I think we have the opportunity to become a lot larger, if destiny takes us that way. And that’s always what I thought. I always believed it could be a very big company.
We currently have four, and we have two more in the works. And we have two other ones that are kind of pop-ups / temporary stores that are about to open as well.
I find it all over the place. I find it from people walking down the street, outfits that I see from afar, art and travel. I do a lot of traveling these days, which is great for inspiration. And friends; all of my friends are very stylish, and all of the girls at work. I think just keeping my eyes open as much as possible, kind of keeping an open mind, and forward thinking helps.
Last year we decided that we were at a point in the business where we would like to start giving back to a few charities we felt strongly about. Every Mother Counts came up. I was having lunch with Kelly Turlington (her sister, Christy founded the charity), and the idea came up that I do a bag for the charity, and to give all of the proceeds back to Every Mother Counts. We now we sell this tote that says “ Maman Je T’aime,” and we give 100% of the proceeds back to them. And it has a little card telling them about the organization. We have a few other bags that we sell in the store and online, that we just give a portion of the proceeds back. So I just think it was a great time for us to feel like we are in a position now that we can start giving some benefits to some other organizations, and thinking outside of the world of fashion a little bit, which as always been my intention. I am very happy to be able to do that.
"I never take anything for granted- everything is day-to-day. If I can continue to grow and to continue to employ people, then that would be really cool."
Actually, it’s funny, because it’s so true, and it was completely unconscious. There is Maryam Nassir Zadeh, and there is Grace Lee, and Maya Brenner, and Le Feu De L’eau, and Jennymac, there is Linda Rodin. I think there is some kind of zeitgeist in fashion and design, of women doing really great things.
It’s very hard to balance. For every mom I know who has a demanding job, there is a lot of guilt. You just do the best that you can. There is really no silver bullet that’s going to make it all easy for you, because owning your own business takes a lot of time and energy. And it’s hard because you really love it. And then you go home and you really love being home. You’re pulled in a lot of directions. There are things you are going to miss. You’re going to miss soccer games. Your going to miss great gala events that are happening in your industry in New York, because you can’t go, because your husband’s traveling and you have to be home, or whatever the reason is. You have to make sacrifices in both directions for sure.
I like to spend Sundays reading as much as I can. That’s my dream Sunday, when I can do that. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, so the Sunday New York Times stays next to my bed pretty much all week long so I can get into that. Maira Kalman’s book is there right now.
I haven’t read a lot of business books. When I am at the airport I always pick up Fortune, or Forbes, especially if there is an article about a woman-owned business. This issue of Fortune is really good. It’s the 50 most influential business-women right now. It covers really high-powered CEO’s of multi-billion dollar companies. I might not directly relate to it, but it’s fascinating to read none-the-less. There is a great article about the CEO of Patagonia (Rose Marcario), which is super-inspiring to read. It talks about how the founder loves the current CEO, and loves that she is carrying on the tradition of the brand [socially conscious].
Last year I was initiated as a member to the CFDA, which is great. They are going to try to make a bigger presence in Los Angeles, and I’m happy to be a part of that. LA right now is having a really great moment, and I hope it continues.
We were just asked to do a product line with Focus Features, around the marketing of the film “Suffragette,” staring Meryl Streep, and Carrie Mulligan. To me it was such great synergy, because it was about the right for women to vote, and tied in the film industry, which is what everyone knows LA for. It was just a really nice moment to see all the ways in which we can work with the creative industries in this town.
She is an amazing artist. We work with another great artist named Tonya Imibiga, who makes a lot of our pom-poms and stuff. She is just a prolific artist in Atwater in the same building as our studio.
We’re gonna do something with Mike D. again for Monster Children, which is a surf magazine that he guest-edited. We do a few men’s pieces, but now we are going to launch a small men’s collection with Mike. Just another great, fun, random Beastie Boy collaboration.
Everything is looked at individually as the opportunities come to us. If we do something, there is always a reason why. Maybe we just like the people, we like the company, it’s an LA brand, or it’s in an area that we completely don’t do. Like this collab with Parachute. We don’t do bedding, we don’t do travel sets like this. It’s an opportunity to dip our toe into another category without being the manufacturer.
I don’t do a lot that’s just for myself, which is fine because I love what I do. If I’m not travelling, and I’m home, I’m very tired on the weekends. My dream weekend is when I can spend most of my day at home, and just kind of do nothing, and stay in bed reading.
I think sleep is important. These sleep masks are really great for tricking the brain.
The best thing is, hopefully you love what you do and then you love going to work every day, and you love the people you work with.
The worst thing is I don’t really have a partner. I have financial partners, but they’re not in LA. They don’t run the company day-to-day with me. If you don’t have a partner and you’re running a company, often times it’s a very lonely feeling, and there is a lot riding on your shoulders.
If I were to indulge myself and to think that way, I would think probably that I employ so many people. That’s pretty cool. And that sometimes freaks me out if I think about it too much. But I never take anything for granted- everything is day-to-day. If I can continue to grow and to continue to employ people, then that would be really cool.
"So I just think it was a great time for us to feel like we are in a position now that we can start giving some benefits to some other organizations, and thinking outside of the world of fashion a little bit, which as always been my intention. I am very happy to be able to do that."
I was recently interviewed for a piece in Vanity Fair, and the journalist who was interviewing me asked exactly that: “What was your moment that you thought you made it?” I thought, “Are you fucking kidding me? It’s when I got a piece in Vanity Fair!” To me, it was that moment, but I couldn’t say that to her. But it was like, “um, right this fucking second!”
Try to keep looking forward, instead of around you, because it’s very easy to become intimidated, or think, “it’s not a great idea, somebody else is already doing it.” Just stop looking around, and keeping looking forward and putting one foot in front of the other, because you’re going to have setbacks along the way. You are going to go two steps forward and one step back for a long, long time. Maybe always.
Photography by: Darcy Hemley
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