The question in my head always has been, "what bags do stylish working women want?"—for work, travel, our belongings, our technology. The first bags I made myself were laptop bags—I wanted cute bags for my cute laptop. And then my friends wanted them, and soon Mohawk General store wanted them but wanted them smaller which is how I started making clutches. So laptop bags lead me to clutches, and clutches lead me to totes to hold clutches. Two of those early bags stand out as iconic of the brand: the Leopard foldover clutch and the Tropezienne tote. The "Trop" will always be near to my heart because of how it started. I had enough of that particular leather (dead stock I bought from a former bag maker) to make fifty bags. I wrote a blog post titled, "I've got your Summer Tote", and from that one post they blew out of stock. This was my first experience with internet wildfire—I posted, and then others reposted and reposted. It opened my eyes to the power of the internet and the potential of organic marketing.
My first step (after selling to my friends) was to start a blog. I didn't have a way to market the bags, but I thought people might be interested in following along with my life as a young mother married to a man from France, starting a business in Los Angeles. Motherhood, France, business, fashion, Los Angeles—all these were intriguing subjects, so I thought it could be a way into people's lives. I knew how to write, and I knew how to take pictures. My plan was to employ these skills to tell my story and hopefully attract interest in my line, and it worked—people found their way to the website through my blog. My first website was seevivier.com ( a play on C Vivier) which was changed first to clarevivier.com and then to clarev.com when the name of the company changed in 2014. These days I tell my story through instagram: @clarevivier
Starting out I sewed my bags on a cheap little sewing machine I'd had since college. My capabilities were limited, but I persevered—holding the intention that someday I would buy myself a better machine. One day I came across four one hundred dollar bills, folded on the sidewalk with no one around. I picked them up and went straight to a sewing machine store and bought my first real machine—a Bernette (the lower cost line of Swiss maker Bernina, which is what I really wanted).
That Bernette treated me really well... until my design vision outgrew my abilities. I knew I needed to find production in LA. I didn't know any factories, so I asked around at every fabric, hardware, and leather store to see if anyone could point me in the direction of a factory that made bags. Finally, at a bag hardware distribution center out in the Valley (where I'm pretty sure they had never sold direct to a designer) I struck gold—someone told me about a factory. I made an appointment and went in soon after with samples of all the bags I had made. I bonded instantly with the owner—she had been making bags for over thirty years, appreciated my abilities, and took an interest in what I was trying to do. When I made my first round of samples with her, I realized that in order for the bags to be produced in the U.S. and still be affordable, they had to be simple—this is the equation I still use when designing bags. It was a significant moment in the evolution of the company. We work with this factory to this day, along with five others also in Los Angeles.
In the beginning I worked out of a tiny room on the second floor of my house. Eventually I convinced my husband Thierry to build himself an office in our backyard, so I could take over his (slightly) more spacious quarters on the ground floor. I was running the business out of that room when I hired my first employee, Jocelyn, in 2010, followed soon after by our Belgian intern Matilde. The three of us worked like crazy. Within a year we grew the business from selling solely on our website to about fifty wholesale accounts. Mohawk General Store was our first wholesale account in Los Angeles, and Steven Alan was our first in New York. It was that year that I discovered Kathryn Bentley and I were both working from home and needing studios. We decided to go in on a shared space and soon after we found a storefront in Silverlake and moved in—1505 Micheltorena Street. We had a very small store up front to sell our wares and had our studios in the back. The store was a success, and we soon outgrew that space. The storefront two doors down on the corner became available, and I decided to open my own retail shop there and move the studio to another residential spot in Silverlake. We grew to ten employees, and by 2014 we were bursting at the seams and moved to a larger commercial space in Atwater. In two years we were outgrowing our space once again and moved to our current headquarters on the LA river in Frogtown. We now have close to thirty employees at the studio, with total employees, including retail, nearing sixty.
Opening in Silverlake on the corner of Sunset and Micheltorena was an incredibly important moment—it was the first opportunity to fully incarnate the breadth and vision of the brand. That it was A) in my neighborhood, and B) designed by the architect and Silverlake icon Barbara Bestor, made it an honor. I had a moment of panic before it opened, realizing that I couldn't be the one running the store. I knew that Greta, my friend of twenty years, with her impeccable taste and history in fashion, was the one to do it. I convinced her to leave her job and start working with me as the store manager and merchandiser. A year later we opened our second shop—a tiny storefront on Elizabeth Street in Nolita, New York City. We have opened five more since then, bringing us to a grand total of seven stores—the first three designed by Barbara Bestor (Silverlake, Nolita, Santa Monica) and the last four by Kate McCollough (West Hollywood, Brooklyn, Newport Beach, and San Francisco).
Our graphics are a real signature of the brand—derived from my love of lettering. I've always been attracted to type faces and fonts, but one of my real pleasures in life is admiring hand-painted signs—the older and more beaten up, the better.
When I travel, most of my photos are of old signs painted on windows and buildings, signifying current or bygone businesses, instructions, or addresses—someone's talent and hard work at hand-lettering (or sometimes lack thereof) making me happy. Lizzie, our art director, has been a great partner in this affection and really understands how tiny elements of lettering can make it special. We've created our own fonts by taking one small hand painted sign (for example, from a swimming pool in rural France) and surmising what the entire alphabet would look like and using it regularly as a signature font for Clare V.—see Masculin Feminin.
I often like to feature women who work with us as models for our lookbooks—it's an appropriate extension of the personal aspect of the brand. Matilde Riccardi was my second employee. We hired her as an intern and she quickly became an indispensable employee, helping me and Jocelyn grow the company from one wholesale account to over fifty in just one year. She also became our daily model. With her strawberry blond hair and fair complexion she never needed a stitch of make up, and she perfectly embodied the beautiful and natural ease of Clare V. In recent years I've had the great pleasure of having my niece Frances work with us. She currently divides her time between working at our stores, running our social media program from the studio, and modeling for us at any and every point in between.
One of the best parts of running this company is that it never gets dull. There is always a new season to design, and there are countless external projects including collaborations where we work with other people to put a different spin on a CV product or to make products outside our usual scope. These collaborations allow us to work with creative people from other disciplines which I love. Some of my favorite collaborations are the ones we have done with Mike D. of the Beastie Boys. Together we have designed two men's capsule collections, both of which we launched in Paris. I've also loved collaborating with Donald "Drawbertson" Robertson. We did a couple of events, one at Bergdorf's, where he painted on our bags. He said, "I like you because you make things" and I feel the same about him. His enthusiasm is infectious. Other notable collabs are the sweaters, hats and scarves we've made with DemyLee, shirts and other apparel with Steven Alan, sunglasses with Garrett Leight, shoes with Marais USA, wallpaper with Wallshoppe, chocolate with Valerie Confections, and our very successful collaboration with TOMS, where a portion of proceeds went to the Downtown Women's Center here in LA. This speaks to a philosophical component of running this company—and something instilled in me by my parents—the need to support communities and work for social justice. I am grateful to have the company in a position where we can give back to causes that matter to us. One of our greatest outlets for this is the work we do with Christy Turlington's organization Every Mother Counts, which supports maternal health around the world. I believe community both local and global, is vitally important and that none of us exists in a vacuum. Our work with these partners shines a light on that.
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