Claire Tagg, the runner up for the GFW17 M&S Womenswear Award, has had an exciting few months. Since showing an artistic occasionwear collection comprised of classic silhouettes and sequins, the young designer has had the world at her feet. After graduating with a BA in Fashion Textiles from University Creative Arts Rochester, Claire has seen her feminine pieces on singer Hatty Keane, who wore them front row at London Fashion Week. We caught up with the rising star, to find out where being announced runner up has taken her, and how it feels working for such an established brand as M&S.
From having her designs requested by pop stars, (How did that feel?! It just… just takes your breath away a little bit! It’s just so surreal that you have to look twice at it!) to working with the British high street household name that is Marks and Spencer, Claire has experienced several exciting career jumps in the past few months.
"I literally haven’t stopped since Graduate Fashion Week. All my friends are putting their holiday snaps online and I’m like 'omg how have you had time for this?'! Literally I haven’t stopped, first graduation and then I came straight to Marks & Spencer's. It's been great."
The post Graduate Fashion Week fever can become a whirlwind for our award winners, with opportunities afforded to them that couldn't have been imagined during those 3am sewing sessions in the studio ahead of the event. As a graduate of UCA Rochester, Claire rejected studying in London. When asked why, Claire explains that it's the personal vibe of a university that determines whether or not it is the right environment to foster your creativity.
"When I first went for my interview I fell in love with it just because it was so friendly. I’ve been to interviews for universities in London and I just preferred the atmosphere of Rochester. Everyone was so nice - not chilled out, they really push you, but it was so much more relaxed and you were allowed to be so creative. They really push you to be so, so creative and then they narrow it down so you get to experience everything FIRST. It really makes you realise what you’re strong at."
It is the university experience that defines your working processes and what ultimately, three years of hard work culminates in. Claire offers some advice to those of you beginning your third year at our member universities, looking toward GFW18. "I think you just have to work hard don’t you? You have to be passionate, there’s no point in doing it if you’re not passionate about it. When you get negative feedback, don’t take it to heart. If you’re passionate about it and you know yourself, you can see your end result. Just keep pushing yourself and keep doing it and then all those people that said you won’t do it, will eat their own words and you’ll do great!"
Claire's collection was showcased as part of her university show, UCA Rochester, and when it was noted by the selection judges, they couldn't help but ask her to participate in the best of GFW show. Whilst her success at the event was a humbling and unexpected high point of her time with us, when asked about GFW17, Claire exclaimed
"I absolutely loved Graduate Fashion Week; it was the best moment of my life really. I can’t explain what it’s like when you see all your work going down the runway it’s just incredible."
After being awarded the runner up position for the M&S Womenswear Award, Claire was offered a placement with M&S. Creativity is important in the industry, yet often the business side is somewhat ignored despite its glaring relevance in moving forward. When asked what her time with Marks and Spencer's has given her (despite a fun working environment) Claire noted the established companies valuable commercial background as a key source of continued education.
"I’ve loved working at Marks and Spencer, especially to get that knowledge of the commercial side."
Claire's refreshing and honest approach to design and an industry that she is truly passionate about, can be seen through her work. Her graduate collection itself has true originality, and brings classical ideas about occasion wear into the modern world, making them appealing for the women of today. Undoubtedly her experiences at M&S have given her a unique and appealing knowledge base and the opportunity to enter the industry single handedly when she deems herself ready. When Claire does jump in, her time spent at M&S will have given her a rounded view of a notoriously tricky industry.
"I’ve learnt so much about all the different factors that go in to selling clothes and the fact that it has to be wearable. I’ve just learnt so much in such a short space of time, I really have"
It's clear that Claire puts her soul into her work, as when asked to lend out her garments to celebrities, her first concern was "what if she ruins it?! These dresses are like my babies, the pieces I’ve been working on for so long." When asked what the future holds, Claire explains that 'the end goal is to make my own brand and to make my own clothes. Ever since finishing university I’ve wanted to keep on making clothes- that’s all I’m really passionate about. I just love making clothes!'
Graduate Fashion Week wishes Claire all of the luck in the world for the future, although with the hard-working attitude and obvious creative talent, we doubt she needs luck.
To hear get the inside story of Claire's time at M&S, check back in November!
Words by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins