COUTURE CHAT: Fashion Illustrator Claire Thompson

Illustrations from Maggie Sottero Fashion Show at COUTURE

LIVE Illustrations from Maggie Sottero Fashion Show at COUTURE

Claire Thompson is the creator and founder of Hello Claire, a concierge illustrating service specializing in fashion art. Within moments, Claire has the ability to capture the essence of designs ranging from international retail chains like Desigual to high-fashion labels like Gucci and McQueen.  However it wasn’t always an easy path for Ms. Thompson. She recalls the life altering discussion she had with her doctor at just 20 years old, “I found out my retinas were almost entirely detaching and I had less than a week before I would be blind for the rest of my life if they didn’t do emergency surgery.”  Luckily the surgery was a success and shortly after regaining her eyesight her career took off.  Now she can be found sketching anywhere from her local coffee shop to the runways of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Naturally we were thrilled when Claire sketched at COUTURE and we were even able to squeeze in an interview between sketches and get an in depth look into her creative process.

COUTURE: What inspired you to start illustrating?
CLAIRE: Almost losing my eyesight made me reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life. Given how critical a role art had, it was an easy decision to pursue fashion illustration. I have been an artist for as long as I can remember but it wasn’t until college that I started illustrating fashion. Fashion is the most intimate form of art, as it’s something that plays a daily role in our lives. We are always wearing something that reflects our identity in some way. As a fashion illustrator, it’s my job to bring out those elements that reflect our individuality.

COUTURE: What has drawn you to the beautiful world of weddings?
CLAIRE: . Shortly after my surgery, I got an internship as a graphic illustrator for a ski and snowboard company in a small town in the French Alps. While I was working, I was applying for scholarships to put myself through school and found out about a wedding dress competition with an American bridal magazine. I submitted a sketch of a wedding dress and soon after found out I made it to the semi-finals. I was only given 4 weeks to construct the dress I designed. I had a bit of a disadvantage during the competition, though. As i mentioned earlier, I was recovering from an intensive eye surgery and also didn’t have access to a sewing machine or a dress form, so I was forced to construct the gown on my own body. I ended up in the finals round and was flown to New York to present my dress on Good Morning America! I was very lucky I got a second chance at seeing and hand-sewing a wedding dress was the first thing I created since my operation. Bridal design will always have very special place in my heart.

COUTURE: Do you always work with designers or have you worked with real brides? Is there a different technique to each?
CLAIRE: I often work with both. Working with brides is very similar to working with designers. They both have a vision, and it’s my job to translate their ideas onto paper.

Claire Sketching at COUTURE

Claire Sketching at COUTURE

COUTURE: How do bridal sketches differ from ready to wear sketches?
CLAIRE: Bridal gowns take a lot more time to illustrate, as they have so much more detail than ready to wear sketches.  My end goal is always the same for both, though, it’s about conveying an emotion that photography cannot capture

COUTURE: During the Maggie Sottero Fashion Show you sketched the looks in real time as they came down the catwalk. How did you master this live sketching technique and how do you capture the garment’s details in such  short period of time?
CLAIRE: Live illustrating can be very difficult, and coordination is extremely important. Holding a paint set, water, paintbrushes, and a sketchbook can end up being a disaster if you’re not careful, especially sitting front row at a fashion show where everyone can see what you are doing. I only have a few seconds to look at a piece before I start illustrating it. I try to capture the emotional aspects of the piece, so the music also plays a big part in how I illustrate during a show.

COUTURE: Your figures have very unique characteristics and attitude. Do you develop their poses based on the designs you are illustrating?
CLAIRE: Absolutely. I try to take the personality of the designs and translate it into the figure’s body language. Conveying personality through my illustrations is very important to me, but I always try to leave a little bit to the viewers’ imagination, which is why I never draw faces. I’d rather the personality come through the designs, as opposed to a face.

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LIVE Illustrations from Maggie Sottero Fashion Show at COUTURE

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COUTURE CHAT with Cristina DeMarco: Vice President of Bridal Reflections

BR1In honor of Bridal Reflections’ 40th Anniversary, COUTURE sat down with Vice President, Cristina DeMarco, in order to pick her brain about New York Bridal Fashion Week! With three fabulous salons and an outstanding assortment of American and international designers, it is no surprise that they are dubbed “New York’s premiere bridal salon!”

COUTURE: Congratulations on your 40 year anniversary! With four decades of success under your belt, what is the most significant change to the industry since you entered the market?
DeMarco: Hands down the internet! I would say 90% of our brides do their primary research online. Our homepage is the first impression we have on them and it is so important that it is an accurate depiction of our business! The web has also changed the scope of our competition. Local stores are not the only competitors anymore. Brides now have easy access to retailers and designers worldwide.

COUTURE: How closely do you follow the trends and how do they affect your assortment and is there a certain trend that sticks out as defying a decade?
DeMarco: Clearly we alter our collection based on current trends but we also try to consistently have timeless styles. Many designers today are producing trends that are removable such as detachable peplum, one shoulder straps, skirts, and overlays. This way the bride can have the best of both worlds when it comes to tradition vs. fashion! As far as trends over the years, Leg o’mutton sleeves certainly define an era for me. In the 80’s EVERY gown had dramatic sleeves which eventually lead to a backlash of more simplistic silhouettes. So funny how styles change so drastically over time!

COUTURE: As you stated earlier, the internet has clearly made an impact on the business. What other significant changes in the media landscape do you believe affected the industry?
DeMarco: Reality TV has had a huge influence on the bridal business. With popular shows like Randy to the Rescue and My Fair Wedding, many brides are watching these programs as a form of research. These brides are getting free consultations from industry professionals in the comfort of their own home! As a retailer it is important to know what messages these shows are putting out there and make sure we offer the trends they are promoting.

COUTURE: Do you think the introduction of these modern influences have affected bridal magazines?
DeMarco: Bridal magazines will always be around! Nothing compares to physically flipping through a magazine full of glossy, beautiful, high-quality images. That being said the thickness of the magazines has certainly declined due to the advertisers exploring digital opportunities. There is no longer just one medium and as a retailer we need to be aware of these other platforms in order to reach our customer.

COUTURE: You currently have three successful locations. Do you take each demographic into account when formulating a buy? Does each store have a separate buyer/budget?
DeMarco: We currently have one team of buyers for all three locations however we divide our budget accordingly for each store. When purchasing new collections we certainly take into consideration which location will be the most successful with each style. Allocation of goods is also extremely important! Transferring designs between stores to fulfill demands is often necessary.

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COUTURE: When you prepare for each market, what are the top three goals you are trying to achieve?
DeMarco: (1) Stay within budget! (2) Seek out innovative fashions (3) Remain consistent with product (ie quality, price points and taste level)

COUTURE: What advice can you give to first time retailers at market?
DeMarco:
Define who you are before going to market. Who is your bride and what she is looking for? Is she coming to you for fashion forward designs or a reasonable price point? Or both? Find your niche in the market and stay true to your brand identity

COUTURE: What advice can you give new designers showing at market? What is the best way for them to catch your attention?
DeMarco: We are looking for innovation! We currently carry many designers that have a unique aesthetic. If we decide to bring in a new collection it should fill a stylistic void that’s in the current assortment, not replicate existing designs.

COUTURE: How open should designers be to design edits? How often do you request them and why?
DeMarco: We encourage designers to stay true to their designs. We rarely ask them to customize unless there is a specific detail we know will not resonate with our demographics. That being said, a designer should always be flexible when it comes to the demands of our customer. Brides want a dress that is unique and desire the opportunity to tweak the style to make it her own. The designers we partner with are open to such requests.

COUTURE: Bridal Market is just the beginning! What follow up steps from the designer are necessary to insure a smooth transaction?
DeMarco: Most importantly the designer needs to be responsible with their delivery times! They should be prepared to let us know when we can physically have the sample in our stores and what the lead time is for our bride. They should also be able to tell us the color and size variations that are available over time. It is essential that they follow through on all the promises they presented at market!

COUTURE: How do you see the bridal retail business evolving in the next 10-20 years and how are you preparing?
DeMarco: I think the industry is going through a clean house phase. Many people jumped on the bridal bandwagon thinking it is recession proof however it takes a strong business skill to stay afloat. In order to remain successful, owners need to remain hands on, invest in a professional staff and most importantly service the client!

COUTURE CHAT Diane Bond: Co-Founder of White of Dublin

COUTURE was fortunate enough to chat with White of Dublin Co-Founder, Diane Bond, to see how they are preparing for market! Bond opened her boutique in Dublin, Ohio back in 2011 along with Co-Founder Heather DiMasi. With a quaint, yet luxurious, atmosphere and intimate, personalized experience it is no surprise that White of Dublin is a prime target for our designers!

COUTURE: As a major bridal salon with years of bridal market experience, what are the top 3 goals you go into market looking to accomplish?
BOND: (1) Strive to keep current with (if not ahead of) the bridal fashions (2) Strive not to exceed our budget. (3) Try to fill any gaps in styles/silhouettes/price points to be able to reach our brides.

COUTURE: How many bridal markets do you attend each year and do you have different goals for each?
BOND: We attend two markets each year – one in Spring and one in Fall.  Our goals are the same for each but on a smaller scale in the Spring.

COUTURE: How many people from your team attend NY Bridal Fashion Week?  (i.e. buyer, top sales person, owner, manager, etc. )
BOND: We have two people attending market – owners and buyers.

COUTURE: How many appointments do you make prior to market and how many visits are drop ins?
BOND: Approximately 75% of our appointments at market are made prior.  We always enjoy dropping in on new designers to see the latest trends!

COUTURE: Do you come to market with a specific spending budget and how flexible are you in exceeding it?
BOND:We do come to market with a general budget range.  However, we are comfortable flexing that budget somewhat if we agree that it would be profitable in the end. 

COUTURE: What are the main focuses a designer should stress during each appointment?  What should they come prepared with?
BOND: Each designer should be prepared to showcase their top sellers and convince buyers that their styles will sell in their stores.  Therefore, designers should know their buyers and the store’s customers.  They should do their homework, too.

COUTURE: What issues are critical when evaluating a new designer?
BOND: For our boutique, we stress a designer’s ability to work closely with us.  We also look closely at the wholesale prices versus the quality of dress.  Ultimately, both of those issues trickle down to our brides.  A happy bride reflects positively on both the store she bought the dress from and the designer’s dress that she chose.

COUTURE:You currently have strong relationships with many designers. How open are you to exploring new collections? How can these designers grab your attention?
BOND: At each market, we take some time to drop in on new designers.  We are always open to working with new designers in case they are able to offer something fresh.  When considering them, we look to see how much marketing is already in all media outlets for that particular designer.  We also consider if brides are seeking those designers out for their collections.  And lastly, but very importantly, as well, we look to see how viable the designer is as a business.

COUTURE: How do you determine if these new designers are viable?
BOND: Designers should be prepared to answer questions like: Where are their materials coming from? Where is their production facility? What is the turnaround time on an order? Do they have a business plan implemented? Overall, we need to be confident that our production needs will be met before we can consider investing.

COUTURE: What advice would you give to salon owners attending market for the first time?
BOND: We advise new store owners attending market to take their time in making decisions.  It is perfectly acceptable to go to all of your appointments first before making any purchases.  Feel confident and comfortable stepping back to make your final decisions when buying.  You will stay in your budget and not make rash business decisions that way.

COUTURE CHAT with Jennie Ma: Fashion & Beauty Editor of The Knot

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Jennie Ma (@ma_jennie) is The Knot’s ultimate trendsetting fashionaista. With her four year anniversary approaching, she has been the mastermind behind many of the inspiring fashion spreads that keep our brides drooling for more.  So what exactly is our fashion maven looking for this April?  I got the chance to pick her brain to see what trends she’s lusting for!

COUTURE: You have access to so many designs and trends!  What elements are you looking for when organizing a photoshoot?
JENNIE: What I’m really looking for is that special detail that will grab the reader’s attention.  For example, in our upcoming Summer Issue, we have a fashion spread on elegance. Now that can clearly be interpreted in many different ways but in order to tell a story I was looking for details that would be inspiring to our brides.  Pearl encrusted embellishment and sheer capes may not be for everyone but conceptually they are extremely compelling when telling a visual story.

COUTURE: Editorial vs. Sellable.  Is there a difference and is it possible for designers to “marry” the two?
JENNIE: Many designers send gowns down the runway that they know may be not be a best seller but that will create buzz around their brand and designs. Last season there were a handful of completely sheer gowns on the runway but many of the designers ended up lining the gown when it went into production. But it’s not all about creating provocative gowns to get people’s attention. I think both editors and real brides equally appreciate a beautifully crafted gown.

COUTURE: What trends from Spring will we still be seeing again this Fall?
JENNIE: Ethereal Glamour! I think we’ll still see a lot of sheer details (from necklines to skirt overlays) but I think the reemergence of opulent details is going to dominate as well. It’s all about balance.

COUTURE: Do you think we’ll see any Ready to Wear trends from this Fashion Week translated onto the bridal runways?
JENNIE: Absolutely! I think brides today are looking for fashion elements to set themselves apart. Many bridal designers even have their own ready to wear line and the lines often overlap conceptually.  That’s why it’s always exciting to view both collections since you get a sneak peek of what to expect in the world of RTW and bridal.  We have to also remember that live in a celebrity driven society.  Award show red carpets are often the first place brides are looking for fashion and beauty inspiration.

COUTURE: Who is your bridal style icon and why?
JENNIE: I love both of Audrey Hepburn’s wedding gowns—they are both timelessly chic and reflective of her personality.  I think that it very important detail to remember. A bride should look special but her own style needs to shine through.

COUTURE: Think of yourself as a new designer. What professional advice can you give them to catch your eye?
JENNIE: Find out who your bride is and stay true to her needs. Brand DNA is extremely important but do not be afraid to push the envelope in a strategic way. Keep the bride and editors stimulated without losing your brand’s core identity.

COUTURE: What current trend do you for see becoming the next bridal collection “staple”?
JENNIE: Illusion Necklines are universally flattering and the best of both words! You can show skin and be sexy while still being appropriately covered.

COUTURE: Bridal Fashion Week is a whirlwind for you girls but you always make effort to attend to COUTURE. What brings you back each year?
JENNIE: What I personally love is the intimate feel of the show. As an editor it is important to experience the actual dress.  At COUTURE we get to personally meet each designer and touch and play with the designs. I love hearing the inspirations straight from them and hearing the passion in their voice. It’s very rare you get to experience that and it’s my favorite part of bridal market!