In my career, there have been very few brands that I have felt an instant connection with. But this magical moment happened one blustery day last winter when I had the absolute pleasure of being introduced to Claudia Li. We were in a showroom with several racks of her pieces. The designer and her namesake label presented a genuineness and authenticity that you rarely find in a brand. Between the unexpected asymmetrical shapes, gorgeous wooden button details, and one seriously beautiful bell-sleeved red coat that I still dream about, I was instantly hooked.
Fast forward to September of that year, at her NYFW presentation, where I knew for sure that what I felt was not a fluke. With a selection of whimsical box bags, the prettiest yellow tulip print rain slicker, and obi-style tops, Claudia cemented herself as one of the “It” brands to watch, and I am sure her name will soon be the tongue of every industry insider. So, when the opportunity arose to interview her, I felt immensely privileged to hear her thoughts about everything from what inspires her designs to growing up in a family of artists to what it was like working for some of the hottest brands in the market. So read on, Pretty Birds, and meet the indomitable Claudia Li!
You’ve worked alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, including Brandon Maxwell and JW Anderson. What lessons do you feel you learned from them that you’ve taken along and adapted to running your own company?
I’ve learned so much from my past experiences, but I think the most important lessons I learned are to be kind and be grateful. I really love that everyone on my team is genuinely kind and down to earth. I am really lucky to have such an amazing team and together we’ve created an awesome working environment, which is essential to producing great work.
When did you first decide to start your namesake label?
I wanted to start after I graduated from the MFA program at Parsons. But I didn’t think I was ready, so I waited until I was.
What are some of the challenges you faced early on when starting your own company as opposed to working for another brand?
When I’m determined to do something, challenges from the outside world are hard but I don’t let them get in the way. I think the biggest challenge for me is learning how to minimize the emotional stress, even when I feel like I’m about to breakdown. I have to just keep going, because how I react will affect the people around me.
Take us through your design process. Where do you find your inspiration, source materials, produce your products, etc…
I highly value being able to express myself and tell my stories in my own way. I come from a family of artists so this is very natural for me. For the collection, we do a lot of visual research and put together a giant story wall. This wall consists of images, objects, fabrics, anything really, that I feel is connected to the story of the season. Then we build the collection gradually from the wall — sort of like growing a tree and the wall is the root. I really enjoy when the audience has their own interpretation of the story or artistic expression. And this understanding could be positive or negative, significant or minute.
Most of our fabrics are from Italy or France. Our woven production is all made in New York and all knitwear is produced in Italy.
What tips would you share with someone wanting to break into the industry?
As designers, we put ourselves out there and the world is not always kind. As a young/new designer, sometimes it gets hard to keep going, physically and mentally. I think determination is important but knowing what drives that drive is crucial. Try to keep your head down and work hard but at the same time, keep your head up. Be proud of yourself for continuing to fight for your vision.
If you could describe the aesthetic of the brand in three words what would they be?
Bold, Classic but Playful, Whimsical
In the age of social media, how do you feel it impacts a business and what ways do you feel your brand embraces it?
Social media is just another way to connect with your audience. For me, I like to work with influencers who are real women who love fashion and are relatable.
Influencers are important in the industry today because what they wear or like can highlight a brand or business.
What do you think someone should look for when investing in luxury RTW, and if you could only purchase one piece of investment clothing what would it be?
I think it’s really important to invest in something you truly love and not really care about what other people might think.
The real worth of clothing is how it makes you feel.
What trends do you see coming up in fashion?
I don’t consciously follow trends but we did do a lot of fuchsia and pinks this season – and it seems like other people did too.
You have been very diverse in terms of casting models for your presentations. How do you feel about a designer or brands social responsibility in pushing the boundaries of diversity and how do you think that the industry as a whole could be better?
I think diversity is beautiful and we should embrace it. And to me what makes a person beautiful is kindness and being genuine.
Like any industry, we can always improve and really celebrate diversity and empowerment and do away with judgment and prejudice.
What are some of your favorite pieces from your current collection?
I love the all the mushroom sleeve tops. I’m also a 3/4 length skirt girl, so definitely the skirts.
If you had one tip on how to live a more stylish life what would it be?
Wear CLAUDIA LI