MAKING ‘CAPTAIN SPARKLE’ SHINE
When Dancing With The Stars has been on our screens over the last few years, we’ve been treated to weekly manifestations of show judge Julian Benson’s ‘Captain Sparkle’ personality thanks to his outrageously creative and flamboyant outfits. And each and every one of those couture gems originated in the mind and hands of one of Ireland’s most successful designers, the wonderful CLAIRE GARVEY. Unfortunately, due to illness, we didn’t get to enjoy the company of Captain Sparkle for the entirety of this year’s Dancing With The Stars adventure, but thankfully Julian is well on the mend again and we send our best wishes his way.
Claire, of course, was most recently in the news because she had the honour of designing outfits for another woman all of Ireland should be proud of, Eímear Noone, who at this year’s Oscars became the first woman ever to conduct the orchestra for the silver screen’s biggest night. But going back to Julian, there was a very interesting point Claire made in a recent interview when referring to him, and that was that she matches “the person’s personality to the piece.” So we begin Part 2 of our chat with my wondering how that kind of a process plays out? How does Claire know, for instance, when she ‘knows someone’ enough to go about bringing a particular piece to life?
“Well I think the more you work with somebody as well, the better you get at it. If you look at the very first jackets we did for Julian Benson, there was probably less glitter on them! [laughs]. They were probably slightly more Blade Runner-ish. But the more I got to know him, the more I injected more of his personality while still keeping my personality in it as well. Like, I just knew as soon as I first saw him, yes, he’s going to want more and more sparkle. I mean, he’s Captain Sparkle, ya know! Same with Eímear Noone. When Eímear conducts you have to make sure that under the arms she’s able to move properly, she needs that. And she likes a bit of a warrior look, ya know, extravagant, but not too bling-bling either. And Nile Rogers then would be more subtle, and kind of rock. You’ll have an idea of people when you start, even just by looking at pictures. And when you actually meet the person as well, it almost bonds that feeling to you even more. I mean, Julian loves twirling, so this year we’ve done loads of capes for him, and with fringing, too. So that every time he moves he’s got an extra element to the outfit. And the same with Eímear, in knowing that when she moves her arms she’s not gonna be restricted at all. And also making sure that the end of the outfit isn’t getting caught in the podium! Julian just wants to fly everywhere! [laughs]. We’ll have to get him to fly in some night! [laughs]. I’m actually working on his Valentine’s one here as we speak, I’m sitting here looking at it. But he doesn’t see them beforehand, ya know, most of them. So it is a very big trust thing. He’ll be collecting it on Friday, and that will be the first time he sees it.”
With Julian in particular, because he’s on TV every week with Dancing With The Stars, what kind of extra challenge does that bring for Claire, as far as continually trying to come with something that not only matches his personality with the piece, but can also out-sparkle the week before?
“[Laughs] It’s kind of hard! I would meet him before Christmas usually, and usually I’d have just made a few things anyway for him, so we’d discuss those things. Usually, we try and bring it up a bit this week [with his outfits], then down a bit the next week, so that you’re not constantly trying to out-do the previous week. I hate to say you’re trying to bring someone on a journey, because that sounds really cliched [laughs]. But one week it might be a little bit subtle…well, subtle is not really a word for what I do, I suppose! [laughs]. But that’s kind of what we try and do. Something different every week. If I think of it that way, that sometimes it’s up, and sometimes it’s more calm, that helps me try to not compete with myself, because you can’t. But yeah, it’s one a week, which is really intense. But I genuinely love doing them! My husband hates it because of the glitter! [laughs]. I heard him the other day in the bathroom, and he was wandering around with masking tape picking up bits of glitter. I was thinking to myself, ‘What the hell is that noise?’ [laughs]. It’s his worst time of the year and it’s my favourite time!”
Because everything Claire makes is bespoke, is it even possible for her to have what she might consider a personal favourite from all of the pieces she’s ever created?
“Honestly, I don’t really have a personal favourite. Your personal favourite is usually the last one you’ve done for somebody. And genuinely, it really isn’t about me, it’s about the person. Seeing the person when they come into the shop to collect something, like if we’ve done a bridal piece, or whatever…I mean, we have an eighty-five year old woman that we do pieces for, and we have a special chair for her when she comes in. Because that’s just absolutely lovely that she keeps coming in. We had a bride as well who came back to us, and we used her dress then for her baptismal gown. And that young girl has just had her communion, and we used another part of the wedding dress in her communion dress. So it’s like a whole story, when people come back to you like that. They’re the memories I have more than anything. And another one is somebody who gave me as a present pancake mix, to thank me! It was the oddest thing, but those are the sorts of things I remember, those cards, and the thank-yous. And hopefully making people feel like they’re the best versions of themselves. So that’s never me putting them into something that isn’t them. There’s no point in doing that.”
Jumping a little ways back in time for a second, Claire actually studied in Moscow after her time in the National College of Art. Speaking very much as a lay person in this regard, when I think of fashion hot-spots or capitals, it tends to be London, Paris, Milan, or New York. So what had Moscow that it drew Claire all the way there?
“Well I applied for a Masters over there, because, I suppose, of the Bolshoi Ballet. And all of the ballets there are incredible. Really, you wouldn’t think it’s fashion, but their theatrical productions over there are unbelievable. I’d finished college and I thought that looked really interesting, but that I’d never get it. I’d never even left home before, and then I got a message saying I’d got this! [laughs]. Part of me was going oh great, and part of me was going oh crap! [laughs]. I was terrified going over to Russia, because I didn’t know much about it, and everyone else in the class was Russian. And the teacher only spoke Russian. So we were really thrown in the deep end. But we got to see all the ballets, and we got to go to all the museums. And they actually opened up cases and you were able to look at the corsets and how they were all made. Russian ballets and things wouldn’t have a high budget, but their imagination would be incredible, and their skill would be incredible. I learned an awful lot from being over there. But my Russian is still bad! [laughs].“
Given Claire’s treasure trove of experience, wisdom, and success over the course of her career so far, what kind of advice would she give to young designers who are at the beginning of their careers right now?
“Just to not be bothered about what anybody else is doing. Honestly, don’t compare yourself to anybody else. Don’t compete against anybody else. There’s room for everybody in the business. Just concentrate on yourself, and on longevity, and keep working away. Be delighted if people are doing well, because that’s not a reflection on you. You just work away on your own thing. That’s kind of what happened with me. I just continued working and not being bothered about anybody else, so I didn’t feel or put any pressure on myself. And be true to yourself as well. When I supplied shops initially, they said to me you should be doing palazzo pants and things like that, that would be commercial. But really, by staying true to what I believe in myself, I’ve managed to make a living from it, and bought my shop. So don’t listen to people too much! [laughs].”