CLAIRE LA FAYE is something of a local legend in the fashion world. Originally from Portland, but with a fine arts degree from New York's Parsons School of Design, her fantastical party dresses were wild and romantic, heavy on hand work, with embedded treasures and details. As much as founders Holly Stalder and Kate Towers, La Faye's aesthetic helped define the look that Seaplane—and by extension, that era of Portland design—became known for.
Then, she moved to Los Angeles, dressing celebrities for the red carpet, including a stint with Courtney Love. Now back in Portland, her line has evolved into a full-time bridalwear endeavor. This weekend Haunt hosts a trunk show of her spring line, Love Is My Religion, plus a selection of bridal hair accessories and veils from Austie Eckley, with live models and refreshments. Claire La Faye and Austie Eckley bridal trunk show and sample sale, Haunt, 811 E Burnside, #113, Sat April 27, 10 am-3 pm, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org for special discounts
MERCURY: How did your design career start?
CLAIRE LA FAYE: I graduated from Parsons in 2000 with a degree in fine arts. I had taken fashion classes simultaneously, and when faced with a post-grad profession of being a professional painter or sculptor or something else, I chose something else. I have always had a love for clothing design, and have been doing it since I got my first sewing machine at nine years old. It was a no-brainer.
MERCURY: How did you first become involved with Seaplane?
CLAIRE LA FAYE: I moved back to Portland from New York in 2001 and began Claire La Faye. It was a convergence of creative and collective good luck that I heard of a new boutique on SE Belmont that sold local designers. We related creatively, artistically, and fundamentally—I had found a place not only to sell my label, but I had found two of my dearest friends.
You all had your own signatures, but I always saw design parallels between what you were doing and what Holly Stalder and Kate Towers were doing. Would you agree? Could you say who started it?
I feel like there were, and remain to be, strong artistic parallels to our work because all three of us were artists first and foremost. We all have strong backgrounds in art, and found the ability to translate those ideas into clothing design. It's a very different process than coming right out of fashion school with the technique, but not the voice, or perhaps that type of artistic expression. We definitely were and are inspired by each other, and at that time in history it was just a steady dialogue of ideas passing back and forth between us all. For me, it was an extension of art school, the ability to inspire and be inspired by your contemporaries and just make crazy work while fine tuning our skills, design wise. The fact that people actually bought our stuff was the icing on the cake. I have no idea who, if anyone, started it. We were all designing when I met them and it just collectively took off from there. The best part was although we shared a lot in common, our signature styles were noticeably different. There was a common respect of not stepping on anyone's toes.
I've heard legend of your relationship with Courtney Love. Please tell the story!
I had been designing what became my signature "corset party dress" down in LA for a couple years, dressing pop stars from Britney to Christina to Pink, when I started working with Courtney Love. She actually had discovered Kate and Holly a few years prior to that, and upon sending her a little gift box of our best Seaplane pieces Holly ended up doing some custom stuff for her, and my dress wound up on her in an editorial spread in Elle magazine. She basically gave me carte blanche for a year or so to make her a custom closet. She would buy these incredible dresses from the '20s, '30s, and '40s, gorgeous beaded and laced dresses that I got to use as fabric to take apart and build new dresses from. Artistically it was incredible to have that much freedom from any one client. She would show me her inspiration for dresses, we would play with ideas, and then I would execute them. She is brilliantly creative, smart as a whip, and has a most impressive mental library and reference for fashion. She is also crazy as the day is long. It was probably the closest I've ever come to working "collectively" with someone. In the end though, there was an overflow of ideas, chaos, and a bit of mismanaged mischief, and we ended up going in different directions. It was a ride, and I have no regrets. How has your style evolved over the years?
Considering I began by re-constructing vintage T-shirts (from the Bins) into little tank tops, it's safe to say the label has evolved! It's been a work in progress from the beginning, and I had no idea I would be standing here when I started. All those years of creative experimentation have given me the skill set to be where I am today, and to be really focused at that. I see a lot of old work that I sometimes cringe at—who doesn't? But it's all a part of what has made me me. It has enabled me to be the designer I am today.
What led to your concentration on bridal wear? Do you still do any non-bridal?
Turning to bridalwear was not an intentional thing—I had been making little one-off party dresses for the red carpet set when a number of things happened: I moved from Los Angeles back to Portland, the economy took a turn, and I was about to have my first child. Girls kept inquiring about options to get versions of my dresses in floor-length and white, so eventually I made the official transition. It was a market with endless opportunity and I still had the freedom to be creative and nontraditional in my style. The Claire La Faye bride doesn't want a cookie-cutter dress. She is not afraid to stand out, whether it is in an ombre pink ruffle train or a bodice lined in lace and pearl swags. I like to think the label gives a more creative, whimsical, and nontraditional approach to modern-day brides. I don't have much time to do anything beyond bridal at the moment, but hope to again in the near future.
Tell me about the collection being featured at Haunt.
Love Is My Religion is a collection of love-inspired dresses, hand touched with the signature elements that are Claire La Faye: silk flowers, chiffon rosettes, silk pleating, hand-strung glass pearls, satin-covered buttons, and always an unmistakable attention to detail. Dresses are available in blush, pale gray, robin's egg blue, warm champagne, and even black. Inspired by a modern vintage vibe and sprinkled with a bit of whimsy, each piece has hand-finished detailing, making Claire La Faye gowns a true labor of love.