In this day and age, high-profile fashion designers are as vulnerable to the dangers of celebrity as Hollywood stars. Clare Waight Keller, however, is one of the lucky few; she has managed to fly beneath the radar and her reputation has remained unscathed since she became creative director of Parisian fashion house Chloé five years ago.
"I don't know whether exposing too much information is a good thing. I think people have greatly enjoyed it, but social media is a very hungry system," says the British designer. "If you are feeling too much you may get in trouble, which is why I am very considered about it and really think about things before I put myself out there."
It's a few hours after Chloé's autumn-winter 2016 show and Waight Keller is enjoying a moment of peace at her office in Paris' 8th arrondissement. She has typical English-rose looks - creamy white skin, pink cheeks and long, reddish brown locks - is warm, down to earth and chats easily about her love of travel. On a recent trip, she took her three children to the black and white deserts of Egypt.
She is dressed in an oversized denim top with pleats at the neckline, cropped jeans and retro aviator glasses. Her part-ladylike, part-tomboy style is an aesthetic she has been honing at Chloé.
"I needed to find a balance between my vision and the brand's DNA. At my first show, I got close … but from there I have evolved it, especially in the last two or three years. People love Chloé for its DNA and I have to respect that. For me, there are two sides to [the label], which is a very modern vision of how women are," she says.
The "modern woman" - overused term though it is - has been central to the French label since its inception, in 1952. Gaby Aghion, an Egyptian-born immigrant, didn't much care for the stiff and formal haute-couture fashion that dominated Paris, post Dior's New Look. She envisaged an accessible brand that offered beautifully made, easy-to-wear pieces that suited a more youthful audience; she christened the brand Chloé because it sounded feminine. The collections were to be available off the rack, making Chloé a pioneer of pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear).
Chloé's first collection was unveiled in 1956, at Paris' Café de Flore, a hot spot for intellectuals and artists. The collection resonated with its audience thanks to its understated and carefree spirit, an emotion that would continue to define Chloé throughout the 1960s.
Aghion enlisted other designers to create her label's collections, one of whom was Karl Lagerfeld, who worked for the house for more than two decades, creating signatures that included romantic blouses and skirts. It wasn't long before Chloé became one of Paris' most iconic brands, finding favour with Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly and opera singer Maria Callas.
A succession of accomplished designers - from Martine Sitbon to Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo - followed in Lagerfeld's footsteps, each imparting their own vision to the house while reasserting its codes of femininity and ease. In 2011, Waight Keller joined as creative director, just as Chloé was coming out of a rocky period.
A London Royal College of Art alumna, Waight Keller began her career just weeks out of school, moving to New York at the age of 21 to work on womenswear at Calvin Klein. Four years later she was offered a post at Ralph Lauren, where she worked directly under Lauren, the man, and launched the Purple Label line.
"I got into menswear by surprise, but in the end it was fantastic," she says. "I love the sobriety of it but, at the same time, you are working with more limited elements, so you have little room to make something new. It was a challenge and I loved learning the technical part as well as the discipline of it all. After a certain amount of time, though, I was frustrated. The creativity of womenswear appealed more so I went over to Pringle, then Chloé came calling."
Waight Keller says the label appealed to her "from the get go".
"You can spot a Chloé girl anywhere," she explains. "She has no make-up, is natural, puts things together in terms of style, rather than a fashion look. There is an eclectic-ness, a feminine, free-spirited nature that I wanted to explore."
Taking on the role at Chloé meant making changes to her personal life. She uprooted her family from London to Paris, moving in close to the Bois de Boulogne park, on the outskirts of the city.
The fashion capital of the world was an eye-opener.
"The French have this taste level and when you live here, you sense it in everything. You become more aware of the culture and the sophistication that's here. At the end of the day, being based in Paris still has cachet."
The French "do" fashion on an exemplary level, which has made her more disciplined, she explains. "There's so much respect for what you are doing. You have to take it more seriously."
The role of creative director at one of Paris' most beloved labels came with other challenges. The pressure was on to not only create products that sold, but also to return Chloé to its former glory.
Rather than embrace trends - at the time, minimalism was de rigueur, thanks to designers such as Philo - Waight Keller set about reclaiming Chloé's carefree femininity. She fused elements of the brand's heritage - the romantic blouses and frou frou dresses - with her own clean lines, refined silhouettes and masculine twist, inspired by her background in menswear.
"For me, Chloé was a brand that women gravitated towards because they knew they could always find certain iconic looks, whether it was the beautiful blouse, the cape, a great coat or chunky boot. It was about adding desire to those must-haves every season so that [customers] would go back to and want to buy it again. It's about timeless pieces that somehow become relevant again," she says.
To realise her vision, Waight Keller spent a lot of time developing fabrics and finishings in the house's atelier, which is based in the same building as its offices.
"It makes a massive difference working with an on-site atelier. The fact is, you can sit in a meeting and say, 'Can we try this?' And, in half an hour, it's back upstairs. It's a big shift in the way you work because you can react to things, judge them quickly, expand ideas quickly."
The collection she has just debuted begins with the story of a French motocross rider called Anne-France Dautheville, who travelled across Europe, the Middle East and Asia in the 1970s. Waight Keller channelled the biker's daring into pieces that evoked wanderlust: a colourful XL tribal-inspired blanket throw, a shearling zip-up hoody and patterned tunics. The leather pieces displayed plenty of attitude and included a motocross-style red and black leather jacket and trousers, and a black leather jumpsuit with a plunging neckline and leather tie.
Chloé's signature sense of romance couldn't be forgotten, of course, so out came its best-selling ruffled crepe de chine blouses, ethnic kaftans and tiered dresses with colourful tufts decorating the shoulders.
"I had an idea of what I wanted to do for the more feminine part of the collection but, for the other side, Dautheville captured it all. I loved the fact that she was a free spirit who was curious and wanted to discover things."
As fashion evolves at an ever-increasing speed, the pressure is pushing many designers to abandon an industry they once loved.
"Everyone feels like they are on a spin cycle. If I look back on my job 10 years ago, it was so different. Now we really don't have as much time, so you need to manage what you do to get the most out of the parts you love.
"I put aside time to do creative [work] because it's critical. It's so difficult to be up against timelines and increasingly I need to fit in more things, such as thinking of a media story; what to say on Instagram, on the website, to the press. Before, we let the press and stylist interpret our collections but now it's essential that brands tell their stories to their audience directly. It's a big change," says Waight Keller.
Another trend that needs to be considered is "buy now, wear now", which calls into question the presentation and selling of collections. Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford have embraced direct-to-consumer shows but, interestingly, industry officials in Italy and France have rejected the concept.
"These brands are choosing to do more seasonless collections," says Waight Keller. "But I think there's something nice about seasons. I love the idea that summer is summer and winter is winter. I think there's an excitement that comes round at shows that's important not to lose.
"It's better to control your pre-collections, which are the more commercially driven part when compared to the runway shows. It's better to focus on getting the right fabrications."
Nevertheless, Waight Keller wants to exploit new technologies to create a better fashion experience.
"If we sat down seven years ago, Instagram didn't exist. In five years' time, Instagram could mean nothing. It's exciting to think about what's going to be discovered. With all these developments in technology, maybe we will be sitting with Google glasses watching the show at home. It will become a much more personalised experience, the show, that's one thing I know."
The holy grail for any designer is being able to stay relevant while sticking to the vision they have created.
"I think it's about knowing what feels right and, for me in particular, what is missing in my wardrobe. If it's missing, then I need to make a statement about that because it's what a woman would want from her wardrobe.
"As a woman you need to think about it more personally - it's more than just presenting a point of view."