We’re super excited to introduce you to our new Super Styler series, featuring fashionable mamas around town dishing their most guarded secrets on staying cool and stylish in Singapore’s sweltering climate! Kicking off this month is Claire Alves, Fashion Designer, Owner, and Mama-to-two behind local label, Lulu Bare. We chat to Claire about working in the fashion industry, post-pregnancy styling and how she rocks her mummy shorts!
How did you get started with turning a love for fashion into creating your own brand?
After leaving the wonderful worlds of Chanel and InStyle in the UK, my career had big shoes to fill when I arrived in Singapore — and I was 4 months pregnant too! Like any newbie on the circuit it took me a while to find my feet and I felt that starting a new job pregnant (if anyone should want me!) was not an option. After Mia, who is now 4 years old, was born I undertook a bit of freelance work for Harpers Bazaar Junior magazine, but found that buying “office” outfits was nearly impossible. Having trawled the shops in Singapore (bar big high street brands like Zara, which I loved but wanted a change from) I couldn’t find anything that I really loved. Louise, my sister who lives in Dubai, had been making clothes for herself for a while as she too had a similar problem. Singapore, like Dubai, had, and to an extent still has, a very limited mid-market offering. Louise started making bits for me and I eventually found a great tailor here and some interesting fabrics before we realised that our little venture was being talked about and requested by so many friends! We then decided to jump onboard and make it that little bit bigger and Lulu Bare was established in 2012, about a week after my son was born, and we haven’t looked back since!
Did your style change when you became a mama?
I think it was a combination of becoming a mother and moving to Singapore. When I moved to Singapore pregnant I didn’t work for a few months and post-baby I only worked on a freelance basis before setting up Lulu Bare. As a result of not having to have a corporate wardrobe my clothing did become a lot more relaxed than what I was previously used to. The weather in Singapore obviously had a great impact on my style choices too as it’s always so hot and humid. As a result, post baby I didn’t want structured clothing or anything too heavy. I gravitated to cottons and tailored shorts and embraced a lot of quality jersey items. Now that I am starting to work in an office more, my wardrobe is adjusting again as I am embracing sleeves and more structured clothing, a rather refreshing change as I have missed a bit of tailoring!
Who do you have in mind when you are designing? Who is the Lulu Bare woman to you?
Louise and I very much design for our own wardrobes and we get a lot of inspiration from the catwalks and fashion influencers. We understand we may not be the go-to label for everyone but when we started Lulu Bare we wanted to bring a mid-market offering to Singapore and Dubai that used quality fabrics and production, while still keeping an eye on fashion trends (but never becoming a slave to them). Originally we started with only dresses as we both felt that the dress was such an easy and versatile piece in the wardrobe with very little decision needed when selecting one. In our past two collections we have also introduced separates and these have been very well received too.
The Lulu Bare woman is a busy multi-tasker (crossing between home and work life) who is fashion conscious, savvy, and independent.
What are the biggest misconceptions about working in the fashion industry?
That it’s all glamorous! There are days when we are constantly packing and unpacking boxes, and inventory is my number one pet hate!
How do you manage your time effectively as a mama and businesswoman?
I think I am still trying to find the perfect balance, isn’t everyone? That said, I am trying harder… Mia is now at nursery full-time and Sebastian attends twice a week. Knowing they are both at nursery more frequently has lessened my mother’s guilt (it’s the worst, no one tells you it is so bad!) and so I am getting better at compartmentalising work and mummy time. I have dedicated times in the week when I am only on mama duty and weekends are always for the children, unless I have an event or something similar. Working and being a mother is a hard balance and I think women are under an enormous amount of pressure these days, most probably self inflicted, but we want to be able to be a superstar at everything. I think I, like most women, need to learn that no one can have it all and you can only do the best for you and your family.
What is your style advice for Singapore mamas?
Living in a country without seasons is a disaster for the wardrobe! You never seem to get rid of the old in case the occasion pops up when you need that item you bought when you were at university – trust me you will never need it again, so throw it out! Try and go through your wardrobe every six months (as you would if you were changing seasons) and get rid of pieces you no longer wear or that don’t suit you. If you don’t want to follow fashion trends then keep to wardrobe staples and build around key pieces.
We’d never catch you dead in… (name one or more items which give you the fashion horrors!)
There are definitely a few…
* Crocs — children, and certainly not adults, should ever wear them… I don’t care how “practical” they are.
* Sliders — Isabel Marant had them on the catwalk for Spring-Summer and the fashion world has been going crazy for them every since. I am just not sure I could ever embrace them, far too similar to a Birkenstock for me. That said, I might be eating my words in six months as trends do grow on me!
What is the one clothing item you can never get enough of?
Stripes. Anything striped is my dream come true. I can’t live without a Breton top, it can be paired with denim, in block colors or prints, it’s so versatile and so chic. I love a bit of denim too – jeans, shorts, and shirts.
What has been your greatest style discovery in the past year?
Wanna-be Alaia shoes from Zara – they make anything look fantastic!
Can you describe obstacles and setbacks you have encountered that have made you stronger?
Setting up a business is a rollercoaster. Not only are there highs and lows but making mistakes is part of the course. Some mistakes are more critical than others but once they have been made don’t dwell on them, learn from them and move forward. When Louise and I set up the company we were rather naive about the competitive nature of the fashion industry. We are very small fish in a very large pond with piranhas trying to attack at every opportunity! We are still swimming however and that is with great teamwork, support from our friends and families and people believing in us.
How do you rock your mummy shorts?
During the day I mix my Lulu Bare tanks with denim shorts and a pair of Koom shoes. In the evening I embrace our printed shorts and add a killer heel.
What is your beauty routine and how long does it take you to get out of the house in the morning?
Much to a recent facialist’s horror, I have a very basic beauty routine of washing my face, using moisturizer and a bit of make up — usually a wave of powder and a slick of mascara. I need to start taking better care of my skin, especially living in the sunshine as the ageing is catching up on me!
What should we all be trying out wearing this summer?
Global to Graphic Prints — from tribal prints at Dior to art chic at Celine, this season is all about the print. If you can’t wear it from head to toe try pairing a white shirt (another of this season’s huge hits) with a printed bottom.
Any tips for pre- and post-natal chic?
I love loose clothing but when you’re pregnant clothes look better when cuddling the bump. Try a Lulu Bare jersey dress – it will, without doubt, be your pregnancy friend.
Post pregnancy – don’t buy too many clothes until you’ve lost all your baby weight (it does come off!) and then the hundreds of dollars you spent when you hated your wardrobe has gone down the tube. If you must buy, then buy a few generic items that make you feel like YOU again but that you don’t mind casting aside when your body returns.
What are your top Singapore style addresses?
*Lush Spa at the Polo Club – they do an amazing Decleor facial and their body massages are also sensational.
*Adept – for my weekly fix of foot reflexology.
*Casey’s at Palais Renaissance for my Keratin hair straightening treatment — could not survive without it.
*Far East Plaza – I never have enough time to have a proper look but there is a treasure trove of accessories and clothing to be found if you have the time to dig deep.
*Edit Lifestyle — for a fabulous selection of resort wear and exclusive interiors. Florence Lim, the Creative Director, has a fabulous eye.
*COS – at ION Orchard for good basics.
*Brasserie Gavroche – delicious salmon tartare followed by yummy steak.
*Luke’s – yummy tuna tartare, and the lobster mac and cheese is indulgence at its best.
*Pollen – a little bit of London in the Lion City. Delicious food in a gorgeous setting with exceptional service.
*Operation Dagger – a new little cocktail venture by the guys behind Oxwell & Co – great and interesting cocktails (#B1-01, 7 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069791)
*Common Man – great coffee and delicious pea fritters.
Thanks for the insights Claire! And an even bigger thank you to the ever talented Gunilla from SugarLight Photography for these fabulous photos!