If you're not clued up on Clio Peppiatt, the London-based designer with a penchant for horoscopes and the supernatural, now is the time to get acquainted. Working as a print designer for the likes of Alexander McQueen while making her own pieces on the side, she launched her eponymous label back in 2015, just a year after graduating from her textiles and womenswear degree, when demand for her garments grew into a solid fanbase.
Characterised by darkly romantic hand-beaded corsets, dreamy Molly Ringwald-esque taffeta dresses and otherworldly embroidery (think cherubs and constellations), her aesthetic taps into all things mystical and magical – a trend that's currently captivating her young female audience (you know, those of us hooked on Co-Star, The Pattern and sage smudge sticks). "I like to work with imagery that has a fable-like quality," she says. "Images that have deep-rooted symbolism that really connect with people’s minds, I think there’s something very romantic about that. I like to approach designing and creating embroideries to tell a story."
There's also an undeniable sex appeal to Peppiatt's pieces. Whether it's the corsetry and silk camisoles, high-shine midnight-hour fabrics, goddess imagery or styling choices (think pointed stilettos and blood red lips), the Clio Peppiatt woman is as beguiling as Anna Biller's 2017 film The Love Witch. "It’s really mad that in 2019 it can still feel radical to express sexuality through what you wear," she says. "I’ve always seen sexuality as endlessly fascinating and such a major aspect of life, so it just feels natural to have an element of that running through what I make. Sexy is whatever you want it to be; it’s a cliché but I think simply being yourself is probably the most sexy thing."
Peppiatt previously held presentations as part of the London Fashion Week schedule (and with her ornate sets and gang of rebellious femme fatale models, they were a highlight of the five days) but last season she decided to go her own way. With big fashion houses upping sticks and moving cities, and emerging designers finding the traditional systems tougher and tougher to navigate, it's a scary and uncertain time for the industry. But Peppiatt sees opportunity and hope in this: "Maybe the most noticeable difference since I started out is that the fashion industry is really starting to open up to different ways of working and business models. I think when I started it felt much more rigid than this new era we’re entering."
"It's felt quite liberating to break out of the system and work on my own terms," she adds. From Maison Cléo to MYAEMADE, a slew of new fashion labels are finding success in direct-to-consumer sales via Instagram, but Peppiatt is successfully tackling the industry's current state of flux by straddling the best of both worlds: creating bespoke pieces for her most loyal customers, while still providing fans with one annual collection, which drops throughout the year as the seasons change.
While platforms like Fashion East and the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund provide support to emerging talent, we must question how we can better ready young creatives for the world after fashion school. "More business support, particularly during education," she states. "I wish we’d touched more on the business side during my degree and had been offered more support after graduating. Learning to do taxes, for example, would have been so useful at that point. It’s difficult to find investors for fashion businesses too, so it would be brilliant if there was more of a platform that combined investment and business support specifically for more young fashion businesses." What does the future of fashion look like to her? "I think the more liberated and less rigid the system becomes, the more creative, diverse and dynamic we can be."
The first collection she's produced under this new business direction – inspired by "Las Vegas sci-fi alien showgirls" – plays with harder and softer elements, like upcycled motocross jackets and diamanté chainmail halterneck tops, while highlights include a beaded newspaper print mini and a medieval-inspired hand-drawn print. Making just one collection a year means that she's able to focus on the bespoke service side of her label, too. "For each order, I work with the client on the colour palette and imagery to develop their custom design," she says of the process. "It feels special because it isn't something that a lot of brands my size are offering and I love knowing that each client will treasure that piece for the rest of their lives because it’s so completely one-off and unique. Each one is hand-beaded, made to measure and hand-sewn, so it’s really also about keeping a traditional craft alive in a modern context."
This month Peppiatt also made her very first wedding dress – for someone who sounds like her perfect client. "It's amazing to be trusted with such an important dress. It was completely bespoke and featured both the bride and groom's star signs, as well as both of their cats! As both an astrology enthusiast and cat lover it really did feel like a perfect first wedding dress to work on. We worked on it from November to the wedding this month in July and I think we must have used a few hundred thousand beads!"
With musician fans including Jorja Smith, Miley Cyrus and Lady Leshurr, plus fashion favourites Adwoa Aboah and Susie Lau donning her pieces, Peppiatt isn't short of cool women wearing her clothes. Who's next on her dream list? "Cher! I’ve always been inspired by Bob Mackie’s incredible Cher creations." We can absolutely see the Goddess of Pop shimmying around stage in one of Peppiatt's crystal-encrusted two-pieces – so never say never.