She Is Miss Claire Sullivan

miss claire sullivan zsela

Claire and Zsela wear All Clothing and Accessories Miss Claire Sullivan. Shoes Claire’s Own.

It’s not often that young designers get the chance to dress their fashion icons without first debuting a proper runway collection, but that hasn’t stopped Claire Sullivan, who, in just a few short years, has transitioned her one-woman act into a bustling independent brand worn by celebs including Sarah Jessica Parker, Selena Gomez, and Paloma Elsesser. For the New York–based designer, who got her start as a co-creative director of the cult “fashion fan fiction” label Vaquera, making clothing isn’t about generating clout. “At the end of the day, I really be in here minding my business, making dresses,” she tells her longtime friend and muse, the Los Angeles–based singer-songwriter Zsela. “If I’m not having fun doing that, there’s a problem.”



CLAIRE SULLIVAN: Hi. You look cute. Where are you?

ZSELA: At my studio. I’m in a hectic mode trying to get this video done. I’m coming to New York on Monday.

SULLIVAN: Wait, you have to come to my birthday dinner. I’m turning 30 on Friday.

ZSELA: Wow. Dirty 30.

SULLIVAN: Thirty, flirty, and thriving.

ZSELA: I’m jealous. How do you feel?

SULLIVAN: I feel ready. I also just cut all of my hair from my twenties off.

ZSELA: It’s so good. I love it.

SULLIVAN: Thank you. Zsela, how did we meet? I feel like my first memory of you was when we were at Jacob and Luke’s house and we stayed up all night being crazy.

ZSELA: When you still had hair.

SULLIVAN: [Laughs] From my twenties.

ZSELA: We met out and about, and then we both went through so much growth and change that when we came together again, it was like we re-met.

SULLIVAN: That’s when we started working together.

ZSELA: What was the first thing?

SULLIVAN: We did stuff together when I was with Vaquera, but your performance at the Getty Center was the first time it was just you and me. I made you that crazy 70-foot-long train moth cocoon.

ZSELA: [Laughs] So casual.

SULLIVAN: I was so clueless, too. I’ve been sewing since I was 7 and making clothes since I was 16, but for some reason, I can never get the timing right. If I think it’s going to take me two days, it takes me two weeks.

ZSELA: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: And with that dress, we were literally finishing it at seven in the morning while the Uber was arriving with whoever was bringing it to the airport. But we’ve come a long way since then.

ZSELA: We have, wow. And then we did the church show, which was a new kind of special, because I was there to fit with you.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, that was really fab, because we basically draped the entire thing on your body. I’m still mad that we don’t have a time-lapse of that.

ZSELA: I know. We definitely share a love of collaborating. Even the shoot that we did for Interview, I was like, “Oh, we really listen to each other.” How does that relate to other people you work with?

miss claire sullivan zsela

SULLIVAN: It’s so different from collaborator to collaborator. What’s unique about you and the way we work together is that I feel like you’re also a designer. The way you want things to look on your body, you know the minute you put something on.

ZSELA: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: The most gratifying thing about working with such a wide range of personalities and artists is when people put something on and they light up in it.

ZSELA: I do have to say working with you has definitely—

SULLIVAN: How is it? What’s the Miss Claire experience? [Laughs]

ZSELA: It’s fun. I’m still trying to figure out my relationship to fashion. I love the drama of clothes, but what I want to wear changes so much based on moods or the event that I’m doing. That’s why it’s been so fun to work with you: We really attack the “why” of it. We’re like, “What is the space? What are you singing?” You love knowing everything, and I love knowing everything, so I feel like we go into it very intentionally.

SULLIVAN: Yes. We had that moment when we were in my house shooting this. We hadn’t tried any of the looks on you until that day, but when you put that black dress on you immediately started holding the waist, and I was like, “Okay, yeah. It needs to be tighter here.” You don’t even have to say it, I’m just, like, “You’re right. It needs to be cinched boots.” [Laughs]

ZSELA: It has to be fun, too. That’s where we find the magic. Something that I’ve been really trying to emphasize in everything that I do is the play and the joy of it.

SULLIVAN: I’ve been saying recently, “My motto is, if I’m not having fun, I quit.” That doesn’t mean I literally quit, but when I’m working on a project and I’m really stressed out and I start getting angry, I’m like, “I’ve got to walk out of here.” Because it’s supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, I really be in here minding my business, making dresses. [Laughs] If I’m not having fun doing that, there’s a problem. But it is stressful, and there is a lot of meaning to it. With music, too—the paths we have chosen are not easy.

ZSELA: They’re not easy at all. What do you do when you get stuck, inspo-wise?

SULLIVAN: When I get stuck, I need to do something that has nothing to do with fashion.

ZSELA: Okay.

SULLIVAN: Obviously, music and dancing and being out are all intertwined, and movement is intertwined with fashion, but dancing is really big for me. If I’m feeling stuck I’ll have to think back—because even right now I haven’t had a good dance in a minute, and I’m like, “Okay, it’s time.”

ZSELA: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: I’ve also been trying to understand how to get comfortable with stillness. Sometimes when I’m stuck I’m like, “Maybe I need to be still, or maybe I need to move so much that I crave the stillness.”

ZSELA: That’s beautiful.

SULLIVAN: What do you do to get unstuck?

ZSELA: I try to do something unrelated. I’m so heady, so I’m always like, “Move your butt, go for a walk.” I started climbing, which has been a big thing.

SULLIVAN: Oh, yeah. We need to go climbing together.

ZSELA: The main thing is to do something that gets me out of my head, and climbing does that for me. But I miss dancing so much. I feel like it’s really hard to find in Los Angeles.

SULLIVAN: I know. I don’t know how you do it over there.

ZSELA: I don’t. I come there. [Laughs]

SULLIVAN: True, true. I also do tarot readings. That’s a good one for a stuck place. You can always call me. I’ll give you a FaceTime tarot reading.

ZSELA: I always forget that you do that.

SULLIVAN: We should have done it for this. [Laughs] We were talking about characters earlier, and I was going to ask what character you have been recently?

ZSELA: Maybe you go first.

SULLIVAN: I don’t mean to talk about my hair so much, but the minute I cut my hair off, I almost felt like a ’90s movie character.

miss claire sullivan zsela

ZSELA: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: Also, not to be that girl, but people have been calling me Carrie Bradshaw recently. [Laughs]

ZSELA: Be that girl. [Laughs]

SULLIVAN: I can’t help it. I either want to be Carrie Bradshaw or Patricia Field, and I know she’s not a character, but now I’m just thinking about my idols—and Vivienne Westwood. She’s just the one. It’s interesting to think about how to honor someone and be inspired by that person and not have it be just fandom cosplay.

ZSELA: Yeah. I don’t know what I’m up to. I’ve been working on this project for so long, and now I’m having to get into the mindset of what it looks like. I’m trying to just listen to myself. I don’t know what the quote was, but someone was talking about ideas being—

SULLIVAN: On Connection by Kae Tempest? I think I sent you that quote, because it’s talking about how—

ZSELA: Your ideas are not yours or something. They’re going to happen no matter what.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. It’s basically this idea that we’re instruments for a creative source. There’s a thing out there that’s bigger than us, that moves through us, and that’s where the creativity comes from. And it’s so common and happens so often that creative people have the same ideas at the same time. And it’s, like, if that idea comes to fruition through someone else, then it was just that idea’s time to start existing in the world.

ZSELA: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: It’s like we’re endless wells of creativity.

ZSELA: And it’s a more holistic approach. Social media is a frenzy of information and content, and you can get lost in the sauce of trying to keep up, or you can find that stillness and really listen. Your work, it’s so singular. Do you want to speak on how you’ve come into that?

SULLIVAN: It’s tricky, because for a long time I didn’t really give myself permission or think it was okay to be inspired by how I am. But so much of how I work is draping things on my body and seeing how the clothes feel on me. If I’m draping on you, it’s going to look different than if I’m draping on myself, but anything I create that’s coming from a genuine place is going to have some part of me in it.

ZSELA: Yeah. That’s the vibe.

SULLIVAN: That’s another thing about working with you that I really enjoy. You also have that really distinct—literally distinct—voice and vision. It’s like you’re making Zsela’s world.

ZSELA: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: And I’m making Claire’s world, and we get to make our worlds orbit each other in the bigger universe.

ZSELA: [Laughs] Thank god.

SULLIVAN: You know I listen to you when I take baths, have I told you that?

ZSELA: No. I like that.

SULLIVAN: [Laughs] Yeah.

ZSELA: You feel good?

SULLIVAN: I think so.

ZSELA: Me too. That was fun. I’m going to call you right after.

SULLIVAN: I was just going to say that. I love you.

ZSELA: Bye. Love you, too.


Hair: E Williams using Redken NY at Streeters.

Makeup: Mical Klip using Addiction Tokyo Beauty.

Nails: Nori using Chanel at See Management.

Lighting: Jasper Briggs.

Fashion Assistant: Brynn Eichenlaub.

Production Assistant: Azra Schorr.