Fifteen questions to: Sofie Claes

Born in  Genk in 1984, Sofie Claes is the hot new name amongst Antwerp’s young designers.  Her womenswear line – called Wolf. by Sofie Claes – offers an interesting balance between luxurious minimalism and a more conceptual approach. Designed and produced in Belgium, her clothes have a distinctive aura, made for a strong woman who doesn’t need decoration or fussy details to make a statement. Her collection of sleek separates manages to reconcile feminine and masculine elements, combining tailored pieces with softer shapes.

Photography courtesy of Sofie Claes

When did you create your label?

I started working on it at the beginning of October last year. My first showroom took place last March and I just got back from Paris where I presented the second collection.

You have studied in several countries before and have had a pretty unusual path. Can you tell me more about your experiences?

During secondary school, I took evening classes in sewing and pattern-drawing. The plan was to enter the Academy in Antwerp, but I had a strong feeling I needed to go to Paris first. I learnt French there and studied at Esmod for a year. The teachers encouraged me to do the full course, but it was too pricey for me. I started looking at places that could be of interest and decided to enrol at Amsterdam’s Fashion Institute.

What made you decide to go there?

The course offered a great balance between commercial thinking and creativity. We had management and branding classes, as well as courses on 3D design and designing pieces for shows. It was a good preparation for the future. In Antwerp, I have the feeling that students learn to develop their own creativity, but do not know so much about the business itself. You’re left to your own devices after school and have to learn how to start a business from scratch.

What happened after graduation?

I went to India, working for 3 and a half months on a special project where an atelier had to be created. It was a charity initiative, called «Satara», where we got to design a complete collection, using Indian fabrics. We taught 15 women how to sew the pieces there. That was a great experience for me.

Did you come back to Belgium after that?

I came back home, looking for work. The crisis could be felt and it look longer than expected to find opportunities. I was also looking for ways to set up my own brand, getting information and help wherever I could. I launched it 9 months after I got back.

Was it always clear for you that you would create your own label one day?

Yes, it was. In fact, it had been my goal since studying at AMFI. I remember having interviews in Belgium for commercial jobs where people told me I was actually too creative for their companies.

What are the advantages of living and designing in Belgium?

The best thing is proximity. You can go to the atelier often and check what people are doing. You avoid expensive travels costs. It makes the whole process much more personal and it’s nice getting to know the people who are dealing with your production.

Is it the human interaction that you enjoy?

Yes, definitely. The women working there are the same age as my mum, which creates a sense of closeness and familiarity. Having that kind of connection is important for me.

Does this have an impact on how your clothes are perceived by potential clients?

I think it does. The fact that my clothes are made in Belgium seems to be well-received, even though it might not be the most important thing. Price and quality are probably more relevant.

Are your clothes expensive?

Manufacturing in Belgium is expensive. That’s something I need to consider for the future. Do I want to keep everything here or will I have to look at other countries in Europe? I guess my prices are high for a young designer, but this is an aspect I’m going to work on.

Do you find that foreign buyers are more sensitive to the fact that your production is local?

Yes, they are. It’s not something Belgian buyers seem to value that much though. In Paris, I noticed how the Japanese loved this for instance. I guess it could be cultural.

What kind of woman do you have in mind when designing your clothes?

I called my line Wolf. because I was looking for something that could sum up the type of woman I like. She’s independent, smart and has a mysterious side. It’s the strength of the animal that appeals to me. It’s not about aggression at all, even though women have to be tough sometimes.

What is your reference behind the more tailored, structured pieces?

I am drawn towards military clothing and keep reworking it. I like the geometry and precision of uniforms.

Would you say your style is minimal then?

It’s funny, because I tend to start with more and end up with less. Any effect that is not essential does not have a reason to exist. I try to simplify things as much as I can.

Are there fabrics you refuse to work with?

I’m not into synthetics. I’d rather use wool, cashmere, cotton or pure silk. I want my clothes to be soft, comfortable and easy to wear. No polyester for me, I’m afraid.