The fine art of country fashion
Barbara Young meets international sporting artist Clare Haggas, whose luxury silk accessories are becoming synonymous with modern country style.
Known for her vibrant paintings of British wildlife, with a particular passion for birds, award-winning artist Clare Haggas admits she is still reeling from the success of her four-year-old silk scarf and accessory fashion business, which has already seen sales increase 500% through the pandemic.
“I literally pinch myself every day because I can’t believe how busy we’ve been – I want to be conscious and aware of other businesses which are struggling, but hopefully it’s also inspirational to hear of businesses that are still doing well and succeeding in such an awful situation,” says Clare, who lives with her arable farmer husband Will near Louth, having moved from Cheltenham in 2014.
Launched in 2017, the collection combines fine fabrics and Clare’s original artwork, with scarves of all sizes as well as newly launched silk/wool wraps, shawls, scrunchies and headbands made from beautiful silk from The Silk Bureau in Evesham, Worcestershire.
Clare believes that one of the reasons her unique, colourful collection has taken off is the growth of Zoom meetings.
“Ladies like to look their best on camera from the shoulders up and want to make an effort for their Zoom meetings with colleagues, so a lovely scarf provides that instant glamorous look,” she explains. “Also, because we haven’t been able to visit hairdressers, more of us are using scarves to tie up our hair, which provides an easy solution to bad hair days.”
Wearable and versatile
Proving the point that it’s never too late to start your own business, 48-year-old Clare is justifiably proud of the meteoric rise of her British fashion accessory brand.
The silk pieces are made from 100% pure silk twill and items are produced in limited numbers, proving a must-have for collectors in search of wearable investments.
“The collection aims to be both wearable and versatile,” says Clare. “It sits on that fence of smart/casual, town/country – you can wear a scarf with a white shirt and a pair of jeans, tie the scarf around your bag or wear it in your hair, or wrap a large silk square around your ball gown.”
Clare says you can wear her designs anywhere and they are ideal to help dress up a drab outfit or smarten up a jacket.
“Silk is such a fabulous fabric; it makes you feel alive and also that bit extra special.”
Having started as a “hobby painter” at the age of 40, in 2017 Clare decided to expand her talents to include designing a new range of accessories based on her artwork. The decision was prompted after failing to find a scarf which reflected both elegance and vibrancy that she could wear herself while taking part in her favourite country pursuits such as dog walking, fishing and shooting.
“For me it was a lightbulb moment because all the traditional scarves on the market seemed quite dull and boring, so I thought ‘hang on a moment, why don’t I put my art on silk?’” explains Clare, who gets up every morning to walk her four dogs (two black labradors, a cocker spaniel and an elderly rescue terrier).
“My influence comes from the countryside – we live in the middle of nowhere in the Wolds and we’re surrounded by pheasants, owls, deer and hares – new ideas pop into my head every day and I feel totally blessed to have all this on my doorstep.”
Clare describes her artwork, which sits between modern and traditional, as “very powerful and vibrant”.
“I think my work is quite different from traditional sporting artwork,” she explains. “My clients are quite diverse – one might be living in an old rambling country house and one in a modern town apartment but they still both choose to have my art in their homes and I hope this accessibility is reflected in my accessory collection too.”
Town and country
“Our scarves are so easy to wear and transition easily between town and country, as well as across all age groups from 16 to 99.
“There is also a massive move among consumers to buy British now, as well as buying local while I’ve also noticed that among our younger customers, it’s like being part of a set who enjoy wearing a distinctive smart casual country style uniform (which I’m lucky to be part of) that includes Fairfax & Favor boots, Holland Cooper jackets, Hicks & Brown hats, all topped off with a Clare Haggas scarf and I’m very grateful for that!”
This spring sees the launch of Clare’s three new collections entitled We Three Kings (featuring jewel coloured kingfishers), Best in Show (a new look to an existing line) inspired by game birds, and Turf War Monochrome (one of Clare’s most well-loved designs) in pretty pastel colours. As with her existing ranges, the new additions all offer matching products, allowing customers to build a personal collection of their favourite designs over time.
Turf War, which features two fighting pheasants, is based on one of her earliest paintings created in 2016, which Clare, who is also mother to 16 year-old daughter Daisy, says “changed my life”.
“This was the first time a painting of mine was taken seriously by the art world. The art world can be quite snobby, but when the House of Bruar art gallery in Scotland saw the painting and took me on as an artist, I was accepted as a serious artist by the country set and everything started to change. I was then taken on by more galleries and started getting commissions.
“Because of what it signifies, I’ll never sell that original. It still hangs in our house where it will stay and I’ll leave it as a legacy to Daisy.”
Before becoming a self-taught artist, Clare says she went through some “very dark personal times”, but painting helped her recover and she believes that she was destined to follow this path.
“At the time my life wasn’t that great, but on my 40th birthday, I decided to do something about it and art became my therapy and saved my life. It gave me light and something to follow and helped me believe in myself. It was quite a miraculous discovery.
“I believe mine is an inspiring story about self-belief and passion, which also shows that you can do anything you set your heart on. I’ve had no investment or outside funding; my business has just grown by me being a little bit crazy and running with ideas rather than sitting around and thinking about them!”
One of the reasons for Clare’s success also lies in the personal commitment she makes to every customer who places an order.
“My USP is that I’m involved from beginning to end; I create the artwork and get it scanned, create the design, then pack the individual accessories in bespoke packaging and send them out to customers.
“My bespoke packaging is stunning and the whole feel of the product is luxurious and timeless. Each design is available in an exquisite range of jewel-like colours and every day I am designing, researching and developing new and exciting ideas to capture on the silk and more recently sumptuous velvets and wool silk blends.
“When you buy one of my pieces, we provide an experience and customers love the attention to detail and whole brand and service, including the boxes, tissue paper, ribbon, stickers, as well as the handwritten notes I write for each buyer, which makes them feel special.
“I love what I do and I believe that I’ve got the best job in the world and hopefully this also shows in my work.”
For more information visit www.clarehaggas.com