Clarisse Demory Reveals the Beauty of Frugality
Paris-based Creative Director, Clarisse Demory, represents some of today’s most prominent independent design and fashion brands, including Lemaire, Nonfiction, and Sophie Buhai. Her approach to visual storytelling is reflective and deeply personal, one of ‘delicacy, ecology, honesty, cleanness’. We discuss the elements of Clarisse’s moral compass, the many twists of her career and learn about the beauty of frugality.
This interview is accompanied by an overview of Clarisse Demory’s collaborative work.
Advance Copy: You collaborate with an impressive roster of industry-crossing clients. From an external point of view it feels like there is a rigorous selection process to whom you work with. Is this so? If yes, what are the most important criteria for you when agreeing to collaborate?
Clarisse Demory: If I’m honest, the brands I was/am working with are extremely nice, but I don’t find my portfolio that impressive. I’m not a big player in the business. I think that, at this stage of my life, I could have done more. I work with passion and I don’t invest enough time in organizing my own career. I just share what I do and like on Instagram. I don’t present my portfolio, I don’t have an agent, and I’m not pro-active in searching for new clients. They come to me for what I represent in terms of style, values and audience, and this creates a drastic natural selection. Clients who want to work with a professional who doesn’t have a website, know really well why they want to work with that person, and it’s usually for the right reasons. Most of the time we are totally in tune and it’s a great pleasure to work for them. When, on exception, a brand that doesn’t relate well to my proficiency asks me to work on a project for them, I express my doubts regarding the efficiency of our collaboration.
Do you prefer to decline such proposals altogether or attempt to persevere and meet the client in the middle?
Clarisse: If I foresee that I won’t be able to reach the client’s ultimate goal, I decline or suggest I should be in charge of a repositioning. When the product or the brand’s DNA doesn’t match with the taste of the expected audience, I can’t do miracles. A few new pictures won’t convince this audience. I could just do the project I’m paid for and take the money but I would feel bad because I know the brand will be disappointed when they see that, in the end, even though they like the project I’ve done for them, their “numbers” wouldn’t have changed. My main goal for my clients is to work in a way that is not only satisfying in the moment, but that also brings true benefits.
I believe there are no good or bad creative directors; good taste or bad taste is not the barometer. What matters is knowing which consumer the consultant is good at communicating with, through their own sensibility, tone, values and style. Styles are languages. You can learn and speak several languages, play with them, fuse them, invent some, you can become an expert in one of them, but you can’t understand and speak them all perfectly. Occasionally, some people believe we speak the same language, but they are not aware of the differences between theirs and mine… and vice-versa! You can’t recognise what you don’t yet know…
Big advertising or communication agencies answer to a very large spectrum of clients, so they have to be able to deal with a large spectrum of styles/languages, but none of them are highly elaborated. For this reason, they are not very good at reaching the avant-garde and sophisticated niches. I’m the opposite. I’m not highly educated; I’m still learning every day, but I’m able to converse with a specific audience that honours me.
“The lack of budget…forced me to be more creative, but also more sustainable.”
You’ve carved out a visual philosophy that is both beautiful and humble without falling into being overly luxurious or overly referential of a certain era (e.g. mid-century modern). Is this a conscious decision or instinctual?
Clarisse: ‘Humble’ is partly contextual. I have worked a lot with small budgets and it had an impact on how my style is perceived. Not that I don’t like it, on the contrary, but I had to optimise and reveal the beauty of inexpensive things. If I had been dealing more often with big budgets, you would have seen more contemporary art and design in my work for instance.
The lack of budget for my own cost of living, or from the independent brands I worked with, forced me to be more creative, but also more sustainable, as I was recycling a lot and most of the time unearthing second hand objects. Beyond this financial parameter, it’s true that I always encourage good manners in the way that brands present themselves. This involves delicacy, ecology, honesty, cleanness… It has to translate into design and images and show what I consider to be of significant matter. I won’t rank products or materials by their label, pedigree or reputation: I trust my own taste and promote everything I find good in the same way.
Being ‘not overly referential’ is conscious. I try to not be too obvious. I like nuances. A kind of snobbism makes me allergic to trends. As soon as I smell a trend, I don’t want to be part of it, but I’m aware that’s not how you make good money… so I often try to find a twist. With mid-century modern being a massive trend, in case I have to use a piece, I will do my best to give it another flavour.
“If we don’t choose the sacrifices we are willing to make in order to help the planet, then Nature will violently decide for us.”
Your Instagram states “Consumers and creative industries suffer from morbid obesity. Let’s enjoy the beauty that springs from frugality.” Could you please elaborate on this thought?
Clarisse: I believe that if we don’t choose the sacrifices we are willing to make in order to help the planet, then Nature will violently decide for us. It’s possible to activate de-growth here and there, without having to ‘return to the Middle Ages’. We don’t need to be freezing cold because of excessive air conditioning, we don’t need to inhale all these scented candles that are full of crap, we don’t need to buy mixed fabrics that require dry cleaning and can’t be recycled. That said, I will always need my smartphone and I don’t want to totally avoid taking a plane, but I have my ways to practice a more ecological lifestyle that can be enjoyable and even stylish.
Why not optimise what already exists instead of destroying it and making something totally new with more glue, more paint, more transport, more waste… My point is that it is possible (and necessary) to develop an ambitious and contemporary stylistic language in our ecological design practice. Let’s challenge our style comfort zone! I would be happy if I could inspire my Instagram followers in this way.
“Elegance goes hand in hand with decency.”
The word ‘frugality’ came to my mind when I thought about the fact that, whilst fashion has been promoting bodies that starve themselves, it has alongside bred over consumption, orgiastic fashion weeks and other monstrosities the world can’t metabolize. But I am totally aware of the complexity and even the perversity of the situation in the fashion industry, and I don’t pretend to have a solution. Most of the people who declare they hardly buy clothes anymore already have a very nice big wardrobe with more than necessary. None of the sustainable/artisanal brands are accessible to low incomes; none of them would exist without the cash the founder could get or still gets from jobs in the ‘dirty industry’, unless prosperous parents fuelled the project. Personally, I make most of my income with the brands that are the least green out of my clients. So, my position is to encourage any project that aims to go in the right direction and make them look attractive to more consumers, but I also encourage honest marketing and awareness in communication, because elegance goes hand in hand with decency.
Where/when did you begin to be aware of creativity, art, design etc.? Was it a part of your surroundings when growing up, or something you discovered on your own terms?
Clarisse: I come from a region damaged by intensive agriculture and whose patrimony has been destroyed by the two world wars. It’s a rather dull place with modest people in the northern part of France. In the 80’s and 90’s, when you were stuck in a rural area that didn’t even have anything natural anymore, your cultural life was limited to the village brass band, the mini mobile library and television. I remember feeling good in the British military cemeteries. In my region, sadly, almost each village has one or two. I used to go and visit them as a child; the grass was soft — real lawns! Graves are minimalist, identical and well aligned; there were plants that seemed more sophisticated to me — botanical varieties actually, and I felt good, a kind of peacefulness in this environment… my first feel of design I guess, and the idea that Great Britain must be a better civilization!
I was lucky that I liked school, and school liked me in return. In that sense I was very privileged. The teachers at my primary school were a couple. I used to stay for lunch at their home where I discovered classical music, old quality rugs and olive oil. A private secondary school that offered interesting activities supported me and I was introduced to the world of the bourgeoisie and consequently to my first frustrations. I wanted beautiful clothes, inspiring holidays, magazines, and a home to be proud of.
Did you choose to study a creative discipline?
Clarisse: I only have a baccalaureate [A Levels/AP]. I never completed my applied arts studies as I had to work at the same time to pay for my living costs. Internships were not an option. It’s a problem in the industry; issues relating to class and inclusion are particularly significant in the creative world.
Since you did not follow a regular academic path, what was the trajectory of your career and some of its important turning points?
Clarisse: After abandoning my studies, I took on any job that I could find, like full time babysitting, textile quality control, office work at Greenpeace, special effects for a puppet TV program, until finally starting to do something more intellectually rewarding for television. When I approached my 30s, I thought I had reached the age limit where I could try doing something I liked. But I couldn’t find where to go and ended up opening a cute café-restaurant with 3,000€. The place was fragile but special, and I was lucky to have amazing clients, many of whom became friends. They were journalists, art directors, architects, gallerists, photographers, and their positive feedback encouraged me. Some helped me meet people, and after dropping the café I started taking small creative jobs like creating content for brands’ blogs, making shop windows or giving styling ideas to magazines.
2008-9 was the turning point. The internet and the rise of a new digital era allowed me to take pictures of things I liked or did thanks to cheaper digital cameras; to share them online, and to reach people with a similar sensibility. After some time, I started meeting my peers on an international level! It felt so good. A whole world was opening up to me. The internet provided me with a kind of intensive education, infinite data, tutorials, real friends even – many who inspired me – and of course clients.
Seeing as in the past I didn’t really have access (financially, physically and/or intellectually) to a sophisticated cultural life, the web became a possibility to get introduced to various styles and visual languages via ‘intermediate offers’ I could easily understand and digest.
“Why not optimise what already exists instead of destroying it and making something totally new with more glue, more paint, more transport, more waste.”
I’m curious to find out what you mean by ‘intermediate offers’?
Clarisse: In the learning process, you integrate knowledge step by step, from the easiest to the most complicated. For example, you can’t appreciate free jazz without first being introduced to more accessible, more commercial jazz: this is what I call an ‘intermediate offer’. It’s the same with the visual arts.
So when, as an adult, I was confronted with contemporary art exhibitions or contemporary fashion for example, I didn’t have the keys to access the appreciation of these things. Fortunately, thanks to the internet which offers so much content, I ended up accessing and understanding more elaborate, more radical styles, but also more elitist.
How did this self-learning process form a multi-disciplinary career?
Clarisse: I developed an ability to understand a larger spectrum of forms and tastes and eventually built my own style. In parallel, professional projects kept becoming more and more ambitious, but were always varied. At some point I found I had enough experience relating to design and lifestyle that I positioned myself as a consultant in creative direction and strategy. This long trek brought me to a place where, at 46, I now have a good overview.
This interview has been condensed and edited by Rosie Peraza-Bragg.