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My First Muse

Clare wears Binkie Dress

Everyone, meet Clare Irby, my first ever muse.

Clare and I both attended the most awesome Sixth Form College together in Cambridge called CATS (Cambridge Arts & Sciences). What a predictive hint that my life would literally be involved with cats almost 20 years later. Not until recently that I've just discovered why this place was so much fun - CATS was the place parents send their rebellious kids that previously got expelled or rejected from other institutions to. But to me, this place holds a special place in my heart as the top school/college I've ever attended. I enjoyed going there so much that it didn't even feel like school and I used to get sad every weekend because I couldn't wait to get back to it again. And did I learn a lot from this place? Yes I did. I aced all my A-Levels and Foundation.

Our first shoot with Clare in THE Galliano Dress

When I first met Clare, this tall English beauty in the Art building, we weren't in the same class. She was in the year above me. But she was always stunning without trying and I kept wishing we could do a project together. Even before I made a proper outfit, I plucked up the courage and asked her if I could photograph her. She said yes, and I put her in my first Galliano dress I bought and we did the shoot, so effortlessly. I've now lost most of the photos, but Clare's framed some of them - the work I shot on film and developed/printed in the dark room. she understood what I wanted aesthetically and our artistic connection was just spot on.

From then I kept using her as my model and our friendship continued. She got me through my Fashion A-Level, as well as Foundation. Even though, by then, she was no longer at CATS and couldn't join the Final Show. The finale dress that was designed especially for her was never worn by anybody else. I had two guy friends walk the dress on the hanger around the catwalk/stage in her honour. That's how much Clare meant to me. She's always embraced the whole free spirit ideals before I got to fully understand it.

I also have her to be grateful for. When interviewing for St. Martins, she came with me, dressed in the full attire, and 6" glass stilettos. We lugged around huge portfolios and some work, sat in the corridor and scared every other candidate in the process. I went in for the interview, Clare stripped off her coat, left in the barely-there ribbon dress of mine, timed it and followed me into the room five minutes later with a long stemmed rose in her mouth and sensually handed it to the legendary Howard Tangye. At that very moment, I knew I made the cut. Like who else, back then, would bring a live model to their college interview?

Today, she is a full-fledged painter and roams the world like she intended to, she even regularly comes to my Island Home, Koh Tao, as she too has found this to be her Paradise. It is funny how some people come in and go out of your life. Clare and I lost touch for a bit, but once we were both out of our career whirlwind, we calmed down and looked for those that really made an impact along the way. We often talk about our past adventures like old people, from the very first day I met her 26 years ago. In fact, when we last met, we did a photoshoot again, just like the old days. It was nostalgic, but it makes total sense to think about how I have become a designer I am today and what she did to contribute in the making. It's comforting to know how true we've been to ourselves - that I am still creating something that is relevant to women like her then and now, and/or maybe it's the other way round.


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