Clare Schreenan considers herself one of the lucky few who manage to transform their childhood love into a successful career.
The Ballarat fashion designer and founder of Clasch Design is at the very front of a maturing and broadening approach to fashion in Ballarat, and a growing desire for her and other designer’s bespoke creations has drawn her a clientele not only locally but from around the state.
Schreenan is not just a designer. She works with her clients right through the cutting and sewing process.
“There is design aspect to it; there are dressmaking aspects to it; there are stylist aspects to it. On my card it says ‘designer-dressmaker’,” says Schreenan.
“I'm one of those rare people that, ever since I could remember, from 10 onward, that's all I've wanted to do.”
Like many children who grew up before the era of cheap, disposable clothing, Clare Schreenan remembers the rattle of the sewing machine as a background soundtrack to life.
“Mum made a lot of our clothes as kids; a lot of mothers did back then,” she says.
“But my auntie, my mum's sister, she used to go down the street and see something in the shop window and would be able to go home and make it. I got a bit of it from her. There was that influence.”
By the late 1970s and early 1980s the fashion world had been broken up by the rise of punk and the disintegration of many old school couture houses which had catered to older, more conservative buyers.
“Vivienne Westwood has always been my favourite, ever since I was a teenager; and even now she's still really inspiring,” says Schreenan.
“The style of Dior – his style is so classic and it doesn't date. As I've got older that is the style that really inspires me.”
“I've always loved fashion; I was really keen to teach myself how to sew. Growing up in Ballarat as a teenager I didn't want to wear the same clothes as everyone else, I wanted something different. I had no choice but to learn to make them myself.”
But my auntie, my mum's sister, she used to go down the street and see something in the shop window and would be able to go home and make it. I got a bit of it from her. There was that influence.Clare Schreenan
Schreenan learnt to sew at high school and then did night classes, before moving to Melbourne to work as a machinist.
“The first place I worked for was called Cliché,” she says.
“I think they were called that. They used to make high end, top end lingerie and sleepwear. So it was an – interesting – factory to work in, but I was 17 so I learnt. After doing that for a year I went to Melbourne College of Textiles for two years.”
Schreenan studied cutting, pattern making and sketching.
“I've never been the greatest drawer but I could draw clothes and they taught you how to draw folds in fabric and such. That was a good asset to have.”
Returning to Ballarat in 2006, Schreenan started her studio, Clasch Design, using a title drawn from the first three letters of her first and last names, and making ranges of clothing.
“I came up with that when I was about 15. Never changed it, didn't seem to see the point,” Schreenan says.
“In the early 90s I just designed 15-piece ranges and made up one of each size and sold them on consignment in about three or four shops around Melbourne.
“But after doing that for two or three years I realised I needed to learn more. So that's when I went back to work in the bridal industry.”
Of course, making dresses for the ‘most important day of someone’s life’ is a fraught business.
“It’s one of the things I enjoy the most, believe it or not,” says Schreenan.
“There is always the odd bride that can be tricky to deal with. But I find that most of the brides that come to me, they actually want something a little bit different.
“They are quite open to advice from me regarding styling. I find the wedding dress is really satisfying to make. Some of them are really challenging, which can be a bit scary – but that's part of what I love too, just working out how I will make something.
I'm one of those rare people that, ever since I could remember, from 10 onward, that's all I've wanted to do.Clare Schreenan
“To be involved in that design process, it's like a collaboration with the client. Occasionally I'll get someone bringing a picture and they say, “I want that.” And I'll do that for them, but probably 95 per cent of the time they have an idea and a few pictures.”
Clasch Design’s clientele now come to her studio from around Victoria.
“People come from Hamilton, Horsham, Geelong, Ararat, Stawell… I do have a few clients that come from Melbourne.
“Some of them might be from here originally, so they heard about me through someone here and then it's easy enough for them to come back for fittings because they're visiting family or something. Through that I have actually got a couple of other clients who are just Melbourne-based.”
Clasch Design is based out of Schreenan’s home in Sebastopol.
This article is part of a new series in The Courier focussing on women making paths for themselves in the arts and design world. You can read more and explore multimedia at thecourier.com.au