When you think of the races, what springs to mind?
If it is the outlandish jockey outfits or glamorous frocks of women drinking Pimm’s in the stands, then there is someone you simply have to meet.
Let me introduce Claire Featherstone, a fashion designer and mum from Lodsworth, who is given the job of transforming such outfits from sketches into reality.
“I have been making dresses since I was at school,” explains Claire. “I then studied textiles at Leeds University.”
Claire went to work for a clothing importer, but found friends were always struggling to find the perfect dress.
“What with invitations for parties, racing at Goodwood, polo at Cowdray, and there is always a wedding, I realised there was a need for handmade, unique, pretty dresses and began to make them again,” she says with a smile.
However, it was Claire’s husband who caused her work to, quite literally, take off on another track.
“My husband works for Goodwood, but on the motor circuit side,” Claire says. “He had his desk next to a lady who kept being sent fabrics for the jockey outfits and didn’t know where to start with them.
“He mentioned they were like the fabrics I use to make dresses and she got in touch.”
But the outfits were not for just any race or ordinary jockey – and this was no normal fabric.
“It was for the charitable Magnolia Cup held on Ladies’ Day at Goodwood where celebrities compete,” recalls Claire.
BIG NAMES LIKE VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
Taking the delicate silks from big names, such as Vivienne Westwood and Amanda Wakeley, and making them work over heavy-duty body protection certainly was not short of challenges.
“It had to fit over an air bag that would inflate if they fell off the horse, which was a big bit of kit, so we had to play a lot with how the fabric was cut,” Claire says.
“Unravelling the Westwood revealed she had sent a giant Union flag which she had signed, so working that into a shirt was not easy.
“Cutting is most important as you need to get the panels right,” she adds. “The Wakeley design was gorgeous, but completely see-through, so I had to line the whole thing.”
Claire has created the outfits since the race began in 2011 and is looking forward to what this year brings.
“You never know what you are going to get,” she laughs. “I am a fabric person so I am excited to see what they are like, the brighter the better and anything shiny as they take better photos.”
So if she could design an outfit for anyone, who would Claire pick?
“To be honest what I really enjoy is people who have a great figure but don’t have the confidence to go for something more revealing,” she replies. “Working with them is really rewarding, and 90 per cent of people are like that, it’s just about having the guts.”
Once again this is where Claire’s skills in getting the cut just right are key.
“I always tell people to bring a bundle of their clothing with them, ones they like and ones they don’t and from that we can work out what works,” she explains.
From bridal dresses to ball gowns, day dresses to christening gowns Claire can turn her needle to it all.
“I am also making chemo headscarves,” she adds. “It is a random sideline which came about after one of my regulars got in touch and asked me to make 50 to go with her outfits.”
To find out more about Claire’s work, visit www.featherstonefrocks.com