Clare Waight Keller on Uniqlo: C, Embracing Change, and Leaving Luxury

The British designer chats exclusively with Marie Claire about her latest project.

A woman wearing a blue dress from Clare Waight Keller's Spring 2024 Uniqlo:C collection
(Image credit: Uniqlo)

It would be foolish to doubt Clare Waight Keller's instincts. The British fashion designer helped Tom Ford fine-tune the sexiness of his Gucci tenure and paid proper homage to Hubert de Givenchy in her three years as the fashion house's first female creative director. She made Meghan Markle's wedding dress. Still, when Waight Keller launched Uniqlo: C in 2023, she had to field questions about her decision:  What compelled Waight Keller to leave the gilded world of luxury behind?

"Change is part of my ethos and philosophy in work and life. It pushes and challenges you, makes you evolve and learn," Waight Keller exclusively tells Marie Claire over Zoom. The designer admits it's a paradox, but flux is the constant of her career. "People who stay in place end up being quite comfortable in a routine—but I don't want to ever be stuck doing one thing for a long time. I've stayed at some brands for two years, others for six or seven, but it's always been the right time to make the change," she says, referencing her styling stints at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren and creative directing gigs at Chloé and Pringle of Scotland. "I had expressed what I wanted to; it was the time to move on and do something different."

When an old friend from Waight Keller's time at Pringle reached out in 2020 and offered to connect her with the Uniqlo team, she readily jumped at the opportunity to, once again, pivot.

A portrait of Clare Waight Keller

The illustrious designer herself: Clare Waight Keller.

(Image credit: Clare Waight Keller)

Working outside of Waight Keller's London home base was another draw. "In addition to the culture, I've always loved Japan's aesthetic taste," she describes, tuning in from Tokyo, where, for her, the moon is rising while the day has only just begun in New York. "Japanese design is done with purpose and has a sense of beauty and simplicity. Everything has meaning. I knew it would be fascinating to work in that environment and understand how to approach business with that sense of perfection."

It was also the scale of the partnership that was most exciting for Waight Keller. With 2,434 stores worldwide and an average price tag of $50, Uniqlo: C is easily the designer's most widespread and accessible endeavor to date. "When you work for luxury houses, you're talking to a much smaller audience. I love that [Uniqlo] is so democratic: It's interesting to now reach people all over the globe from all different walks of life." Waight Keller has already dressed the royals. It was time to wardrobe the everyday woman.

Clare Waight Keller's new collection for Uniqlo: C

Roomy suiting from Uniqlo: C's Spring/Summer 2024 collection.

(Image credit: Uniqlo)

Initially launching with a 34-piece autumn/winter 2023 collection, Waight Keller's Uniqlo: C also allows her to step out from the roof of a heritage house and into the sun as a solo designer.

"It's the first time I'm designing without any brand DNA in front of me. It's an avenue to explore my own feelings and what I personally want to put out in the world as a message," she expresses. "I [can] dig into the things I've always loved from a design perspective as well as my personal go-to wardrobe pieces; the things I've always wanted to make but never felt were appropriate for the house I was working for." Linen-blend parachute pants and a nylon tote bag don't exactly blend into the glossy world of Givenchy, but they're perfect in Waight Keller's Uniqlo collections.

Clare Waight Keller's new collection for Uniqlo: C

A cerulean color story in action, featuring a knit long-sleeve, lightweight cardigan, and gauzy floral skirt.

(Image credit: Uniqlo)

In Uniqlo: C Spring/Summer 2024, Waight Keller's second collection with the Japanese retailer, she pulled inspiration from the artist communities in South London. ("There, it's this great eclectic mix of culture and a vibrant atmosphere of creativity," she describes.) The designer synthesized that spirit into a collection that feels like a glass of lemonade on the first day of summer. Gauzy maxi skirts, sheer crepe blouses, and the collection's color palette, ranging from bright cherry red to azure blue, encapsulate the season's laissez-faire mood. 

Waight Keller's latest capsule for Uniqlo is buoyed by lightness—a quality that, the designer confesses, is reactionary to what's observed in fashion. "There has been a trend over the last five years or so of heavy, very structured fabrications and strength through silhouette, which I completely appreciate. But the reality is that in the summer, you want the opposite of that.” When it’s too hot to even hear yourself think, you reach for a day dress with breezy flutter sleeves and an adjustable drawstring waist. Or a billowy blouse and a pair of EVA rubber sandals that weigh next to nothing. “It’s the sense that nothing is dragging you down,” Waight Keller says.

Clare Waight Keller's new collection for Uniqlo: C

The ideal springtime errand-running outfit: strappy sandals paired with a printed camisole dress and an easy trench coat.

(Image credit: Uniqlo)

The designer has always had a keen intuition for designing clothing that women actually want to wear: boho maxi dresses at Chloé, power blazers at Givenchy, and cashmere sweaters at Pringle. A simple and sweet wedding gown for Markle.

For Waight Keller's Uniqlo: C, her instincts compelled her to make easy clothes. "[As women,] we still have a lot to battle and cope with in the world today. The last thing you want is complications when you get dressed in the morning," the designer states. Here, she invokes a word that's become, admittedly, hackneyed: Women in 2024 strive for "effortlessness." But with Waight Keller at the wheel, "effortlessness" doesn't feel too out of reach anymore.

Clare Waight Keller's Uniqlo: C Spring 2024 collection

A breezy blue floral maxi gown from Uniqlo:C's Spring 2024 drop.

(Image credit: Uniqlo)

Uniqlo: C launched its Spring/Summer 2024 in two parts: one installment on February 22, the second on March 8. Shop a selection of seasonal highlights below.

Shop Uniqlo: C Spring/Summer 2024

Emma Childs
Fashion Features Editor

Emma is the fashion features editor at Marie Claire, where she writes deep-dive trend reports, zeitgeisty fashion featurettes on what style tastemakers are wearing, long-form profiles on emerging designers and the names to know, and human interest vignette-style round-ups. Previously, she was Marie Claire's style editor, where she wrote shopping e-commerce guides and seasonal trend reports, assisted with the market for fashion photo shoots, and assigned and edited fashion celebrity news.

Emma also wrote for The Zoe Report, Editorialist, Elite Daily, Bustle, and Mission Magazine. She studied Fashion Studies and New Media at Fordham University Lincoln Center and launched her own magazine, Childs Play Magazine, in 2015 as a creative pastime. When she's not waxing poetic about niche fashion topics, you'll find her stalking eBay for designer vintage, reading literary fiction on her Kindle, and baking banana bread in her tiny NYC kitchen.