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Claire Barrow's DIY Leather Punk

Painted leather and punk iconography with one of the stars of May's Walter Pfeiffer shoot

Claire Barrow is quickly making a name for herself with her handpainted leathers that touch on DIY and punk subculture. Featured as part of Walter Pfeiffer and Robbie Spencer's May issue shoot, Barrow is soon to graduate in fashion design from the University of Westminster. Dazed Digital caught up with the creative to talk labour, lineage and passing clothes on.

Dazed Digital: When did you start painting leather jackets? Do you remember your first?
Claire Barrow:
Well I was on my year out at university at the time, jobless and just waiting for something tedious to come along in a pub or… whatever. So, I would just sit round my pokey flat watching documentaries and cult films all day. I bought a leather biker jacket from a charity shop and painted it with white clouds and blue sky, looking back maybe the simple design came from a subconscious optimism, I couldn’t even see the sky from my flat because of the tall buildings surrounding. So I did that. Then I did another with meat on it and people immediately took interest. I was lucky.

DD: Is the labour integral to the work?
Claire Barrow:
People ask me to paint their jackets because they know it's hand done by me, so I guess they like my style of painting and are buying into that.

DD: The painted leather is an icon in punk subculture. What's the best you've seen?
Claire Barrow:
On the street it is such a show stopper; people who adorn their leather jackets with bands they like, political messages – they are part of a DIY subculture, it’s not a shy piece! The best jackets are those that are kept forever and the leather is cracking and the paint fading – for people to then repaint over it.

I’m into bands like Minor Threat, Germs, Misfits, Rudimentary Peni. And Morrissey. I think using such a punk staple needs to be treated carefully as it's important for the subculture to remain authentic. So for example I’m working with high-end brand Joseph on a commercial range but I’m trying my best to make sure every piece has heart, I don’t want a line of printed leathers: there wouldn’t be any joy in putting my name to that. So it’s all limited-edition, one-off hand-painted luxury jackets, trousers and bags.

DD: You're coming up to graduation. What can we expect from your final collection?
Claire Barrow:
I am finishing at the University of Westminster fashion design this month and we have a show on the 24th of May. My graduate collection pays homage to women who sleep with artists, particularly those who were the mistresses of artists from the Surrealist movement. So it’s all focused on how you would feel about fucking a famous artist. In the 1920s that would be so much more admirable than boys in bands. It’s very textural; I’ve created/hand rendered all my own fabrics for it whether hand-drawn screens printed onto silk or jackets constructed entirely from acrylic paint. So there’s not much leather, but the collection is still very hand-done, fitting with my usual DIY aesthetic. I would love to think my clothes are kept; passed down, swapped and sold on eBay or in charity shops. That they never die, like an artwork in a gallery.

DD: Where do you see yourself in the future?
Claire Barrow:
It would be great to show in London each season. I don’t know what’s in store but I’ll be happy as long as I have no creative restraints!