Claire Geist lives for artistic collaborations. Seated at a long wooden table at the Swallow Café in Bushwick, she tells me about one of her favorites. It was two years ago with Brooklyn based Swedish jewelry designer Annika Inez, of By Boe. Claire tells me that she felt compelled to work with Inez because of a shared interest in the question of “what it means to be a modern woman.” Sharp, independent and creative, Claire Geist seems to fit the definition of “modern woman” pretty well herself.
It seems like everyone we obsess over on Instagram, TV, and even in person needs to fit under the title of a “triple threat” these days. At just twenty-four years old, Claire fits that title unequivocally. Though she’s already well-known as a fashion blogger and photographer (she insists that she is far from a pro when it comes to taking pictures), what may come as a surprise is that Claire has begun to develop a solid career in tech. “Right now I work for Clarifai, which is a machine learning algorithm that will detect what’s in your image. I create data sets that will teach this algorithm what everything is in that image.”
Despite her talent for blogging, Claire has no intention of turning it into a career– though she did have an opportunity to go down that road back in 2010. “There was a while there where I had an agent.” Claire reflects, “I was invited by this now defunct website called WearDrobe which was like a twee version of LookBook. They invited 20 to 30 bloggers, like Tavi Gevinson, to this conference and we spent the weekend meeting David Karp [founder of Tumblr], visiting Beacon’s Closet and just meeting a bunch of local brands.”
Claire says that this event was the moment she realized she could make a job out of blogging, but she opted instead to keep it as a hobby. She explains, “I still consider it more of a part-time, side thing. Once your life and your job blend, it gets weird.”
Claire is one of the few bloggers who has managed to stay in complete control of her public persona, she’s done so by choosing not to focus on sponsored content; “When you’re trying to make money, you get less creative and personal. You might try to make someone buy something you don’t agree with or they don’t agree with.”
Instead, Claire uses her best judgment when it comes to promoting products. “I still work with brands but I’m more selective now. When I was with an agency they didn’t want me to work with independent creators because of the money aspect. I get that, but I don’t want to ask someone to pay me when they’re already struggling to pay for their studio,” she explains.
It seems she has done just fine without the help of an agency: with over 13,000 Instagram followers and several profiles by Teen Vogue and Refinery29, Claire has been able to use her internet presence to build exactly the image that she wants. One that stays true to her own creative sensibilities and only features brands that she herself supports.
Supporting independent designers and being able to trace where your clothing comes from is something that Claire feels more consumers should be aware of. “I just want people to be aware and vote with their money. I want people to buy less and keep things longer,” she says.
The act of holding onto old clothing is something that Claire has always done; a habit passed down from her mother who used to drag an eight year old Claire to thrift stores and antique shops. Claire didn’t begin to appreciate the magic of owning a piece of clothing with a history of its own until she was a bit older. “My earliest memories are of going to the salvation army with her and being bored out of my mind! Then I grew up and I started to love it,” Claire continues. “Whenever I feel compelled to wear something, it’s because I find something interesting about the piece of clothing itself. I feel like everything has its own life and I just throw it all together.”
It’s obvious that Claire isn’t sweating in front of a mirror for hours, trying to piece together the perfect outfit. However, she doesn’t necessarily look like she just threw on the first thing she picked out of her closet either. It says a lot that when you meet Claire, the first thing your eyes fall to isn’t her clothing but her fierce red hair (dyed since she was 16 for a hair modeling gig) and the equally arresting personality that comes with it.
Claire speaks like someone who doesn’t filter her thoughts, and she radiates an energy that is absolutely contagious. She’s also surprisingly awkward which may be one of the reasons why she shuns the sort of fame that her extensive fan-base could probably grant her. In short, Claire isn’t trying to be cool, but she is anyway.
Her clothes are pretty cool too, and yes, everything she is wearing when I meet her tells its own story. There’s the Victorian baby’s ring she wears on her pinky finger, the crushed iron cigarette dangling from her neck and the Greek sailor inspired hat that she admits she bought new from Aritzia (“Great store, I love that place”).
Claire began blogging at the age of 13 when her family moved from Queens to Buffalo, in 2006. A self-proclaimed dork, Claire actually made friends immediately at her new school upstate but still felt creatively stifled and, well, a bit bored. “I started just going online and reading about fashion week. That was right around the time that Tavi Gevinson started blogging and I just sort of found my community,” she says with an air of certainty.
And so began Claire’s endeavor to carve out a unique niche in fashion, one that was all her own. “My father is a photographer but I for some reason felt compelled to take my own photos. So I started setting up studio space in our attic. I had never had an attic before and I remember that I just always wanted to be up in that big space surrounded by old things,” explains Claire. “ I just started making these little worlds and making outfits. Almost every weekend I would try to replicate an outfit that I had seen on the runway.”
Growing up in a family of artists turned out to be a huge influence on the direction her life would take, but she specifically names her mother as one of her biggest inspirations. “My mom is bipolar and schizophrenic,” Claire tells me. “She kind of exited my life when I was in high school. We don’t really talk anymore–not because we’re on bad terms, just because my mom can’t really be in the world. She lives by herself and she doesn’t keep a phone or a computer or even do mail. She just lives in her world. I haven’t spoken to her in three years but she still inspires me.”
Claire paints a picture of a whimsical mother who let canaries roam free in her childhood home, and made collages of interesting hand gestures cut from the pages of the Vogue magazines she would keep around the house. A graphic designer who dabbled in photography herself, it’s easy to see where Claire inherited her own creative proclivities. Claire says she always asks her father in what ways she’s similar to her mother. From an outside perspective, it’s hard not to imagine a likeness of spirit, if not in temperament, between the two women.
Despite having two creative professionals as parents, Claire has always been incredibly hands-on with her work, refusing even at the beginning to let her father take her blog photos. Though she has dabbled in modeling in the past, Claire believes that the most interesting part of a photograph comes from behind the camera. “I love collaborating but I prefer to have my work be entirely within my control. I don’t like having my physical presence be my only contribution to a photo. Editing, setting up the photo, that is more interesting to me. Having control over something like that is so satisfying,” she says. “I mean it’s my blog, I like to feel like everything on there is mine.”
That sort of self-reliance and independence is very much within the realm of what people generally believe the “modern woman” to be. But it’s more than that. It’s a depth of personality and a confidence in one’s own voice. A combination of quirks and conflicting features. To sum it up, a modern woman cannot be neatly confined into one small box. So does Claire Geist fit that mold? Perhaps, but we’ll leave Claire to define that for herself. Just as she’s always done.