You may have virtually witnessed the youthful, foxy beauty of Japanese model and actress Kiko Mizuhara in her Silk Ruched Top, or global supermodel Bella Hadid in her Hand Painted Sheer Silk Dress, or even the Instagram stylish queen of memeing and online activism Patia (of @patiasfantasyworld) in her chic Romeo Bodysuit—each piece full of mystique and sophistication, glowing with an understated allure that has caused women all over the web to line up for a piece of the magic.
Today, NBGA takes you for a look behind the scenes as we speak with the designer behind it all. Claire founded Tank Air, the slow fashion brand suiting up all of our favourite girls next door in luxury deadstock fabric, with a vision of ethical sustainability, a starking contrast against the unethical backdrop of your mother’s favourite department shop or of the shopping malls full of fast fashion that are now becoming relics of the past. Tank Air makes a bold statement on the Ethics and Sustainability section of their online site. “We try to design slowly and with intent to make no more or less than is needed.”
Claire explains her thought process to me over the phone, following a warm conversation about our current favourite wines–orange, and whites from France, her favourite seaweed snacks, and her then-recent quarantine birthday party spent inside the house.
I wanted to be able to make really high quality clothing without it being so, so expensive, especially your staple pieces that you wear all the time. I wanted to provide people with staple pieces that last for a really long time as well. Claire has an intuitive understanding of what feels good in life and she wants us to have more of it: beauty, simplicity, pleasure.
As for her earliest style muse, Claire’s was completely organic, au natural: “I grew up with my mom. She’s from Thailand and she was a model when she was 22. Growing up, I was surrounded by her and her friends and they were also models and I think that’s really when I started to love clothes. I associated what they were wearing with their personalities and I don’t know if you’ve met that many Thai women but at least the Thai women in my family are very loud, all drama. They’re hilarious. They’re so confident with who they are. They’re happy. They’re powerful. I made the association from a very young age between clothing and personality.
How does Claire know when a piece is finished and ready to be shared with the world? Her secret is endless trial and error, sample after sample. “I won’t release something until it fits perfectly. Tank Air is small, so I’m the fit model, but I will also have my friends come over and try on the same thing. We’re all different shapes and sizes and heights and I make sure that it fits them too. It’s only when I know that the fit is perfect. It’s the proportion and the shape. It just takes a while to get right.”
Speaking of proportion, that tends to be what stands out to Claire the most when it comes to design.
“It’s so important. Proportion can sometimes fuck up your day or it can really make it so much better. Silhouette as well. The way the piece looks when it’s on the body. I love clean lines. Basic, staple pieces. Dependable fabric quality. When the fabric is cheap, even if you don’t know anything about fabric, you’ll think to yourself, OK, this feels like it’s going to dissolve in my hand.
I can totally see the way that Claire’s design priorities are strongly reflected within the pieces themselves. From the sleek, ruched Romeo Bodysuit to the dreamy Tank Air Puffer described as the official uniform of heaven, you could be anywhere in Claire’s pieces. You could be going on a bike ride in Italy, running through a rainstorm in Paris, or you could be grocery shopping in your hometown suburbs with your friends and it would work. A total hybrid of sexy and cozy, you can take the clothes anywhere.
“I wanted all of the pieces to be that way. When I’m designing, I go one of two ways. I either want someone to feel really hot when they’re wearing my clothes or I want them to feel really cozy and comfortable.”
The official Tank Air story is a little piece of metaphysical poetry.
Tank Air believes aesthetic shapes perspective. That design is a conduit for mindset. We design clothing to elicit a state of being: bold without being loud, sophisticated without being boring, and playful without losing depth.
I know that the end product is a piece of clothing,” Claire explains. “But I want the real end product to be the feeling that you get when you put on Tank Air. I want there to be a really tangible feeling involved. I feel so good! I look hot! You know? You put it on and it allows you to go out into your day with a positive, comfortable mindset. I think about comfort when I’m designing a very form fitting piece.
In three words, Claire’s creative aura is intentional, first and foremost. “I’m very intentional with the pieces that I put out. I want every single piece to live in your wardrobe for a very long time.”
“Relaxed is the second one. I try not to take things too seriously.” Intentional, relaxed, and… “My third word is emotional. When you first look at the pieces, they’re quite minimal, but I have an emotional connection with every piece. I draw a lot from my Thai heritage when it comes to making branding decisions.”
One hundred percent, I see what Claire is talking about. It only makes sense to mention that she is a Taurus, an earth sign ruled by Venus, the planet of love, beauty, pleasure, leisure, and luxury. Her energy is grounded and sensual and the emotion is very under wraps. You have to look for it to see it. Tank Air relays to people a contemporary, fresh, and stylish message but it comes from a nostalgic, sensitive place. A place connected to something a little more human. Loving.
To any young designer just starting out, Claire’s one overriding piece of advice for you would be, “to test things on your friends first and try to save as much money as you can for as long as possible.” Do your research, girls and boys! I ended up going downtown to the fabric district, doing the leg work that way. It helps because I’ve developed a personal relationship with the people I’m working with. If you can’t see first-hand what’s going on, how can you control anything? The more detached you are and the more people there are in between you and your product, the more screwed you’re going to be. Sorry, I don’t know if that was rude—there’s just no control whatsoever!”
I ask Claire: What, to you, does it mean to have style?
“When someone has their own perspective on life, it comes out in their clothes, in their accessories, no matter what. Their personal perspective comes through into the world. There’s a signature. Like a scent. Certain people have a very strong aura, or atmosphere, that they’re able to bring into a space when they enter it. Once you tap into that and you have an understanding of what your personal atmosphere or vibe is, you can locate it externally, even in pieces of clothing. It’s like they’ve developed this language and it’s consistent. They never hop on any quick trend or at least they know which trends not to hop on.”
I love this. So elegant and almost spiritual. Style living at the intersection of intuition and expression. Claire’s idea that intuitive people are able to possess a sort of stylishness just because they know what they’re about and what they’re trying to communicate, period, is a breath of fresh air from the mainstream style of thinking that suggests one personal’s style can simply be located by scrolling the Instagram explore page or flipping the pages of a vintage Vogue your aunt once purchased at the airport. Of course, these tools help, but first you need that self-awareness, that natural inclination of knowing what you like and what makes you feel good.
It was these things, beauty and silhouette and sexiness and courage, that led her into the realm of fashion design, but the ethical side of things soon appealed greatly to her, demanding her attention.
I didn’t go into this thinking that I’m a sustainable brand. These days, I’m a lot more thoughtful. I buy a lot less. Even when we (Claire and her boyfriend, the second half of the power team behind Tank Air’s genius branding and smooth operation) moved into this studio, it has one light that I bought and nothing else. I just can’t find anything that speaks to me and I try not to settle for anything. I really try to consume less, save money more often than I’m spending it. And I’ll definitely spend a little bit more on something that makes me happy when I walk into the living room. Something that makes me think, Oh, you’re so beautiful! throughout the day, every day.
“But even just with the brand itself, I feel like when I first started I would look at other small brands to compare and take notes. I’d look at what they’re doing and see how maybe I can do it better, just in terms of efficiency, or just to see how other brands are marketing being a small brand. I always noticed that what they were marketing were the benefits of being a small brand because no matter what you’re doing as a small brand, you’re going to be sustainable because you’re just not making that many pieces. No matter what, you’re in clear water. I wanted to challenge myself. I’d think: Okay, how can I do an even better job at this? Because, of course, eventually a small brand that is successful is going to become a big brand and there’s going to be way more of a negative environmental impact. If you’re not thinking early on about how to implement your ethics, you’ll unfortunately just become a big brand that’s doing more harm than good. You’ll be just another one of the brands that we’re all hating on right now.”
Hilariously, Claire’s comment brings us full circle, right back to her initial description of her creative aura being intentional. Perfect. Girls, if you’re looking for a designer to invest with guilt-free then look no further than Tank Air. It doesn’t take a psychic to see the longevity embodied in the timelessness of Claire’s designs, from simple/sexy tank tops to mini dresses reminiscent of a more emotionally evolved Carrie Bradshaw.
Don’t forget to keep up with Tank Air on Instagram.
Thank you, Claire!