A design by Morgan Clifford ’08 was recently worn by actress Bailey Noble of HBO’S “True Blood” at a Pre-Emmy party, and was then pictured in Gotham magazine. While most designers strive for – and maybe even expect – to have their designs worn on a red carpet, Clifford says the opportunity “kind of came out of nowhere.” That’s because Clifford has been taking an indirect route to the runway.
Clifford landed in New York shortly after graduating from William Smith with a degree in psychology and set on a path of “trial and error.” At first, she says, she would go into a department store and take a dress she loved into the fitting room so she could write down what the fabric was. She now spends time in fabric stores looking at swatches and taking samples. She also has done really extensive research on Google to find and develop relationships with about 50 stylists who have young, Hollywood clients who fit the Disney to late 20s profile – the audience for Clifford’s designs, which she refers to as “elegant but young contemporary.”
Having a lifelong passion for fashion, many expected Clifford to pursue a degree from one of New York’s many fashion schools. However, she chose HWS, where she was a member of the lacrosse and squash teams and participated in the semester abroad program to France.
“I’m definitely happy I chose HWS. It helped me become a well-rounded individual and I worked hard there,” she says, adding while she always knew she’d go to New York to try to pursue a career in fashion, she didn’t feel that a fashion school would be the right fit for her.
“I feel like in a world of the Fashion Institute of Technology and others like it, I wouldn’t have survived because the people there are so talented in sketching, sewing and draping – and I don’t have that real fashion background and talent,” says Clifford. “I have the work ethic and the passion. When I go into J.J. Pattern (the pattern company I’m working with), I sit down and go over every detail with them so they can do a better sketch.”
When the pattern is created, Clifford again works with J.J. Pattern to hone the details until it is the design she envisions. She then brings them the fabric and has a sample made. She currently has about 12 sample designs, but recently learned the hard way that she needs to have another set created.
Prior to the Emmys, she had sent three pieces to Noble in L.A., not knowing whether she would choose to wear one of her designs. She was surprised and “thrilled” to see her wearing an olive green set to the Emmys event. A few days later, she received a call from a stylist in New York whose client was interested in wearing one of Clifford’s designs for a morning television show there. However, the excitement of that call quickly turned to dismay when she realized the samples of interest hadn’t yet returned from L.A. and she’d missed a potential opportunity to have a second design seen on a celebrity in just a few days’ time.
“I’ve had many more inquiries since,” she says. “There are a lot of people who have me on the back burner, who are just waiting for the right client to have the right event for one of my outfits. I need to have more samples ready.”
Her next step is to try to get three to five pieces on celebrities to get her name out there, and then she will start talking to boutiques about carrying pieces on a small scale.
Clifford also aspires to have the “go-to coat line” and is focusing on “making amazing coats that are elegant but very edgy at the same time.” Coats, she says, are also a passion of hers and she attributes that in part to chilly winters spent in Geneva, where she had many opportunities to wear them.
She is currently working in advertising for Hamptons Magazine while working on her own designs. When she first arrived in New York, she held a position as a buyer at Calypso St. Barth, then moved to Alice and Olivia, where she was assistant buyer.
While friends and family urge her to celebrate her first red carpet appearance as a sign she’s “made it,” Clifford says she’s still a long way from success.
“It’s a tiny stepping stone. There’s still so much work to do,” she says, acknowledging it is a big step in the right direction. “It’s a big deal. People spend their whole lives trying to get on the red carpet. Now I feel like it’s possible I can do this.”
In the photo above, actress Bailey Noble wears an olive two-piece design created by Morgan Clifford ’08 to a pre-Emmy event.