Claudia Pegus Reimagines CoutureSunday, February 21, 2021
Claudia Pegus is a woman of her fashion word, and style is her incontrovertible homily.
Uncompromising in her quest to embrace quality fashion as an everyday lifestyle, she is no stranger to the nuances of this competitive, retail-facing industry. The gospel of her truth has always been centred in luxury, and for this Trinidad and Tobago-born couturière who shares dual citizenship with Germany, COVID-19 has given her a new lease on fashion, which in turn has given her clients the opportunity to reflect their priorities through everyday wear.
“My style can range from Caribbean chic to classic chic. I design for a lot of career women, and they're not just repeat customers: they're third-generation clients,” she explained exclusively to the Sunday Observer (SO) from her beautiful boutique, located on the third floor of Long Circular Mall, Port of Spain, Trinidad. “So I've had clients who started with me when they just finished university, moved on to their wedding dresses, and then they had kids who I would dress from baptism to graduation.” Pegus has most notably garbed powerful public figures, including women such as Minister Camille Robinson-Regis; attorney-at-law and wife of Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Sharon Clark-Rowley; former beauty queen and philanthropist Nicole Dyer-Griffith; and most recently, the wedding gown for Renée Butcher, wife of soca king Machel Montano, just to name a few. As someone familiar with quotidian fashion needs, Pegus explained that “happy living” has been the dress-code order of the day for the last six months, with her ready-to-wear line more popular than her CP couture line — the former catering to day-to-day activities and the latter featuring more opulent designs for weddings and other special occasions.
“During COVID, I think people have been looking for happy moments, so I sold a lot of dresses, especially cotton dresses. I would call that “happy dressing”: It's easy, looks good, doesn't cost a lot of money and is functional. Versatility has been the key,”she recapitulated.
In esteemed career circles, the Claudia Pegus client roster expands to female and male executives, the latter of whom includes ministerial officials, CEOs, ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives. “When it comes to my executive clients, respectfully I tend to keep their profile low, by request. Privacy is a part of the business that I afford to them,” she said. “At the executive level, what I will say is that people gravitate to quality rather than fashion. For me, I try to educate my clients on the value of their spending dollar. For example, I would explain to a female executive to spend money on one quality skirt than on 10 not-so-great ones. By and large, I think the people who come to me are much more interested in quality and longevity.”
A true believer in encapsulating “fashion for life”, Pegus enthused that the biggest honour of her career to date is the fact that her legacy has stood the test of time over the years with an amassed, loyal following. The unpredictability ushered in by this pandemic, however, has forced this professionally trained couturière to deeply reflect on incorporating a well-rounded business approach that is built for survival on all fronts — from boosting employee morale, to exceptional client care and brand management and of course, a thoughtful design approach that suits the current retail environment, without compromising on the integrity of her design point of view.
“This is not the first economic downturn I've seen as a designer, but it is the worst,” she openly admitted, citing restriction of travel as being one of the biggest hurdles. “It's unpredictable because in the 80s during the recession, you understood what it took to turn it around and at least a time span that it would last — but this time, it's global. We're all fishing in the dark; I have no jurisdiction over how the US and Europe will manage their challenges, and they have no jurisdiction over how we will manage ours. There is no playbook for this (…) we have to learn from each other, be each other's keeper, support each other.” In a concerted effort to offer support to the fashion community, Pegus has taken the initiative to house a number of Caribbean vendors in her atelier — such as top jeweller Josanne Mark and sought-after leather goods manufacturer Herlene Tyson, of Leather Works.
“I have a deep appreciation for quality work that matches the CP experience. These women and I have an opportunity to come together, share clients' lists, and take the industry forward as a collective,” she summarised — also giving honourable mention to fellow Trinbagonian designer Charu Lochan Dass of CLD Designs, whom she considers a dear friend.
For commerce in the fashion industry — which relies on the ebb and flow of a number of factors, including production need, quality and scalability — Pegus noted that Caribbean purchases for movement have been a longstanding appeal for style lovers around the world, which has been unceremoniously interrupted by COVID-19. These current circumstances have given Pegus a chance to explore and re-examine her own treasured memories and invaluable experiences early in her career, dating back to when she migrated to Spain, and subsequently Germany in the 1980s, to refine her art of couturière. This savvy businesswoman describes her time in Europe with great reverence and adoration.
“Couture is a fine appreciation. The embellishments, the finishing of the collars, the cuffs — these are all delicately made by hand, and I learned all of this in Europe,” she noted, further explaining that, coming from the Caribbean islands, and proving her work and her worth were much more difficult assignments — particularly in a foreign space where Caribbean fashion is often reduced to a perception of grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts. “If you come to me and you say that 'I want something exquisite', then you need to be comfortable that I can understand what your definition of 'exquisite' is, and I need to give you the confidence to believe in me. Those are lessons that I learned during my time there, and I think the reason why Europe means so much to me is because I had to prove my work in that European space.”
In turn, it therefore became an arduous yet necessary step to edify the region's purchasing public on investing in the quality and value of her designs when she returned to Trinidad and Tobago to open her atelier, which was once quietly nestled in the Woodbrook community but since relocated after the passing of her mother. “It's not that you can't afford the clothing — that thinking has to change. I always challenge people to reconsider the way in which they think about investing in themselves.”
It is this insatiable desire for growth, refinery, longevity and renewal that has anchored the inimitable Claudia Pegus brand for over 40 years — with lifelong mantras that she willingly shares with the next generation of designers and fashion professionals who often seek her advice and mentorship. At O2N Style Panel Discussion at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad in 2020, Pegus emphasised that success is transient and “you always have to be better than your last best.”
Today, that definition of best is an evolving model of self-discovery during the current pandemic. Her penultimate collection offering in 2020, “Abertina”, was one of those seminal moments in Caribbean fashion, indeed remembered for the pause it afforded — but too for the resurrection and reset afforded by Pegus when she sent her models down the aisle daring the pandemic to quintessential Caribbean sass. Her follow-up collection, which debuted in mid-February 2021, is a true test of her versatility as a couture designer and renewing the love for her craft. Dictated by the mood and feel of her clientele, the new capsule offering is a style exhalation and a breath of fresh air during a period that has thrusted isolation as a new normal. Lavishness reigns supreme as a signature CP stamp in her cutting-edge designs, generously serving silk chiffons, silk organza, and quality sequinned-backed materials in delicate, feminine silhouettes. “People want an outlet, even momentarily, especially during this time — and we saw a rise of it during the Christmas 2020 season. A glass of wine, fabulous dinner, light interactions and beautiful moments. I want this new offering to represent a preview of what is to come when we can all reunite and celebrate,” she imaginatively expressed.
Looking past the pandemic period, Claudia Pegus's message to the Caribbean fashion community is one of hope. With a clear fashion ethos, she stands consistent in her style sermon: Quality trumps all.
“So often we see beautiful work, but poor quality on closer examination. Fit and finish is so important to your standard of expectations, and I think for us as a Caribbean fashion community to make a mark on the international scene, we definitely need to understand the importance of quality,” she underscored, while encouraging others to push for excellence. “When the lights and the music of the runway are turned off and the ambiance changes to intimacy during your quiet moments with clients, always remember that you are competing to sell Caribbean fashion as a quality experience with a global standard.”
— Tenille Clarke
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