Scotsman Obituaries: Chris Clyne, haute couture fashion designer

Chris Clyne, haute couture fashion designer. Born: 8 July 1946. Died: 4 December 2021, aged 75

Fashion designer Chris Clyne at her home in 2013
Fashion designer Chris Clyne at her home in 2013

In 1990, I was standing next to Chrissie Clyne in the entrance hall of The Royal Scottish Academy when the Princess of Wales, for whom she had already designed clothes, arrived for a fundraising auction in aid of Waverley Care. The moment she spotted Chrissie, Diana ignored protocol and broke away from her entourage to talk to her.

This was the impact Chris Clyne had on so many of the people she encountered. Small in stature, red haired with a bubbly all-embracing and sometimes infuriating personality (her timekeeping in her private life was exasperating), you simply couldn’t ignore her, nor would you want to. Before relocating her workshop to London in 2017, she and her talented seamstresses had kitted out most of Scotland’s finest, numbering among her clientele members of the Scottish aristocracy and several internationally recognised stars of stage, screen and television, about whom she remained discrete.

Christine Jennifer Clyne was born in Porthcawl and grew up in Wales. She attended Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire and afterwards studied and trained in couture in London and Paris. She launched her first business, Buckle Under, with business partner and friend Viv Knowland in the early 1970s, creating clothes and accessories for London’s finest, and building such a strong following that keeping up with demand became the challenge.

Following her marriage in 1973 to land and heritage director David MacLehose, she arrived in Edinburgh, where she launched her own business and commuted during the week to a showroom in London. The couple had two daughters, Polly and Coco, before separating amicably.By then Chrissie had developed a genuine love for Scotland and its capital city, attracting a significant following for her elegant, stylish, strikingly original and not exactly inexpensive, haute couture clothes which regularly featured in glossy fashion magazines, on television and in films, and latterly on stage for the annual Fingask Follies event held at Fingask Castle. It was on her initiative that several unforgettable charity fundraising events were organised in Edinburgh in the late 1980s. She staged catwalk extravaganzas in the McEwen Hall, at Hopetoun House and Harburn House in West Lothian. There was the Oriental Ball in aid of the Children’s Cancer Fund at the Royal Museum of Scotland in 1989, the first time such an event had taken place in that remarkable building.

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At Chrissie’s suggestion the catering was provided by a consortium of Edinburgh’s top Indian, Bangladeshi and Chinese restaurants. Over 800 tickets were sold, with celebrities in attendance including actress Patricia Hodge, broadcaster Gordon Honeycombe and the Duke of Braganza, Pretender to the Throne of Portugal.Another triumph was the Fete Champetre held in a marquee outside Inverleith House in the Royal Botanic Garden, where guests were instructed to wear regency clothes. Cabaret was provided by That Swing Thang, the Mike d’Abo Band, Kit & The Widow, and Dillie Keane of Fascinating Aida. There was a popular Gorbachev Vodka Slammers Tent and the dancing went on well into the early hours of the morning, with significant funds raised and divided between the 369 Art Gallery in the Cowgate and cancer and children’s charities in Scotland.

In the early 1990s, she and I collaborated on a series of newspaper interviews for Scotland on Sunday, notably with the legendary Zandra Rhodes, textile designer Jamie Wellstead and a Christmas special on Ackergill Tower in Caithness.Exquisite jewellery, feathery earrings, quirky accessories, buttons, shoes, buckles, gloves, hats and handbags… her showroom was a treasure trove of the exotic. Every year she would embark upon a different theme to inspire her collections. Commissions included the house uniforms for the drinks company Drambuie and the uniforms for St Leonard’s School in St Andrews.

A trip to Mexico with her daughter Coco provided a vibrant South American inspiration to her design portfolio. She was consistently ahead of her time, constantly in search of the latest trend, always lending encouragement to young design students and artists whom she was passionate to see succeed.

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In 2007, she was approached by the Dovecote Studios in Edinburgh to create an article of clothing that would genuinely represent the versatility of the weavers’ art. The result, working with Master Weaver Naomi Robertson, was a spectacular multi-coloured corset consisting of 12 shaped and brilliantly coloured pieces – a museum treasure for the third millennium.Chrissie’s departure from Edinburgh marked a new adventure for her and she ultimately set up home in the Cotswolds to be close to her daughters and their families.

She never slowed down and in addition to couture, she took on a number of interiors commissions, bringing a refreshing wave of innovation and style to the south west counties of England.

She always said she would go on working and creating until the end came. Thus, although unexpected and far too soon for all of us, her wish has been fulfilled. We have lost a wonderfully vibrant and inspirational spirit whose passion for creativity will continue to inspire others just as it did in her lifetime.

A church service is to take place today at 11.45am at St Mary’s, Upper Swell, GL54 1EW. A memorial service will be held in 2022.

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