The return of Clements Ribeiro

Inacio Ribeiro, the brilliant Brazilian designer who founded Clements Ribeiro with his wife and fellow designer Suzanne Clements, talks frankly about the brand’s return.

They’re back! Clements Ribeiro, a much-loved British fashion label of the 1990s and 2000s, is making a low-key but intriguing return to the business with a capsule cashmere collection that is already proving a favourite with fashion magazine stylists and retailers alike.

Inacio Ribeiro has decided to bring a seven-year break to an end. “I just felt like it was time,” the Brazilian-born designer explains. “Time for new things – and new ideas.”

The capsule cashmere collection – launched recently via online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter – is being designed by Ribeiro. His wife Suzanne Clements, the other half of the label’s duo, is focusing on her painting (the work is outstanding, although that’s another story). But Ribeiro has rekindled his entrepreneurial spirit and revived the brand with a cashmere capsule collection with sharp motifs, vibrant colour palettes and a sparky new logo.

This much-anticipated comeback is the first of its kind since the brand’s presentation back in 2014. In the 1990s, Clements Ribeiro was known for head-turning maximalism and playful glamour, quickly establishing a central role in Britpop culture.

Ribeiro reflects on the brand’s early development after meeting Suzanne Clements at Central Saint Martins. The couple started their label from the ground-up and relied on friends and connections to bring their vision to life. “We started Clements Ribeiro by default,” he recalls. “There were no jobs and we were struggling to find any work, so we just gathered everyone we could to help us with everything from press to portfolios.”

The couple spotted a gap in the fashion market. While other designers curated identities out of minimal aesthetics and monochrome mood-boards, Clements and Ribeiro were playing with leopard-print brocade and big statement colours. “Designers such as Jil Sander, Calvin Klein and the Antwerp Six were already occupying this space of deconstructed minimalism and toned-down palettes, so we knew it was essential for us and the brand to disrupt this wavelength and create something different,” Ribeiro says. The label’s pieces became a firm favourite with the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Nicole Kidman and Kate Moss.

Best known for colourful cashmere, Clements Ribeiro also came upon knitwear somewhat unexpectedly. “We didn’t even consider cashmere at the beginning,” Ribeiro says. “It just happened after both me and Suzanne realised that nowhere was producing good quality cashmere that was stylish. We decided that we were going to try and make cashmere cool.” Their search for the perfect quality led to a partnership with Barrie, a Scottish manufacturing bastion of luxury cashmere and merino wool – and now owned by Chanel. Barrie, with a historic past, is one of the last traditional mills in the Borders. More to the point, it’s considered the most exacting cashmere knitwear manufacturer in the world.

Before the designers had a chance to catch their breaths between press releases and pattern-cutting, department store giants were fighting to order Clements Ribeiro. “It was the knitwear that made the brand explode,” says Ribeiro. “We were defacing cashmere with sporty stripes and irregular rhythms and people loved it. Space NK [then stocking fashion] discovered us and put us on the fashion radar, then Liberty placed an order for twinsets. We were making cashmere casual, we were making it young.”

Ribeiro’s laid-back demeanour is apparent throughout our conversation. The designer jokes that he owes his whirlwind career to a simple case of potluck. “I really enjoy telling my story because, in retrospect, everything just lined up. I feel like a cat with nine lives! Or is it seven?” In truth, Ribeiro is not so laid-back: he has a rigorous work ethic and a ‘no-corners-cut’ approach.

After some years of low-profile consultancy work, Ribeiro feels that there’s no better time for the brand to make its long-awaited return. The months spent in lockdown have clearly inspired the designer to return to his creative routes. “I tried to go back to art, but I got really restless. I knew I wasn’t finished with fashion. I felt like I still had so much to give,” he says.

He realised that his on-the-side consultancy was leaving him less than creatively satiated, so he turned to his favourite cashmere company. “I contacted Barrie, created a really striking and powerful rail, and focused on producing pieces that would look great on everyone,” he explains.

The result is Clements Ribeiro mark two. “We’re lucky everyone knows us,” says Ribeiro. “As a small brand in a hugely competitive market, it’s imperative that everyone is familiar with who you are.”

Clements Ribeiro’s reawakening pays homage to the brand’s free-spirit DNA. Fine, buttery cashmere is moulded into the label’s popular twinset styles, each piece featuring unexpected colour combinations and distinctively unique stripes. The new collection also features hooded tunics and elevated loungewear, made with the on-the-go woman in mind. “Knitwear at the moment is very sculptural, chunky and thick,” Ribeiro says. “There’s so many people doing that at the moment, such as The Row and Celine, so I wanted to stick to smaller, sleeker cashmere designs.”

For Ribeiro, art is the foundation of inspiration. The process often begins with the designer turning to paintings and imagery as catalysts for colour development, which he then dissects until he finds a combination that works. “The calculation of colours is so essential to my process. What looks good in artwork doesn’t always translate into materials and clothing, so it’s about experimenting until something stands out to me.”

The designer isn’t afraid to take his time. “I’m quite happy to see the business grow organically to be honest. At the moment I’m happy with running the whole thing from my dining room table. I’m not in a hurry to make my life complicated,” he says.

In an industry where urgency is favoured, Ribeiro’s approach to a toned-down, flexible working environment is admirable. “I’m not just living for fashion anymore. I have other hobbies outside of it, which I think is so important,” he explains. “Having a job that drains you can leave you so hollow and frustrated, and ultimately means that you have to abandon other parts of you and your life, which I’m just not prepared to do anymore.”

New ideas, new beginnings and new perspectives herald a promising fresh start for Clements Ribeiro. But this isn’t a simple case of picking up the book from where he left off. “Our story is great, but it needs more than just a new chapter,” he says. “It needs a new narrative. After all, we only have one life, and I’m choosing to not just live it as one persona.”

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