Meet the Designer of STL's New Children's Clothing Line

By Rikki Byrd
In Style
Lyra modeling Vivi's Essie dress in yellow.

Lyra modeling Vivi’s Essie dress in yellow.

With a focus on “starting small,” Claire Thomas-Morgan, the owner and creator of Vivi, is designing fashionable children’s wear collections that dare little girls to skip, play and dream. Recently picked up by City Sprouts in Clayton, the designer is gaining local attention for her fashionable duds following the launch of her debut collection earlier this year.

When Thomas-Morgan gave birth to her daughter, Lyra, she started to sew dainty dresses fit for the perfect princess. Lyra, who will be 2 years old in August, can often be found prancing around clad in polka dots, ribbons and florals, designed with love by her mom. Now, what was once a new-mommy pastime has since turned into a budding career for Thomas-Morgan, thanks to the launch of Vivi.

An Edwardsville native, Thomas-Morgan now lives in South County, where she shares her basement studio with her daughter’s playroom. While one wall houses the designer’s sewing machines, sketchbooks and toddler dresses, the rest of the room is easily occupied by kids’ books, tea tables and toys. Although the cohabitation can get distracting at times (Lyra often wanting to play with mommy), the mother-daughter duo equally inspire each other.

The designer stumbled upon fashion in college when debating whether or not she wanted to continue her major in graphic design at Bradley University. To explore a new scene, she headed to New York the summer after her sophomore year to attend a one-month, intensive program at Parsons. Although she fell in love with the city and school, she soon returned home in the fall due to illness. During her time off, she built her portfolio and went through the college application process once again. She soon was accepted into Washington University’s fashion design program, where she received her BFA in 2008. What followed was a trajectory of fashionable occurrences that have led to the creation of Vivi.

After receiving her BFA, Claire took an internship with an online boutique called Funky Frum in University City, where she was later hired to do a womenswear knit collection. After the boutique closed, she enrolled in an online program at Academy of the Arts in San Francisco, where she later received her MFA. Next, she moved on to do visuals for J. Crew at the Saint Louis Galleria. Now, she teaches part-time at her alma mater, Washington University, while also managing her clothing line and motherhood. Although she credits her outstanding qualifications and experience for her new career path in children’s wear, it is the woman behind Vivi that is the real inspiration.

Vivi is short for Vivian Hillen, the designer’s grandmother who was known to have exceptional class with style to match. “She was just very influential,” Thomas-Morgan says. “For her birthday we would go to Famous & Barr in the tea room and go shopping.” On Vivi’s website under the “About” section, it’s immediately evident why the designer speaks so highly of her grandmother. Underneath, an intimate photograph of the designer and her daughter is a 1930s black-and-white photo of Vivian, standing tall in an almost mid-length peacoat and classic brogues. “At her funeral, all of the grandchildren spoke, and just about everyone mentioned something about going shopping or grandma’s style. And it kind of hit me that she was even more influential than I realized.”

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Claire’s grandmother, Vivian Hillen.

In March 2013, Vivian died, and in an effort to pay homage to her grandmother’s influence, Thomas-Morgan launched Vivi. What’s on the horizon is a fall collection featuring violet and plum dresses inspired by Alice in Wonderland, which will soon be modeled by the line’s resident model, Lyra.

Readers can enjoy 15 percent off Vivi dresses online by using ALIVE15 at checkout. Discount expires July 3.

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