On her most recent tour, the 23-year-old singer–songwriter Claire Cottrill, who performs as Clairo, found herself performing with more stage lighting and a bigger backing band than ever before. Her previous tours were pared-back affairs, with fewer bells and whistles, and fewer musicians. But with the release of her second album, the wonderfully retro and relaxed Sling, Clairo found herself embarking on her biggest headliner to date, including a sold-out gig at New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall.
“The main thing Claire wanted to get across was an intimacy in these much bigger rooms that she was playing in,” says Imogene Strauss, the Los Angeles–based creative director who designed the set alongside Cottrill. “We spent a lot of time talking about how we could make it feel homey and comfortable, almost like you are sitting in a living room with the people on stage.”
The trickiest part was nailing the casual nonchalance of a house show while also still making the show feel like a legitimate production with just enough spectacle. (Thousands paid for tickets each night; you still have to give them a show, even if it’s a deliberately intimate one.) Strauss—who also works with Charli XCX, Zedd, and Blood Orange—almost always starts with mood boards before moving toward rough sketches, and then finally computer-generated renderings. “There is a lot of back and forth with the artist and their team in between,” she adds. One of the standout images for this particular project was of the studio where Cottrill recorded: Allaire Studios, tucked away on a sprawling mountaintop estate near Shokan, New York. It’s a space so undeniably picturesque that Vogue sent a photographer there to capture Cottrill for a feature.
Looking at the photos, some of the critical elements clicked into focus for Strauss: soft lighting, worn-in rugs, and a general stage arrangement that felt intentional but not overwrought. All of the rugs are vintage and were sourced in Nashville, where tour rehearsals took place. She and Cottrill both went shopping for the rugs, which Cottrill had planned to “keep and have forever” when the tour ended.
The set’s standout is the seven bulbous floor lamps, glowing orbs of amber light, some nearly as tall as Cottrill herself. “It’s definitely an homage to Noguchi,” explains Strauss, referring to Isamu Noguchi’s iconic Akari light sculptures. But from the start, she knew an actual Noguchi lamp wouldn’t do the trick. “It would be destroyed in one minute.” So, she enlisted Nucalifornia, a design and fabrication company, to produce the lamps. Going custom allowed them to create the exact sizes and shapes they wanted and, more importantly, to make them in sheer fabric, which is considerably more durable than the Akari sculptures’ delicate washi paper. “Also, you can’t really get Noguchis because they are always sold out and so annoying to find,” Strauss adds with a laugh. (Many of the lamp styles are famously hard to get.)
Clairo’s big break came via “Pretty Girl,” a homemade song accompanied by a charmingly lo-fi music video she shot in her bedroom. Over the past five years, her music and aesthetics have bloomed into something grander. Yet, on her biggest tour to date, she hasn’t forgotten the appeal of the intimacy that first catapulted her to fame. This time around, there are just more vintage rugs and designer lighting.