Claire Harlin was entering unfamiliar territory when she decided to pursue a career in fashion. It wasn’t part of her master plan, but after losing her job as a newspaper editor in California, she had to make a change. So, she packed up her love of vintage clothing and moved to Arizona to start Classic Rock Couture.
“It started kind of as a hobby,” Harlin (pictured) says. “I was collecting vintage clothes, and out of necessity, I just started selling my clothes.”
It wasn’t long, though, before she realized how much of a market there is for vintage rock clothing — and that it was getting harder to find clothes to resell. That was when she decided to make something marketable out of her hobby. “I started coming up with my own designs, and they’ve been pretty popular,” she says. “I have a little bit of graphic design experience from my journalism background, but I’m self-taught [in fashion].”
In 2015, Harlin started working out of a friend’s garage in San Diego, creating apparel and selling it online. But, like many career changes, it wasn’t easy. Harlin says she started with no money at all.
“It was hard to do,” she recalls. “I see people starting businesses that actually have a budget, and it wasn’t like that for me. I was just like, ‘How can I make a hundred dollars today?’ ”
Initially, Harlin didn’t plan on opening a bricks-and-mortar store, but when an opportunity arose in 2017 to lease retail space, she couldn’t turn it down. After that, she says, “the rest is history.”
Harlin and her husband, Justin Luria (owner of the Shady Dell lodging destination), and their two kids now officially call Bisbee home. “It’s like being on vacation every day,” Harlin says. “I’m so glad I ended up moving here and doing this, because I think even more people from Tucson and Phoenix are going to come and shop.”
While Harlin would one day like to attend fashion school, she says she quickly learned that most of what’s taught there is how to articulate your ideas. That’s something she’s doing every day as the primary designer for her business. “I’d say the clothes I’m making are clothes that, in my mind, are the ones that rock ’n’ roll icons in the ’60s and ’70s would have been wearing,” she says.
Pairing her rock ’n’ roll inspiration with influences of the West, Harlin has come up with designs that have resonated with people from all walks of life — so much so that she’s having to put people on waiting lists to get enough product to meet demand.
Sheila Riley, a Bisbee native and customer, has purchased each of the jackets created by Harlin and finds that her designs work for everyone. “Classic Rock Couture allows every visitor to get in touch with their inner hippie and bridge the fashion gap among generations and genders,” she says. “There’s no way to walk out of the store untouched by Claire’s creativity and fashion inspiration.”
The building where Classic Rock is housed was a J.C. Penney store in the 1970s — it’s the first time since that store closed that the building has been used as a clothing store. “Our store is fashioned after the ’70s department store, so we’re bringing back its historic roots a bit,” Harlin says.
Looking forward, Harlin hopes to take her “millions of ideas” and turn them into reality. “I really want to expand my design offerings and the things that I want to make,” she says. “The main goal would be [to become] a household name brand for amazing vintage-inspired clothes.”
Another goal is to ensure her business remains a family-friendly workplace. It has a team of 12 employees, and the ones who have small children are welcome to bring them to work. “We have that atmosphere where it’s like a group effort,” Harlin explains. “We’re all friends, and we all take care of each other’s families. I want to keep offering that to my employees.”
Products can be purchased online, but to best experience the vibe, Harlin suggests popping into the store for a visit: “I’d say if you really want to dig for little vintage gems, you gotta come to Bisbee for that, because there’s a lot of cool vintage stuff in there that I’m not listing online.”
38 Main Street