Funded by Laurence Leenaert in 2013, the LRNCE fashion label is based in Marrakech and exudes stunning Moroccan vibes. After studying Fashion Design at Kask, in Ghent, Laurence Leeneart decided to start her own brand in a studio in Belgium, but she then moved to Marrakech to further develop it. Today, LRNCE is the collaboration of a European designer and traditional Moroccan artisanal craft. The label draws inspiration from tribes, cults, rituals and fashion items. Her pottery, rugs and ceramics include a mix of colours, materials and textures, all meshed together. We talked to its founder to discover more about her personality and how Marrakech has made its mark on her artistic creativity.
After studying Fashion Design at Kask in Ghent for three years, you decided to start your own brand, LRNCE. What was your main idea when you started? How has it evolved up to now?
Four years ago I started with bags; I had a small studio in Ghent (Belgium) and the desire to start my own brand. After I had done my internship at Bless in Berlin (where I learned a lot) I moved to Marrakech with the aim to develop LRNCE. I gained so much input and discovered many new crafts. I started to explore other mediums like pottery and textiles to see what I could do with them. Thanks to Instagram, I could show the world what I was doing here, and I got attention from people and also orders. At that moment it was so important to survive. I moved with a very small budget and had moments that were not very ‘pink’!
Your work is influenced by tribes and cults. Where does this interest in rituals and tribes come from? What fascinates you most about tribal culture?
On the one hand it is something distant from reality, and on the other, it is the existence of a group of people. The naive and innocent aspect of some tribes are fascinating and also, maybe, desirable. I love their masks and costumes; every material, object and aspect makes sense and has a purpose, and combining those materials and textiles together with movement (dance), as they do, creates 'the real thing'.
Could you tell me a bit more about your decision to move to Morocco? Did you ever imagine yourself living there and running your own brand? How has the change influenced you personally, artistically and professionally?
It was a very spontaneous decision; I didn't give much thought to it. I just had a really good feeling about it, and it gave me a lot of energy. I was so lucky to meet the right people at the right moment. Still, I had some tough times. But now I can't go back to Belgium anymore; I am so used to this way of life and mentality that I feel a bit trapped in Belgium.
In Marrakech I'm very focused on my work, I'm surrounded by it. In my street, I have a tailor, a carpenter, my friend who sells leather. You get impulses all the time and always have the possibility to create more. The people who I work with are very respectful and grateful for the smallest things, and it makes me appreciate more than I did before.
The only bad thing is time – like deadlines, sometimes do not exist here, and it is very dangerous to be in that state of mind. I need to take care of not being too Moroccan in this way!
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Would you ever consider moving from Morocco and continuing your career in a more established fashion capital?
At the moment I prefer to be away from the real world and the system. The freedom I have here is very important, and I want to keep it for a while. I realise that it has a big influence on my work and my personality. From time to time I need to leave this crazy city in order to keep appreciating everything. But I think I’d prefer to move to cities like Bangkok or New Delhi, rather than a real Fashion capital.
Morocco is essential to your work, since you collaborate with local artisans to create your handmade pieces. How important is this collaboration? How do you find these craftsmen?
In my environment, there is a lot of input, and I’m inspired by the smallest things. It’s essential for me to mix the right colours, textures and materials together. It’s about this: creating something with different materials with other purposes mixed together. The handicrafts of the people here influence my work a lot. They are so talented, and it gives me a lot of motivation to have knowledge and patience like them. Also, how to use and reuse objects and substance, and not wasting anything is very inspiring. It's hard to find the right people to work with, it takes time, and they have to understand your work.
How would you define the fashion and creative industry in Morocco? What major challenges have you faced? How did you handle them?
For me, the fashion industry is not very interesting here, but the creative part of handicrafts is endless. Whoa! At the beginning, it was a bit difficult to find the right people to work with. And as you're a girl from Europe, it’s really difficult that they really take you seriously. You have to earn their respect to get some things done here.
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Your collection goes from fashion to home décor and textile –rugs, pottery, sandals, etc. What is the common element between all these products? Would you like to specialise in an area in the future, or do you like having the variety?
I promised myself before moving to Marrakech that I would take the time to try out whatever I wanted to and to get the chance to. When I started pottery it inspired me to do new things with textiles, it all hangs together. I really want to create a world atmosphere where everything fits together. My work is a reflection of my life here, and it has something naive and ‘in the moment’ to it – that is the main element between everything, I think.
Let's talk about your Borrowed From Fatimaa.a collection. Why this name? What is the inspiration behind it?
Sometimes we forget that the real artists in this country are the women who live outside the big cities and create and make every piece. Most of the time I get in contact with men who own the businesses and receive the money. It's very hard to get in touch with the women because they are very protected by the more powerful men. For example, a lot of people come here, buy things cheap and sell them for a way higher price in Europe and act like they own the design and everybody forgets who really made it. That's why I named it Borrowed from Fatimaa.a: I wanted to praise the talented Moroccan women with their golden hands and originality. They come from way back, and it's so inspiring. (Fatimaa.a is one of the most important names in the Arabic world)
What can we expect next from your work?
Recently I have started to paint, and I want to experiment with sculptures and stones. Let's see where it takes me. We are going to open a showroom in Marrakech, so I'm designing all the furniture and objects for the place, and I hope to do more projects like that!
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