Although its roots are strictly African, Laurence Airline is contemporising our instant associations with the continent’s fashion and allowing the influence of its Paris-base to subtly seep through. The collaboration of fashion and ethnic cultures is the concept – without the Westernised clichés of inauthentic prints and wax fabrics. The intertwining of these cultures and creative approaches results in modernised silhouettes with the oozing vibrancy of concentrated colour as well as attention to detail and an eye for geometrics. We spoke to designer Laurence Chauvin Buthaud about how she loves Raf Simons (don’t we all?), her work with Louis Vuitton and Laurence Airline’s upcoming popup at Paris’ Galeries Lafayette.
Was fashion design something that you wanted to pursue from a young age or more of a discovery later on for you?
At my young age I wanted to be an inventor. Fashion design came later as a creative voice that gave me a chance to express myself.
I read that you left home at 16 to move to Paris. Why did you feel compelled to move at such a young age?
A sense of survival instinct, let’s put it that way. I had no choice but to leave. This allowed me to start fresh in a new place – alone and independent.
You still have your workshop in Abidjan, how important is it for you to keep a base there?
My production, development and sourcing is divided between Paris and the Ivory Coast. I’ve evolved so much as a designer and a human being working in Abidjan – adapting artisanal know-how to contemporary fashion and finding singular, hands-on solutions for problems are all priceless things that I’ve learned.
What roles do ethical production and sustainability hold in your production process?
When I first started, my workshop had the standards of a couture label; everything was done entirely by hand. I began to explore a more industrial manufacturing process later on, which is compatible to a manual and ethical approach. I am careful to keep close to my initial ethics by working with manufacturers who share my values, who like collaborating with artisans and who understand my desire to produce garments with quality and history. I do my best to make clothes with a positive vibration.
With being born in Côte d'Ivoire and raised in France, what influence do you think that this melding of cultures has had on your design process?
My perception has a multitude of angles at once, because I come from several places. This is also apparent in my design process; in the way I mix classic African prints with pop colours and street wear or tailoring references. This melting pot is who I am and what my brand stands for.
What do you think about the representation of Africa in more mainstream fashion; in terms of prints, colour and pattern?
Sometimes it’s a bit cliché, often limited to using wax fabrics, to signify “ethnic” in a very basic, almost colonial sense. On the other hand it has also brought interest and diversity to African creation, and triggered a more in-depth interest in the culture behind it. Or so I hope!
Is there a particular designer whose work serves as a significant inspiration for you?
Right now I love Raf Simons, fashion comes beyond garment for him, it’s an all-round creative process that he links to technology and contemporary art. He doesn’t seem to be a diva and works hard on something that goes beyond clever marketing.
What impact has working for Louis Vuitton had on the process of creating your own brand and the way that you approach that?
It allowed me to gain more rigour in the entire creative process, from designing to production. I understood the full process and its reality, its place in the market. I applied to this structuring of my brand on a smaller scale and I better understood the necessity of every step.
Can you give us a bit of insight into your SS17 collection?
This is the first season where we drew absolutely all our motives. I have redesigned an alphabet inspired by the Western African Acan tribe alphabet. This alphabet spells out positive propaganda messages on t-shirts and sweatshirts, like “share love.” I also designed a tribal composition that appears throughout the collection. There is also a Liberty pattern that bears faces of great thinkers from every corner of the world; it’s inspired by African prints that always carry the faces of their country’s leader. This was a way of suggesting that knowledge and power is somewhere else, as a way of spreading a positive message.
Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you can tell us about?
I am launching a Laurence Airline popup store at Paris’ Galeries Lafayette next April, which I’m very excited about. It will feature a capsule in collaboration with artists who I have to keep secret for now. But one thing is for sure, it will sparkle!