Artist Laurence Leenaert and her engineer partner Ayoub Boualam redecorated this two-bedroom home in Marrakech, Morocco.
Laurence Leenaert is 28 years old and thousands of kilometres from her comfort zone, but after three short years, she’s become an international success. In ‘If you love it so much, why don’t you move here?’ style, what was intended to be a two-month sabbatical in the desert with a friend has turned into a five-person enterprise, LRNCE, that she runs from her own studio. It’s something she puts down to sheer hard work — and the influence of Instagram. “When I moved to Marrakech in 2015, I had 90 followers,” she says. “Now I have 100,000.”
Laurence began her career studying fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium, before an internship with avant-garde German design house Bless opened her up to another world. With its visionary, multidisciplinary approach to fashion, art and life in general, it made a big impression. “Bless has another way of thinking and changed the way I thought about production,” says Laurence. “After that experience, I decided to make my own label based on these same principles.”
In retrospect, Laurence views her move to Marrakech as a creative choice between the everyday preoccupations of her life back in Belgium and her real passion: art. “I was really done with Ghent and was like, ‘I need something else. There, I didn’t have the opportunity to draw a lot, but after I moved here, it all came very naturally.”
Laurence began her new chapter with just €400 and a sewing machine, but Marrakech’s vibrant crafts industry and can-do attitude was immediately a good match. “In Marrakech, anything is possible,” she says. “If you go to the medina, you’ll always find a guy who can make something for you. And the guy next to him can make shoes, or candles, or furniture… Everyone here is doing something, and if you have an idea, they want to help you realise it. You don’t have to make 100 pieces, either — it’s possible to make just one, whereas in Belgium, 100 pieces is the minimum order. This is extremely advantageous when you’re starting a business, not to have to put all of your money into one product. And then there’s the lifestyle, the colours… There’s something here that’s hard to explain.”
Immersing herself in her new passion, each meeting Laurence had with local artisans produced a different sample, which she posted on Instagram. “I thought that maybe I should sell this stuff because I had no money and needed to make a living somehow, so every sample I made, I sold to make another sample and try other things. That’s how LRNCE started.”
Today, the brand produces homeware, clothing, footwear and accessories with a distinctly hand-made quality. “A lot of people come to Marrakech and buy things to sell at a huge markup back in [Europe], but I absolutely don’t want that.
STUDIO Laurence works from a separate studio (pictured on these pages, the previous page and page 78) filled with LRNCE’s designs featuring dynamic bursts and coloured lines. She likes to paint while seated on the floor, often while listening to Belgian techno. “My drawings are naive and childish,” she says. “Tribalism and symbols have always interested me, as, of course, has the art I’ve seen and studied. All of that fuses together here in Marrakech with the colours and life in the city.”
TOP LEFT Here, a desk designed by Laurence is paired with a chair by a local maker. ABOVE To the left of the couple’s bed is a photographic print by Bastien Lattanzio. The wall hanging is made from LRNCE’s Ouaaajh blanket. OPPOSITE The couple’s bedspread was crafted by a maker in Myanmar; it’s combined with bed linen from Merci. The wooden sculpture (a prototype for a mirrored lamp ) is by one of the artisans with whom LRNCE regularly collaborates and the clothes stand was made locally too, but the wardrobe on the right has Italian origins and was found at a fleamarket.