Homestyle New Zealand - - HOMES -

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.

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