Lau­rence Leenaert’s love affair with Morocco and or­ganic ap­proach to de­sign has de­vel­oped into a thriv­ing busi­ness

Homes & Gardens - - NEWS -

Can you tell us a lit­tle bit about your back­ground? I’m from Bel­gium, and I stud­ied fash­ion in Ghent. Af­ter that I did an in­tern­ship in Berlin, at Bless [Bless is an in­no­va­tive fash­ion la­bel and cre­ative plat­form that also en­com­passes prod­uct de­sign, in­stal­la­tions and events]. When I fin­ished, I went back to Bel­gium and started my own brand, mak­ing bags. Some were leather, and my mother is a tex­tile de­signer so oth­ers were made from fab­rics that I de­signed and she wove.

How did you end up in Morocco? Four years ago, my sis­ter and I came here on hol­i­day. It was only for 10 days but I re­ally fell in love with the desert, so I asked the guy who or­gan­ised our trip if I could stay with him for a bit and work there. That was in M’hamid El Ghi­zlane, in the very south of Morocco. I brought my sewing ma­chine, stayed for a month and it was then I thought OK, I can cre­ate any­where I want so maybe I don’t have to live in Bel­gium. The desert was too crazy though. I knew Mar­rakesh from hav­ing stayed for a cou­ple of nights when I’d ar­rived in the coun­try, so I de­cided to move here.

How did you start the busi­ness? In the be­gin­ning, I just had my web shop sell­ing bags, then I started to meet other cre­ative peo­ple. There was a guy who wanted some san­dals, so I made a sam­ple and put them on Instagram. Peo­ple were in­ter­ested, so I started to make san­dals too. Ev­ery Fri­day, I would do pot­tery with a small fam­ily, just to re­lax. I wasn’t a ce­ram­i­cist, but I love to paint so that’s how the pot­tery be­gan. Then I met two broth­ers in the Me­d­ina who wove blan­kets, so I thought maybe I should make a blan­ket for my house… it’s very per­sonal, ev­ery­thing starts as some­thing for my­self, I show it to friends, peo­ple re­act to it on Instagram, peo­ple want to or­der and that’s how it evolves. Instagram has re­ally helped the busi­ness, the big­gest in­flu­ence I think, other­wise I’d be here in Morocco and no­body would see what I’m do­ing! It’s great to show your work, and to not be scared, plus you can sell sam­ples with­out hav­ing to make hun­dreds of pieces.

Where do you find your in­spi­ra­tion? My in­spi­ra­tion is here in Mar­rakesh; the sym­bols, the colours, as well as ev­ery­thing I learned be­fore. I’m also in­ter­ested in art, and when ev­ery­thing comes to­gether it’s spon­ta­neous, very in the mo­ment. The sun, the palm trees, the peo­ple, the food even – it’s colour­ful and happy, and that’s what I want to show in my work. It doesn’t need to be per­fect, in fact, I don’t like per­fec­tion, it just needs to be real.

How has the com­pany de­vel­oped? Our stu­dio in Mar­rakesh is where we de­sign ev­ery­thing. My boyfriend and I run the brand, and we have a team of six, in­clud­ing in­terns and an ac­coun­tant, as well as 25 ar­ti­sans that we col­lab­o­rate with to cre­ate the prod­ucts. We sell via the on­line shop, from the stu­dio, as well as through The Con­ran Shop in Lon­don and Le Bon Marché in Paris. I want to keep things small, and not over­pro­duce be­cause pieces need to stay unique, and the ce­ram­ics take a lot of time.

What is it that you like best about what you do?

I love the free­dom of do­ing what­ever I want. Here in Mar­rakesh there are a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties; if you want to de­sign a wooden ta­ble, you go to the Me­d­ina, find an ar­ti­san and he’ll make it for you with en­thu­si­asm – that’s what’s re­ally mo­ti­vat­ing. There are no lim­its, ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble. Next year, I’m go­ing to de­sign some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent; I’m fo­cus­ing on in­te­ri­ors, so maybe fur­ni­ture, maybe a ho­tel or bar in the old city, a com­bi­na­tion of a whole lot of things – let’s see.

Lrnce prod­ucts are avail­able to buy at The Con­ran Shop. As well as ce­ram­ics, Lau­rence also makes beau­ti­ful mir­rors and leather san­dals.

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