On a recent trip to Morocco we planned a visit to the outskirts of Marrakech, to the city’s design district, with two specific stops in mind. Each one was motivated by colour and we’re sharing the first of these today. LRNCE is a distinctive fashion and homewares brand founded and run by Belgian designer Laurence Leenaert who moved to Marrakech around three years ago. Laurence works with local artisans to create traditional Moroccan crafts that she gives a contemporary twist with her illustrative painted designs. Whether a rug, a pot or a pair of shoes, the items bear echoes of African tribal art and – as mentioned – show Laurence to be a very fine colourist. Here the artist tells us a bit more about how she ended up moving from Belgium to Morocco to create a collection of ceramics, textiles and shoes that has gathered a huge following from all corners of the world.
How did you end up in Marrakech?
“I had been traveling in the desert with my sister and wanted to go back desperately! So I packed my sewing machine and went back for a whole month to work on some new designs. Once I was back in Belgium, I realised I couldn’t live there any longer, sold all my stuff, shipped 100 kilos worth of material, and left Belgium for good. At first I wanted to go to the desert, but it’s not realistic to start something out there, so I went to Marrakech. In the beginning I struggled a lot. The culture is very different and I had no money –I was literally living off my web shop. Every time me I got an order I would catch my breath and extend my stay one more week! Eventually I met the right people and everything worked out.”
Can you tell us more about the production of your ceramics and textiles and working with local makers?
“I moved alone to Marrakech and in my first year I tried to get in contact with local craftsmen, which was not easy at all. You meet a lot of people but you have to trust and follow your instinct to work with the right people, not everybody understands what your work is about and the direction you want to go in. So it takes some time, but I was very lucky to meet amazing talented people who treated me like one of them. I’m very close to them, it’s more than only work. We have lunch together, we meet each others families and visit places together. It’s take and give back, and your work gets more precious and you understand every small detail of where it’s made and where it’s coming from.”
What is your attitude to colour? Do you have particular tones that you like or dislike?
“I’m very picky when it’s about colours. To combine the right colours and to find their purpose in a material or substance. At the moment I’m very into terracotta, peach, blue majorelle. I hate grass green, fluro colours and grey.”
Do you think you are inspired by what’s around you in Marrakech or do you think your work would look like it does wherever you were?
“I’m very into the moment, so I go and paint straight away on the ceramics. Every week I go to paint so the pottery is created very in the moment. I see each piece as a funny object and I don’t want to take it too seriously. I love to design them but I’m not a ceramist. It’s a challenge to make clay something that’s from me, my world.”
What’s the best thing about working in Marrakech and also, the neighbourhood that you are in?
“To wake up every day with the sunlight and palm trees is already affecting my life a lot. The harmony of the city, talking about the colours, the way people get dressed gives me rest and on the other side the chaos in the Medina, no rules in traffic, the people who are so open and invite each other all the time to have lunch or dinner, makes it so alive and gives a lot of energy.”
How many people are in your creative team and are they all from different nationalities?
“In the studio it’s Ayoub (Boualam) and me who run the company. Ayoub is Moroccan, born in Marrakech. Our accountant Abdeljalil is Moroccan and at the moment we have three interns working with us in the studio, French students Mathilda, Roxane and Marisol. The artisans we work with are Moroccan and every product has its own atelier/studio of craftsmen – in total we work with 25 artisans. They are all based in Marrakech or close to Marrakech.
Are there any products / mediums you have not worked in yet that you’d like to – what’s next for LRNCE?
“I don’t know yet what’s coming and I want to keep it this way. I want to be in the moment and see what I can do more in the future. I love materials and combining materials so I’m open to what triggers me!”