CREATIVE LIVING - LF MARKEY
In just a few seasons, Louise Markey has built her eponymous label into a fully fledged brand, inspired by everything from traditional workwear to 80s surf style. We visited her East London home to talk London living, the perils of running your own business, favourite local hangouts and much more.
GH: You were born in Sydney; what made you come to London?
LM: It’s been probably twelve years since I left Sydney, maybe longer than that actually. In Sydney at that time, there wasn’t much fashion. There was like high fashion, which was pretty gross, and then there was surf. That was the two options. So I went to work for a surf company in Sydney called Mambo, but after a year or so I wanted to do something a little more high end and it just wasn’t there in Sydney at that time. Now there is quite a bit of stuff like that, there’s loads of interesting stuff happening now; fashion, music, but at that time it was like a village.
GH: I guess you were there before the social media explosion...
LM: Yeah, it just didn’t feel like anything interesting was happening but now I could totally live there.
GH: Was making clothes something you always wanted to do?
LM: Well I first wanted to be an architect! I did my work experience in an architecture firm and they made me draw 'shadow diagrams' for like two weeks. I think if that experience wasn't so boring I would have definitely gone into architecture.
GH: Do you think London has changed since you've lived here, and if so, how?
LM: When I first moved to London I moved straight into Shoreditch, which you couldn’t really do now [without money]. At the time it felt like what Peckham feels like now, really young, exciting and exactly what I wanted at that age. I lived in London Fields for a number of years but we had to move out because the rent was too expensive. Now I’m in Stoke Newington so it’s a lot more gentrified, but even Stoke Newington and Dalston doesn’t feel like it used to. You don’t even really see it happening do you?! My boyfriend works in music and I’ve realized that a lot of the bars and venues where the cool things are happening are now down south.
GH: What are some of your favourite London hangouts?
LM: God I really feel like I’ve got a boring answer to this because I’m pretty much exclusively in Stoke Newington at the moment because of work and the kids. Some of my favourite spots would be Esters cafe, around the corner from me. The breakfast and coffee are delicious and much more gourmet than you'd expect from a local cafe in the backstreets. Another favourite place I frequent almost every day is a cafe/restaurant called Fingers Crossed in Hackney Downs. Tastiest food ever, generous portions and the owner, Ania, is lovely. Finally, the Turkish Hammam in Dalston - it's the best!
GH: Does living in London influence your work?
LM: Oh yeah, definitely. I think it influences my work just from what people are wearing on the streets, that definitely filters in. Plus all the easy access to all the interesting stuff that is going on, although at the moment with the kids I feel like I’m missing a lot of it but once they’re all in school I’ll be able to be involved more again!
GH: Your house is full of quirky bits and pieces, do you have any key criteria when it comes to choosing things for your home?
LM: My boyfriend and I have similar taste but he likes more ‘stuff’ than me, whereas I like it a bit more minimal. He fills it with loads of trinkets and that sort of stuff and I just subtly put them in the bin [laughs]. He’s the hoarder, but we both like hand made things, minimal ‘designy’ things and I like bright colours, similar to my label really. All sorts really, new and old.
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GH: If you had to pick a favourite item in your house, what would it be?
LM: Hmmm. One of them would have to be this painting, which is just about the only painting in the house that isn’t from eBay. Another would be this wall hanging here (see below). We’re slowly going through and renovating everything so one of my favourite rooms would be the bathroom purely because it’s new and fresh. I try not to get too attached to things really!
Left: 'Painting by James Self. Right: Wall hanging picked up at Mitchell St. Antiques in Sydney, I love the colours'.
GH: How has the advent of technology changed your working life and processes?
LM: Not a great deal actually at this moment. I’m still kind of working in the same way that I was when I first started out as a designer. Australian education is actually a lot quicker to adopt technology than in Britain, so when I was there we were already using Wacom tablets and all the CAD software. When I moved over to England I started working for Burberry and everything was on paper. You’d have to draw the CAD by hand, photocopy everything six or seven times, and use fax machines. We had these huge archives and if you wanted a particular reference you’d have to go through all the old tomes! The whole time I was there really they never moved onto computer database systems.
GH: That's interesting; kind of cool but also pretty laborious! What years were you there?
LM: 2003 I think. There were computers at that time but they were just really slow to embrace them. But to answer the original question, technology hasn’t changed my working life so much because I was already using it but I think it’s changed the fashion industry as a whole, especially with things like manufacturing and denim for example. When I first started working on denim they would physically stonewash everything, which is still used now but for bigger brands they use lasers and stuff.
GH: What is the most difficult aspect of running your own label?
LM: There are loads [laughs]. The most difficult thing is probably fitting it all in! I’m pretty much a one-man band, with a few freelancers and interns here and there. So I pretty much if not do everything, oversee everything and it’s hard work.
GH: Do you enjoy that element, of doing everything yourself?
LM: I love it yeah. I need to get permanent staff and this year it’s going to happen, to take the edge off. But I think once you’ve been doing it alone for a while, it’s quite hard to give up certain aspects so my first permanent staff member will be doing stuff that I don’t have time to do and that I don’t mind giving up!
GH: What do you do to switch off from the day to day running of the label? Is there even any time?!
LM: Well because I’ve got the kids too they take up most of my time outside ‘work’ hours. Even trying to check a subtle email on the side, it just doesn’t work out! Although saying that I’m going to a gig tonight which is rare. I don’t even know who it is or where I just know I’m going, haha.
GH: Your clothes are heavily inspired by traditional workwear styles. Where did your interest in that come from?
LM: I’ve been wearing workwear for ten years, easily, so it was just a natural progression from that. It was never a massive influence when I first started the label, it was always the bright colours, the minimalism and the geometric shapes. It used to be more of a ‘catwalky’ look when I first graduated, but when I turned it into a more contemporary and casual label is when I started to integrate the workwear stuff because that is just how I used to dress. At the moment it’s a really big part of the label but the biggest parts of the brand are the colours, the geometry and the simplicity of it. Those things won’t change.
GH: Where do the individual names for all the pieces come from?
LM: They are all boys names, only because I didn’t want to keep it too girly. The first swathe of names came about when I was pregnant with my first son, and we had a shortlist of boy’s names that all found their way into the collections. Since then I just go with boys names that I like, but I’m slowly running out!
GH: What brands does LF Markey sit beside, in the real world and in an ideal world?
LM: It sits next to labels like Rachel Comey, Baserange and Caron Callahan and I would say the likes of Margaret Howell and A.P.C in an ideal world.
GH: Do those labels serve as inspiration to you as well?
LM: I try not to look at my peers, I try and look elsewhere otherwise we’ll end up with all the same stuff on the rails!
GH: I read an interview where you said you were looking at a lot of 80s surf zines. Where do those references come from?
LM: It’s just stuff that I’m interested in. I always start with a base point, so at the moment it’s workwear and geometry, and then on top of that I add whatever I’m into at that time. I’ve moved on from the 80s surf gear and I’m looking at different things like Amish clothing and 70s Laura Ashley at the moment.
Top: 'These are Tom's finds from a Japanese flea market, I find them a bit morbid! Bottom left: 'I used to work in a bar in Paris and there was this guy who used to come in and draw these amazing things. When you translate it, it's basically plans for how to live the most efficient way you can, spending the least amount of money and getting what you want. He would just draw the same thing everyday and one day he left one so I stole it!' Bottom Right: A wooden anteater thing I found at Spitalfields antique market. He's hideous, we call him Cedric.
GH: What do you think clothing will look like in fifty years?
LM: Workwear is one of those things that is a constant, but yeah I can’t imagine it looking too much different. I think things will continue to become more relaxed, I can’t see it ever reverting to being less comfortable. I think it will also become more and more unisex, but never to the point of men and women wearing the exact same clothes.
GH: Do you have one eye on LF Markey being a unisex label when you're designing it?
LM: Yeah I do, but my customer doesn’t really want entirely that from me so there’s a strand of it that is definitely tomboy and unisex, but I do a lot of feminine things too. I’ve got to keep it that way because girls sometimes want to look girly! For example, one of my best selling boiler suits has a waist in it, where as the ones that are more oversized have a more specific girl customer.
GH: What does the future hold for you and the brand?
LM: I am hoping to open a store or two, and just looking to expand the brand globally. At the moment I’m mainly UK and Japan-centric, so I’d like to broaden out a bit, especially into the US. There’s a lot of customers for my style there.