A brief Fashion Week hiatus the Studio Visits are back! This time I went to Elizabeth Lau‘s West London studio to have a look round and chat to her about her cult label.
There’s a real sense of fun in your clothes, where does that come from?
A lot of my buyers do describe my clothes as happy. I’m naturally attracted to things like Blythe dolls and sweets, anything that makes me smile. I like teacups, especially alcohol in teacups, it feels less naughty!
What is currently inspiring you?
For my last season we looked at grafitti in the street and the letters and words and cockney rhyming slang. For this summer we took Olive Oyl and Popeye, so the collection had a nautical slant to it, we used a lot of reds, blues, creams and then again the font we used was quite cartoony. When I was working in Hong Kong my boss used to call me Olive, he obviously thought I looked like her!
So it really depends what I’m into at the time, for Autumn Winter I’m looking at the Bash Street Kids, so it’s all about oversized shapes and stripes and ties. I didn’t want it to be a literal translation, I wanted it to have elements from the Beano and the characters without being too obvious.
I try to pick things which have quite a British feel to it and you can’t really get more British than that, cheeky, English schoolkids. Being brought up in London and based in London I want it to be a really British label.
How did you get into designing?
I sort of went the unconventional route, I did fashion design and after I decided I wanted to be a fashion stylist. I worked for two years in Hong Kong as an accessories designer, I did it for two years and decided I didn’t really want to do that forever. So I came back to London, did some designs and went round some shops and they placed orders and it just went from there.
In Hong Kong you see more, in London you can design but you don’t see how things are produced. In the Far East you can see how things are made, trims, you understand the production side more and the process of things being made. That gave me an inkling of how it would be done if I did my own thing. It made me a little braver and I had the right contacts so that’s why I just sort of, went for it.
It was a really small operation, I worked from home. I didn’t really have a concept of how to do things, everything I did was trial and error I learnt the hard way. When I got the orders I had to learn how to get it manufactured.
At the beginning I didn’t even know what was going to happen. I did the first collection and thought ‘well I’ll see if people like it’ and it turns out that people did enjoy buying my designs. I started off with eight dresses, really simple and then after that I grew the range to dresses, coats and cardigans. The knitwear really took off, people ordered more cardigans and knitwear and as that’s what the buyers seemed to like I did more and more knitwear.
Both my parents are self-employed so I grew up seeing them work for themselves and it must have had an influence on me. They both owned restaurants, my dad still owns a dumpling place on the King’s Road. It’s great but it’s not so good for the waistline!
I do feel like your clothes are a bit accessories influenced, like they already have the accessories incorporated?
I hadn’t actually thought of that. Shapewise my clothes are very easy to wear, I’m not avant-garde or edgy, I design for myself and hope that other people will like the clothes as well. So some of the pieces will have details only the wearer will know about. It’s quite fun.
Which designers influence you?
I go through phases with designers, I can really be in awe of someone even if I wouldn’t necessarily wear their clothes. I love Marni and I would wear it all the time if I could afford it! I like Giambattista Valli, on the whole I steer more towards the girly aesthetic. I go through phases where I really like to wear dresses then I go through my tomboyish phase, that’s part of the fun of fashion. Just dressing whatever you feel like.
I like Mary Quant a lot, because I’m really into really neat, small shapes where things are so simple but flattering and easy. I’m quite influenced by the sixties in general.
Are you surprised at how it’s all taken off?
I still get surprised, I know it’s incredibly self-indulgent to design for yourself but it is about what I like. We have had a lot of customers who come back every season because they appreciate what we do and shops get what we do.