Louise Markey is a young designer from Australia, currently living and working in East London. She splits her time between doing womenswear for Pink, the luxury shirt brand loved by City workers, and her own label LF Markey.
We sit in her studio which she shares with a knitwear designer and footwear designer, and over a cup of Yogi tea we chat about grossness, secondhand shopping and ‘getting tizzy’.
Louise studied in Sydney and worked at Burberry in London before studying for an MA and launching her own collection. Initially this was a mix of sports-influenced dresses and shirts but Louise now focuses on purely shirts and has just launched a range for men.
When I came back to London I started working on my MA, I just thought I needed some polish and some time to get my ideas straight. Before my MA I didn’t know quite what I was into, because that course is obviously so high pressured it forces you to make choices.
In Australia I was making more workwear, factory uniforms, like working blues and those sorts of things, I guess it had a sporty element to it but it was raw, it had a raw element to it.
Where do you think that love of workwear and clean shapes comes from?
It comes from my mum, she’s a real tomboy. I’ve never seen her wear a dress or a skirt, she’s a very practical woman. Always in jeans. When I was a fashion student doing my BA dressing crazily with red hair, but after that I just started dressing like my mum!
It just seems to be slightly more egalitarian in Australia
Casual clothing is the norm, certainly where I grew up in the Inner West, there’s a femi-hippy kind of area and women, there’s none of that tizzy-ness going on.
I was more girly as a kid, but I always ran around and played with my brothers. I think I started dressing like a tomboy when I was a bit older, when I was 18, I cut all my hair off into this disgusting mullet. Then I used to just dress in boy’s in boy’s clothes and I used to just look like a man. I had a boyfriend at the time and we used to look like two dudes hanging out!
How did you get into fashion?
I’ve always been kind of entrepreneurial, I don’t know where it came from. I’ve always been like that since I was young, get on with my own things, been quite independant. I was really interested in art, I wanted to be an artist, I changed my mind and thought I’d be an architect and I did some work experience doing that and I was very interested in architecture for a while. Then I just because a teenager and got interested in clothes.
I was into full-on Dior couture and Westwood, but by the time I graduated I was much more interested in your Jil Sanders, at that time Marni was around but it didn’t have quite the same look as it does now. Also Comme, I got really into that as well.
You’re more into the everyday kind of clothes though?
I just think, I kind of design for myself now, I design for what I would wear and what my friends would wear. There are some things, like the workwear, uniform element which is a constant and then I layer other things in, like at the moment I’m really into 90s surf. The surf graphics, the stuff I used to do when I first finished university and used to work for a surf company. Put those those kind of prints on a shirt, this is one for a menswear shirt. It’s kind of hilarious.
Its kind of the stuff you see on rockclimbing pants
Yeah! I’m so into things that are so heinous that they’re amazing, with that undercurrent of grossness.
What sort of things influence you?
I used to get influenced a lot by artists, moreso when I was doing dresses, painters especially becuase of the colours. I’ve just got folders and folders of things. With the shirts, I get more inspired I guess by historical things like mens nightshirts. Autumn Winter was lots of flannels, a wool shirt so heavy fabrics, basically inspired by old, Pendleton wool.
Do you have a collections of old shirts?
I do, I have tons, I just have boxes and boxes of them at work. *pulls out box of collars* I just love, I just can’t help myself I collect stuff like this. I don’t really have any reason to have these. I’m just a really collector, I can’t help myself, I can’t thorw anything away, I’ll just buy tat, I’ve got boxes and boxes of stuff. I’ll go to flea markets and buy trims and buttons and old dolls and suitcases.
Crappy paintings, all sorts. Back home in Sydney I’ve just got a whole room of stuff, I just squirrel away things. My mum is just as bad as me so it’s ok but my dad secretly throws things out.
Certainly haberdashery is one, I do collect swatches of fabrics as well, boxes of it. I collect crappy artwork, other people’s photos, people I don’t know, loads of those. And clothes, obviously, I’ve got tons in storage. Stuff for reference, it’s not stuff that I wear. I do go and visit it sometimes, but usually I just add more stuff and bed it down.
Do you go to ‘opp shops’? (Australian version of charity shops) I love that idea of an ‘opportunity shop’
We’ve got St Vincent Dep Paul which everyone calls Vinnies. Everyone in Australia abbreviates everything and when I went back they’d abbreviated their own name to Vinnies! The charity shops in London they aren’t as good as they used to be, there’s something wrong with them now. Although I lived very briefly in Golders Green and the op shops up there are so good. I go through phases of secondhand shopping. I think I just like, nostalgia and finding things that nobody else has. I don’t really like to buy into a homogenous look, I guess nobody does, and it seems the only alternative if you don’t want to spend a lot of money.
What is it about shirts that you think is the best?
It suits me to wear a shirt because, I guess I don’t like looking too girly, I tend to avoid that. Shirts are just comfortable. You’re going to look smart compared to a tshirt. I am a dress fan to a certain degree because it’s one garment, you just put it on, but jeans and a shirt is always good look. Even if it’s a casual shirt, even if you haven’t really ironed it, you always look smart in a shirt.
How did you get into doing shirts?
Shirts cropped up when I was at Burberry, because that was my frist proper design job so I really immersed myself into it. I really got into, the shirt world, it’s like any kind of ‘world’ like the car world and the wine world, the different ratings on the fabrics and the kind of yarns.
Do you enjoy being able to geek out?
It’s when you’re referring to the fabrics, because it’s so technical and the patterns as well. We do use some of the menswear fabrics, men just get so geeky about the clothes, but women are more interested in how something looks. As long at it’s well made they don’t really care as much. Women love touch and they’ll walk along and touch all the fabrics whereas a man will walk into a shop and say he wants a twofold 200 or a twofold 220. A woman might know about sea island but she’s more about touch.
How do you take what you learn at Pink?
All that technical stuff I learnt from Pink. Because the customer’s quite different it’s quite easily to split ideas. Pink are a big company and I’m a tiny company so you can learn so much through fittings and stuff like that, it completely crosses over. They’ve got access to everything, testing facilities, I didn’t even have access to all the mills I wanted to work with, like the Italian mills.
I don’t know how far I can push it with mens, men are a little less willing to go out there. I’ve experimented a little bit with the shape. I think with the mens I’m going to push it more with prints and fine detail. Really go to town with the cuts and button down collars.
So you get to really geek out with this?
I’ve got shirtdress I did, it’s simple. It’s a menswear fabric, this is a twofold 120 chambray. With the shirting yarn you’ve got a thread and the thickness of the thread is given a grade, the higher the number goes the thinner it is. Say, a 50s yarn is quite heavy, you’d use it for a casual shirt and you’d wash that in. If you go up to 100 it’s fine, but twofold which is two 100 yarns together is even better, it’s so fine. Two 100 yarns is the same weight as a single 50s and it’s just finer. Twofold 100 is a really good quality yarn, but twofold 120, you’re going into the realms of awesomeness!
I’m really into linen at the minute, I’ve got into that in a big way and more prints. The surf thing too, I’ve got a show in Sydney coming up, so I’m going to be doing board shorts! And beach pants.
Are they gonna have those like, that label at the front?
I’ve done one of those before and I have the drawstring coming through the middle of it! So cool but so naff.
I love really simple stuff but it’s nice not to take it too seriously
Especially when you have got something like a simple shirt, so with a catwalk show you can kind of go really mad with the bottoms.
Other than Fashion Fringe it will be my first catwalk show, I was going go out to Sydney anyway and then the opportunity came up to do it, so yeah. Basically I leave in two weeks, to go to Hong Kong for work, and straight over to Sydney.
This is actually quite insane, because you’ve done your AW, and you’re doing your next SS months before anybody else?
Yeah, it’s madness. I’ll be sewing in here all weekend.
LF Markey is stocked at Folk in London