Global Young Designer Spotlight: Lisou
Combining elements of Tanzanian street art with European silhouettes, Lisou's designs reflect creative director Rene Macdonald's multicultural childhood. She lets us in on her West London hangouts and what it means to be a bold dresser.
03 December, 2019
Growing up, Lisou's creative director Rene Macdonald lived all over Africa - her family home being based everywhere from Zanzibar to Tanzania. Her formative years on the continent have had a lasting effect on her design, manifesting in the colourful silks and punchy prints she designs in-house.
Combining elements of Tanzanian street art with European silhouettes, Lisou's vibrant garments have attracted wearers as wondersome as Dame Helen Mirren, Jodie Comer and Cate Blanchett.
Here, the self-confessed bold dresser shares her brand story and design inspirations, her favourite West London hangouts and discusses the charitable wing of her brand that directly helps young Africans with medical and educational needs.
Designer: Rene MacDonald
Origins: British, Tanzanian
Stockists: Harvey Nichols, The Shop at Bluebird, Etoile (Dubai) and many more across the globe as well as our own shop in Notting Hill.
Who is the Lisou customer?
Anyone who loves colour and print, and has a strong sense of individuality. We have customers ranging from 19 to 70 years old. For example, this year Lisou has been seen on both Emma Roberts and Dame Helen Mirren.
Tell us about your earliest fashion memory.
Making clothes with my mother and watching her dress up in beautiful chiffon dresses. I just wanted to be a grown up so I could emulate her style.
Describe your aesthetic…
I have a love for anything that inspires me, it could be something beautiful, mundane or unusual, so long as it provokes a reaction in me.
What does your creative process look like?
I usually start with designing a print and then move onto silhouettes. This mostly takes place on weekends with lots of loud disco music.
Where is your studio and what does it look like?
My studio is in West London. It's a big open-plan room with lots of light - all of team Lisou work from here. There are fabric swatches, ideas and lots of colouring pens on my desk. I often leave with pen marks all over my hands like a primary-school child.
What are some must-visit lunchtime and post-work spots in the area?
I'm a fan of E&O on Blenheim Crescent; it makes the best chilli-salt squid. Golborne Deli is a regular for lunchtime takeaways. Post work, Electric Diner on Portobello Road is fun for drinks and I always seem to bump into someone I know which can lead to interesting, impromptu nights out.
What songs do you have on repeat in your studio?
I'm a complete soul, R&B and hip-hop girl. Generally, it's something upbeat like Earth, Wind and Fire's Let's Groove. Basically anything that gives me an excuse to sing and dance around the studio.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I find inspiration all around me. It could be a flower in the park or something I see on my travels. I once found the perfect shade of yellow on the wall of an art gallery.
Where do you source your silks?
Our silk is sourced in India, Japan and China and we use a lot of recycled silk. There are so many interesting developments in the world of silk, such as spider silk, which are all things I keep an eye out for.
Shop your own line. What are three of your favourite Lisou pieces?
My favourite three Lisou pieces from AW19 are:
1. The Penelope pussy bow silk midi dress in pale blue comet print.
2. The Bailey shirt in Lisou blue and mango star print.
3. Lisou's high-rise velvet Hetty trousers in midnight blue.
You're a self-professed "bold dresser". What advice do you have for those who want to follow suit?
Be confident and don't let the clothes wear you. It's all about attitude, if you feel comfortable and confident you can carry anything off. I'd also say don't be afraid to experiment. Plus, colour makes everyone feel happy especially during the grey winter days - so while you're being bold you're probably also making someone smile.
How does travel influence your work?
What I love about travel is drinking in all the things I see. I recently designed a print using a technique inspired by a trip to Venice.
Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
I'd have to say Ibiza. Largely, because it's the one time I get all my family and friends together in one place. The role of matriarch fills my heart with joy.
You grew up in Tanzania. Tell us some "musts" for planning a vacation there...
I actually grew up all over Africa because of my parents' jobs. Tanzania has the best national parks, and a trip to the Serengeti is unforgettable. Zanzibar is as enchanting as it sounds; it smells of exotic spices and has extraordinary architecture. The night markets there are a great place for street food. Arusha, a city in northern Tanzania is worth a visit for the open-air market which sells local art, jewellery and fabrics. Arusha also has a clock tower that marks the midpoint between Cairo and Cape Town.
Tell us about how you, as a brand, give back…
We run several charitable initiatives at Lisou. The first is a project that helps young Tanzanians with medical and educational needs. I was very keen to do something on a local level too, so we set up a school textile competition for state primary and secondary schools. The winners had their designs made into silk scarves from which all the sale proceeds went back into the art departments of the winning schools.
Three destinations on your travel wishlist…
Cuba, New Orleans and Ghana.
What's your go-to airport outfit?
I love our silk Machi Machi sets. They're as comfortable as pyjamas and can be smartened up on arrival by tucking the shirt into the high waisted trouser. My favourite iteration is the red.
What are you reading right now?
I always read more than one book at a time. At the moment it's Malcolm Gladwell's Talking to Strangers and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck.
What podcasts are you listening to?
I'm a massive fan of TED podcasts.
What's next for Lisou?
Hopefully, growth and development while continuing to make beautiful clothes and having fun along the way!