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This article appears in Volume 29: The Taste Issue.
Belgian-born artist and designer LRNCE creates one-of-a-kind pieces inspired by the colours and traditions of her new home, Marrakech.
Laurence Leenaert, otherwise known as LRNCE, is a woman of instinct. After an inspiring holiday in the Moroccan desert, she made the spontaneous decision to move to Marrakech, arriving to the medina with only her sewing machine and little in savings, unsure of how long she could stay. In the beginning she lived and designed out of a riad, forming relationships and collaborating with local artisans.
From there the landscape, culture and people of Morocco inspired her to dream and experiment with other materials and mediums. In partnership with several Moroccan artisans, she expanded her designs into the realms of fashion and home decor, with products including shoes, shirts, ceramics, carpets, chairs, paintings and whatever else sparks her imagination.
Her free-spirited nature is reflected in the fluidity and evolution of her work. While Leenart may experiment with materials, what really defines her designs are their bold colours and layered geometric shapes. She repeatedly uses these elements but changes the composition, creating objects that are playful in spirit, but also show a more serious understanding of design.
Since starting in Marrakech, Leenaert has outgrown her riad and moved to a studio and showroom. Her then boyfriend (now husband) joined her to help expand the business and she now travels globally, recently hosting pop-ups in London and New York. Despite her success, she’s insistent on keeping production limited in order to maintain a collaborative relationship with the artisans and a focus on creating unique objects.
What did you do before launching the brand?
I grew up in the countryside in Belgium and studied fashion for a few years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, but decided not to finish my studies. Instead I interned at a brand in Berlin and was inspired to start LRNCE in 2013.
What were some of the biggest challenges when starting out?
I didn’t really think about it; I just felt the need to do my own thing. If it failed, at least I’d tried and would move on and figure out my path. At the beginning I worked in a bakery half of the week to save money. When I first made the choice to move alone to Marrakech, my family didn’t understand, but it helped me get to know myself. Living alone in a city that’s truly a man’s world was an exciting challenge, and I made my life here without any help from the people I knew. I met amazing people who are still my good friends – I even married one of them!
Why did you decide to move to Marrakech?
While spending a month in the M’Hamid El Ghizlane desert with my younger sister Michelle, I fell in love with the vibes. I realised I could work from wherever I wanted, so I moved here. For me, it’s the city where everything happens. I brought my sewing machine and made bags with the local fabrics. It took me some time to understand the city, as it can be very chaotic compared to the desert, but now I love its craziness.
How has Marrakech inspired you?
It’s very dynamic; you need to accept it as it is. Things take time here – there’s time to talk, to invite others for lunch (and maybe not work), to help somebody out. There’s a kind of liberty and a “no pressure” feeling that I like. In Belgium, I was a bit more stuck in the system. I don’t like routine, but here I’m able to give myself the freedom to do whatever I feel. The colours of the city, the people, the atmosphere and the quality of life have changed me and allowed me to focus on other things. More and more is happening in Marrakech. There are lots of art fairs and gallery openings, but there are also a lot of foreigners in the art scene – there should be more locals. For me, it’s all about the artisans; they are the artists to watch.
How do you make your products?
Almost everything is sourced in Morocco and handmade by local craftspeople. We only have a few fabrics that come from elsewhere, such as a block-printed fabric from Jaipur. Every product has its own atelier and we work with more than 35 talented artisans. I design pieces in our studio, and then we produce it in collaboration with the relevant person – embroiderers, weavers and so forth. We keep production limited, as I like to make one-of-a-kind objects that have soul.
Describe your typical day.
There isn’t a typical day in Marrakech, which is really nice! However, I frequently go to the studio in the morning and, come afternoon, I’ll visit the artisans and check on production. On Fridays I paint all day. I love to take photos, so I’m also always driving my scooter through the city looking for new spots.
How has your collection evolved since you started?
I moved to Marrakech with the idea of focusing on bags, but because I met such inspiring craftspeople, I ended up making samples for different kinds of product. We tried out new materials and I was inspired by local crafts and traditions. I tried to merge this with my original vision and bring the two worlds together. Slowly, step by step, I’ve discovered new materials and made new products, and have actually ending up doing more home decor than fashion. I don’t like to feel boundaries or limits.
LRNCE’s Insider Guide to Marrakech
STAY: Riad Mena & Beyond is in the medina and is beautifully designed. Then there’s perennially popular El Fenn, also in the medina, and outside of Marrakech there’s Tigmi – it’s where I had my wedding this summer.
EAT: Try Plus61 for an Australian-style lunch – the food is very fresh. The salad of the day at vegetarian La Famille is also good. Go to La Paillote for a French-Moroccan fusion dinner in a beautiful garden, or new place Kabana for drinks with a fantastic view.
DO: The Yves Saint Laurent Museum, MACAAL Museum (for contemporary African art), Comptoir des Mines Galerie, and the new Dar El Bacha Museum of Confluences (for hand-painted ceilings and tiles). If you’re interested in leaving Marrakech, take a day trip to Lalla Takerkoust.
Want more insider tips for Marrakech? Check out our city guide here.
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