Fashion forward

Couture designer Lulu Liu talks to The Islander about merging 3D technology with traditional hand embroidery and how her new London City Island showroom has brought about connection in unexpected ways

Proving that haute couture is well and truly moving with the times is Chinese-British fashion designer Lulu Liu, the woman behind LULU LIU London. Graduating from London College of Fashion in 2011, Liu cut her teeth interning with the likes of Giles Deacon and Alexander McQueen, before launching her eponymous collection and training at Parisian embroidery house Lesage (AKA the birthplace of those famous Chanel tweeds). Now based at London CityIsland, having moved her showroom to the island in July, Liu is focused on creating ‘bold and confident’ bespoke haute couture, using talented craftsmanship, beautifully handcrafted textiles, and new, innovative technology.

TI: What sparked your love of fashion?
LL: It was an unconscious thing. When I was at school, my mother bought me very boring, conservative clothes. One day, I borrowed my aunt’s jacket, and the sleeves were too tight. I unpicked and adjusted them, wearing it with one of my dad’s shirts. That was my first experience of playing around with a garment and seeing what I could do with it. It had raw edges – very ‘Comme des Garçons’. At the time, everybody laughed, asking, ‘You can’t afford a new jacket?’.

Was that the moment you decided to study fashion?
No. I grew up in China in Sichuan, where I studied graphic design, before moving to Japan to study animation. On my campus, the animation department was next to fashion, so I’d walk past beautiful garments every day, thinking how fun it looked. So, I told my mum I was becoming a designer instead and applied to London College of Fashion. To my surprise, I was accepted.

Who or what do you think is stylish?
My grandma. Not because she has countless [fashion] pieces, but because she makes her own clothes and embroiders them. Even her innersoles are embroidered! When I began studying fashion, I learned about [Thierry] Mugler and [Alexander] McQueen and realised my passion was similarly focused on craftsmanship and textiles.

What inspires you?
Everything. I pick up inspiration everywhere, I never stop. I might look at a leaf and scan it to make prints. A chunk of cheese can be an inspiration, it depends how you see it!•-LCI_website_October_Lulu_Li_Article2-1280x1679.jpg

Lulu Liu on the iconic red bridge wearing one of her designs

‘There are lots of creative people at London City Island and a good mix of other industries as well’

Lulu Liu, fashion designer

What do you like about London City Island?
There are lots of creative people but a good mix of other industries as well. The other day I was in a local swimming pool and overheard two guys talking about tech, so I asked them for business advice. One is now on my board of directors for a new ecommerce platform I’m working on.

How would you describe your work?
‘Craftsmanship’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘innovation’. The way we showcase designs is using 3D software. Clients come to my showroom, and I produce an avatar and digital design for that person. Most designers sketch, but a sketch might look good on paper and not on the body. This way, clients see themselves on screen – 360 degrees – and garments are designed for their body, allowing us to see how it moves.

Presumably it means less travelling to fittings, too?
Yes. Sustainable fashion is not just about [being] ‘made in Britain’ or sustainable fabrics; it’s about reducing environmental pollution in the process of making the garment. People always assume bespoke is very expensive but if designers use virtual design software, it becomes more accessible, too.

Do you think interest in bespoke fashion will grow as we become more sustainably minded?
Definitely. During the pandemic our lifestyles changed. Fast fashion is linked with busy social lives, but now that’s reduced, we don’t need as many clothes. It allows people the freedom to buy special things that really mean something to them.•-LCI_website_October_Lulu_Li_Article3-1280x1679.jpg•-LCI_website_October_Lulu_Li_Article4-1920x1220.jpg

Lulu uses intricate hand-embroidery techniques at her London City Island showroom•-LCI_website_October_Lulu_Li_Article5-768x1007.jpg•-LCI_website_October_Lulu_Li_Article6-768x1007.jpg

‘Haute couture is not about expensive fabrics or how much you spend, it’s about the creation’

Lulu Liu, fashion designer•-LCI_website_October_Lulu_Li_Article7-3-1920x1220.jpg

Is that how you hope people view your work, as something to treasure?
Yes. In Paris [when studying embroidery] I worked on a piece of embroidery, created by hand. I was told, ‘Make sure the threads underneath are beautifully lined up before sewing it up.’ Confused, I asked, ‘Why? It’s covered anyway.’ My mentor explained, ‘Years later, somebody will wear this and the first layer may have worn through, so the second will show. This way, it will still be beautiful.’ That’s the essence of what I do.

How do you incorporate art into your work?
I’m currently working on a project linking art with fashion and invited ballet dancers to my showroom. I said to the first, ‘Dance with paint and leave a trail while you move.’ At first, she found it difficult, but the more she went into the movement, the more she freed herself. Haute couture is not about expensive fabrics or how much you spend, it’s about the creation. It should be an irreplaceable piece of art.

You said she felt free – is that how you hope people wearing your designs feel?
Yes. We have lots of rules put onto us about what we should wear. Couture is not about wearing brands. It’s about walking into a room and people saying, ‘You look beautiful’, instead of ‘The Gucci looks good on you’. It should be part of you and a representation of who you really are.

For more info see•-LCI_website_October_Lulu_Li_Article8-1280x1679.jpg•-LCI_website_October_Lulu_Li_Article9-3-1920x1220.jpg

Words by Sophie Goddard 

Photography by Marcus Maschwitz