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Gilles Laumonier

The president of Lee tells Marie Davies why authenticity is so important in restoring the denim brand to its former glories

You recently relaunched the Lee flagship store on London’s Carnaby Street - what reaction have you had?

We held a launch party, which was a lot of fun. We had a great turnout from the fashion and entertainment industries. The shopfit harks back to the brand’s US workwear heritage with a mix of authentic whitewash and dark painted woods. This will be rolled out into all our other stores and mirrored in our shop-in-shop fits that will go into our large indie stockists and department stores.

Will you also look to overhaul Lee’s product?

Lee has more than 100 years of history and expertise in denim design and production - that sort of archive is priceless and we will draw from that as well as pushing the boundaries of new design and product development based on what we know. The 101 range is our premium line and I see it as the benchmark of where I want to take the brand.

Lee collaborated with Vivienne Westwood for autumn 10. How did that go?

It’s brought a lot of PR and goodwill to Lee. Such projects provide great inspiration and energy, which trickles through the whole brand. Vivienne Westwood is a high-fashion brand and Lee is an international name in terms of denim, so it’s great that Lee can lend its skills in denim production to collaborate on a trend-driven capsule collection between two industry institutions.

What changes have you noticed in the fashion industry over the years?

The past 10 years have seen a craze for a certain eccentricity in design. Everything was about ‘more is more’ with lots of extra details on product and bold colours and surface-detail effects. This used to be really popular but recently there has been a shift to an understated design aesthetic where the cut of the cloth and the overall line is more important than embellishments, which match with the current trend for heritage brands.

How does Lee fit into the direction of the market?

The market is moving into authenticity - real fashion and trends that take brands back to their roots. There is a desire for brands with a history. I want to return Lee to what it once was - a major player again in denim. In five years’ time we can be there. I like to be in a challenging position, as it brings innovation to the industry. I compare Lee to the Coca-Cola and Pepsi competition; I would rather Lee be Pepsi - constantly challenging the market.

How did you get to where you are today?

I never had aspirations to be at a certain place by a certain time. I’m passionate about what I do and I need to have a fit with what I’m doing; it has never been calculated. I have a good feeling for product, which is my strength. I was at [bag brand] Eastpak for 10 years including five years as president, and it felt like home, but Lee was a great opportunity for me to restore such an iconic brand to its original glory.

Where do you like to shop?

I like areas as opposed to specific shops; Paris and New York are my favourites because of their atmosphere.

What was the last thing you bought?

A pair of Red Wing shoes.

Who is your style icon?

It has to be Steve McQueen. He is just real and cool.

Who is your favourite designer?

I admire Raf Simons because his clothes are really creative but equally wearable.

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