The London Embroidery Studio’s production manager Lucie McKenna on pushing the boundaries of textile design, and working with the likes of Bobby Abley and Louis Vuitton.
The London Embroidery Studio is behind some of the most intricate embellishments that appear on catwalks across the world, having worked with brands including Louis Vuitton, Victoria Beckham and Acne Studios. Production manager Lucie McKenna has led projects for Mary Katrantzou, Kit Neale and Bobby Abley. She spoke to Drapers about her stand out projects and how the team push the boundaries of textile design.
How did you get into embroidery as a career?
I have always been interested in creating textiles, and I’ve always been obsessive about texture and the tactility of design. I studied surface textiles and design at London College of Fashion (LCF), which is where I met Andrew Kenny, who was my second year tutor. A few weeks after I graduated, he told me he was looking for a studio assistant at The London Embroidery Studio. At first I was only there a couple of days a week, helping out on larger projects, but as the studio gained traction and more projects came up, our reputation grew and I was able to spend more time there, we took on more projects and I started working full time.
Do you have a favourite technique?
Design permitting, I try to use and mix up as many as I can. Using different techniques makes each finished piece look really interesting and layered and separates our work from conventional embroidery. It means that the design works on a number of levels – not just creating something that is aesthetically captivating but also physically engaging.
What’s the best thing about your job?
It’s amazing to get to work with big fashion houses as well as some incredible smaller designers. Helping to create work that pushes the boundaries of textile design and fashion is a great feeling. I also love hearing people say: “Wow, it looks like you have so much fun!’” I do feel lucky – I get to experiment and play with ideas every day.
What kind of challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis?
There’s a lot of problem-solving. Reacting to the issues that different techniques throw up is a constant challenge as you never know for sure how a technique, fabric or thread will react. Each project is so different and with companies constantly pushing boundaries, it can often be the first time we try a particular technique.
Do you see yourself as a designer?
Yes, absolutely. I see myself as an embroidery designer. I tend to see designs as embroideries and I often imagine potential stitches and techniques as soon as I see a drawing or an image. I think the creative industry cross-pollinates now more than ever and it’s great. It really helps to have an understanding of similar professions and to share passions with the people you’re working with. Being able to get the most out of someone’s vision definitely requires an understanding of what they do.
Are there any bits of work you’ve done that you’re particularly proud of?
Looking back I think I’m proudest of the pieces that were the most challenging, such as the Tresors Sauvages dress we designed for autumn 14, which ended up taking more than 90 hours to embroider. That and some incredibly detailed patches I worked on for Ekaterina Gerasimova, who was a student at LCF at the time.
Working with menswear designer Bobby Abley for eight seasons was always fun, as the designs were playful and we had a great working relationship, I had a lot of creative input and Bobby trusted me to advise on a lot of the artistic decisions.
What keeps you motivated when you’re working?
Having a creative input into exciting projects and knowing that clients trust my interpretation of their designs. I love building up a strong relationship with a client and working together to get the most out of a project. I feel really lucky to be given space and time to create such beautiful work.
Favourite clothing brand
I’m really enjoying Noah at the moment. I like buying basics or odd items with a nice fit and transforming them myself with embroidery.
Favourite places to shop
Dover Street Market, Goodhood, Naked CPH
Last fashion purchase
Baby blue wallabees from Clarks
South of France with 15 close friends.
Last book you read
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Last film you watched
Waitress at The Breakfast Club
What do you get up to at the weekend
Either in the garden with my cat, watching my boyfriend play rugby or meeting friends for brunch and heading to the flower market.