Interview with Marlo Saalmink

It seemed rather contradictory, journeying to the abandoned countryside of West-Denmark, to meet a contemporary artisan. As we pass through sleepy towns, we approach the old trade city of Århus, where LEON LOUIS has his atelier. He politely meets me at the station and as we pass through cobbled streets, picking up black coffees along the way, it becomes apparent we are truly isolated. His expressive creative space, appears filled with dark fabric swatches, experimental leather treatments and endless rows of sketchbooks. Leon is a man working from intense reflection. As he walks me through the latest collection, each word resonates clearly in the atelier. Leon speaks and crafts his garments from the heart.

Leon Louis AW 2015 Photo by Mikkel Völcker

Leon, lets begin with your origins. How did you grow up and what made you who you are today?

I grew up in a small village close to Århus where as you have seen today, everything was rather limited. So as a kid there was not that much to do. In my teenage years spent mainly skating every day, there was for instance no skate park (we struggled for 10 years to get one and still did not even manage it). The city was very stagnant.  Therefore we always had to be creative by building our own ramps and rails. It was a local street culture of creativity and hunting for good spot at construction sights etc. Being on guard everyday and having to push your creativity each day to do what your love, is part of what made me the person I am today.

Leon Louis AW 2015 Photo by Mikkel Völcker Leon Louis AW 2015 Photo by Mikkel Völcker

Let’s explore the Idea of Norse and Nordic symbolism. Do you take references from the North and its rugged nature?

Actually for me Århus is comparable to the city where I grew up – not by size – but for me mentally as you get older, more experienced and well-travelled, Aarhus represents the same peace as my hometown. For my work, I am often abroad and therefore I love coming back to my atelier within the quite walls where I can suggest all the expressions and quietly transform everything into the Leon Louis universe. Quite often, I use the nature as a meditation and I like walking through our beautiful surroundings. It is the forests and spread fields,  where I can keep my mind clear and focus on my goals.

Leon Louis AW 2015 Photo by Mikkel Völcker Leon Louis AW 2015 Photo by Mikkel Völcker

When it comes to your way of creating. Could you take me through your initial process?

To be totally honest, I am always getting inspired by my surroundings and I think as a very creative person this is not something you can turn on and off. My point is that my process for an item can start anywhere. I work very much with functionally and wearability, therefore I often start my process from a certain issue or need. It comes from within.

When it comes to building a collection, I do this the more traditional way. I am always very inspired by the London of the 1800’s and the older traditional ways to tailoring, therefore the collections always have a huge focus on these directions. Furthermore, we always work extremely much on fitting everything so it fits both the male and female silhouette. As we target to approach this unique unisex fit.

Leon Louis AW 2015 Photo by Mikkel Völcker

Well, when I read about you, I can indeed see that you aim to work from historic references, focus on tailoring, with a contemporary twist. Why do you adhere to these values and how are they visible in your work?

I would say the tailoring in my work shows it self clearly. We never work with our patterns in the traditional way as I always develop towards the shapes of the human body. I wanted all garments in our collections to have the most complimenting fit and feel. The historical references show in mainly in the choice of fabrics and cuts, closures etc. E.g. for the SS15 collections I was very much inspired by Danish military details in terms of the special made metal closures I had made and the detachable lining we added to our leather jackets.

We have simply have to speak of the jewellery pieces by Kim Vestergaard, whom you have worked with for several seasons, as they are simply striking. How do you both speak together and create?

Kim and I have actually worked together since the first collection and therefore we are at a point where we start to have a quite respectable archive of ideas and inspiration elements.We have a ritual that we have kept since our infant years. For each new collection we start with a home-cooked three course dinner including good rums and wine. Meanwhile and afterwards we then discuss the inspiration and direction we desire for the present collection etc, it allows for open dialogues. We often end up having quite a few of these dinners as you can imagine……

Leon Louis AW 2015 Photo by Mikkel Völcker

 Leon Louis is also part of a world of darker tones. How do define blackness?

For me, it comes quite natural, as black for me is actually a brighter color that makes me see things clearly. Black allows for a shift of focus towards the garments themselves, their special characteristics, finishing and texture. Structure and the unique development of fabrics and treatments, therefore is innate to tying a collection together.

Dialogues. What was the most striking conversation you had during the past years?

It will definitely be a conversation I had with a face reader I meet totally randomly, who of course also read palms. He appeared out of nothing and has a kind of messenger at his side dressed in white and who furthermore was a Whitney Houston inspired singing lady-boy. They appeared as a very odd and inspiring couple, who predicted that I would become a mentor or teacher in the nearest future. Furthermore they sensed a great spirit in my soul. It all ended up with a very spiritual group hug, singing Whitney inspired songs and the lady boy ending up in tears. This was a strong and most sincere moment.

Leon Louis AW 2015 Photo by Mikkel Völcker

Lets close with how we choose to Interact. How do you wish for people to perceive this LEON LOUIS universe that you crafted so carefully.

For me, it is very important that the Leon Louis universe is perceived as a strong and independent influence for the discerning wanderer. It should be a dialogue between your personal expression and the direction you choose to follow in life. I hope the androgyny, feminist and masculinity is understood in this manifestation of Leon Louis.  The past collections,  we have had a strong focus on the masculine approach for both men and women and for the future I will have a more feminine approach adding on a lighter feel to some of the collections. This is also to maintain a connection with both genders, which is pivotal to my work. Recently, we also developed the line LL72, which is less daring, but more black in the sense of color. It is meant as a natural complimenting addition to our artisanal pieces. It is an appraisal of stripped down tailoring. Returning to the essence of the garment, but still keeping it clean, sophisticated and stripped from irrelevant detailing  The mainline simply does has any compromise in terms of composition. It is a sincere way of sharing craftsmanship with our clients and customers. For me, this connection is very important, Leon Louis stands for sincere garments, excluding none, beckoning to all.

Leon Louis

All images by Mikkel Völcker

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