For those of us who have longed to own a beautiful and original piece of art, but have perhaps not been able to afford the often substantial price tags, then South African art curator turned design entrepreneur, Lucy MacGarry, has the answer. Her company, L’Mad Collection, is creating genuinely wearable art, by designing accessories and pieces of clothing made from 100% luxurious silk, and printed with unique artworks by highly talented artists. The resulting products are truly unique and breathtakingly beautiful, and good enough to hang on a wall, not just on the body.
LoA had the opportunity to experience these beautiful designs at first hand when we interviewed their creator, Lucy MacGarry, at the recent Sanlam Contemporary Handmade Fair in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Tell us where the inspiration behind the naming of the business came from and how you got started.
The name is actually an abbreviation for Lucy MacGarry Art and Design, so its just a fun take on that. The company was born out of the fact that I am an art curator and ran a gallery for five years as an art director in Johannesburg, South Africa. I recently left my position as the art director for three corporate collections - Spier Wine Estate, Nandos Global and Hollard Insurance - and decided to focus on my own project, L’Mad, which is a collaboration bringing my skills from the art world and all the visual stimulation I had at my fingertips, to something that is more accessible. What I noticed in the gallery world is that art is often inaccessible for people from a price point of view, and also a little intimidating when they walk into a gallery space. So, what I did was to bring artists together to work with me on creating a really high-end product, combining art and design, and working only with 100% silk. Just as I decided to focus on my business entirely, I was offered the position of Art Director for the Joburg Art Fair, which is great, so I am doing that as well, but I think the business side and curating side of things work well and feed off each other. It is very inspirational because I am constantly meeting artists and there is no end to the amount of creative collaboration I am able to do.
Tell us a little more about the business, L’Mad Collection, itself.
I established the business three years ago and it has grown quite organically. What I have decided to do is focus on two to three new collections every year. They are quite long processes, because firstly I decide to work with an individual artist and then that artist creates work specifically for a particular collection. So, I don't use existing artwork for my collections, it is all unique, and that takes a lot of time to produce. For example, the new Ben Johnson range that I have done, we really collaborated very closely. I had a visual sensibility of what I wanted to achieve and we worked quite hard to get to a point where we were both happy with it. There is an aesthetic that I would like to run throughout the brand, but then at the same time I don't want to guide the process too much because these are artists and as soon as you start to do that, you take away from the end result. My role in the process is really about who I select to work with and where they are in their own careers.
Did you find artists keen to work with you on your collections?
Yes, that is what I found really interesting. Here in South Africa, people are really quite design or art focused and they believe there are strict lines between the two, but in fact I think this distinction is actually breaking down. I have had a lot of fantastic artists wanting to collaborate with me and I am really quite surprised and pleased. For example, Michael Taylor who I have done an extensive amount of work with is a really established Cape Town artist, and as a result of our collaboration, has even started to collaborate with other designers. This is lovely and I think that artists don't need to be so precious about the fact that they have an art career solely, there are different roles that they can play.
Do you find that your customers appreciate this unique aesthetic approach you have taken with your business?
Actually, I am beginning to see this now after three years of being in business, reaching a point of maturity where my customers recognise and connect with my brand - they can see a L’Mad, even though it is a different artist’s design with each collection, which is wonderful. I also tell the story behind the design of each collection and the artist who has collaborated with me on it. For example, Titus Matiani is an artist who hasn't got much recognition and he lives in Attridgeville outside Pretoria in South Africa and he travels all around the world. Basically, he paints from his head, he doesn't use source material - he will go to a particular place, such as New York, (I have done a scarf design based on his visit to Brooklyn), and he will paint these aerial views of cities that are really magnificent. As soon as you start to talk to people about where he comes from, and what his background is, it opens up a whole new understanding of what he has produced and how they view it. For example, some people have actually framed his scarf upon purchasing it, so in fact I actually do a whole range of framed scarves for people as well. So it becomes a piece of wearable art in its own right.
I work very closely with a designer called Lisa Jaffe of Guillotine in 44 Stanley in Johannesburg, she is also an entrepreneur and very successful, doing fantastic work. She has developed an aesthetic that is totally recognisable. I currently work with around 10 artists when developing my collections, but I like to work with one artist at a time on a collection for around a year, so we really get to know each other. This was what I did with the artist Ben Johnson - we started with the scarves, and now he has designed a whole range of beautiful silk fabric for a collection of kimonos that I have just released. I have decided to slowly move into clothing, not just scarves, and I will do this quite carefully as I see my products as a luxury gift item. Funnily enough, I sell a lot of my products to men who are buying beautiful, unique and luxurious gifts for their wives and their girlfriends and don't feel intimidated when buying a beautiful silk scarf or a silk kimono, nor are these pieces size specific, so it takes away a lot of the gift buying stress for men.
What has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
It was when Elton John decided to buy a whole range of scarves. He bought one Michael Taylor design to incorporate into a collection for the Elton John Aids Foundation and he did a campaign to raise awareness. They created these beautiful gift boxes which they sent to celebrities and musicians such as Lady Gaga, David Bowie and a whole range of fantastic stars, and every one of those people received in those gift boxes one of my scarves designed by Michael Taylor. It was fantastic that Elton John saw the scarf and loved it, and then chose to incorporate it into these gift boxes. Also, Bruce Springsteen when he came out to South Africa, his whole entourage on the tour were given one of my scarves, and they loved it because it is easy to take away, it is tiny to pack and carry, and its exquisite. A scarf is also easy to ship around the world, it can just be put into an envelope.
Is export a key part of your growth strategy?
Yes, it absolutely is. I have a range of works in Vienna and a few in London but I am definitely looking to go into the United States, and particularly to New York.
What are your future plans for the business?
It is very much to grow and to put a lot more PR energy into my work, as I think that is what I really need to do, particularly as I am a solopreneur. I do have people helping me every now and then, but I think one focuses so much on production and getting the work out, that there is a lag in communicating, and people love my story. It is a good product and people respond to it, and I particularly have a lot of German and American customers who really love my products, but I don't have the time to really communicate about my work, my business and my design aesthetic.
What advice would you give to other young women entrepreneurs just starting out?
It is such a daunting thing to start your own business, I know it was for me. My father is an entrepreneur, so it is in my blood, but it is like being an artist and putting yourself out there, and it is very scary at first. But if you feel that you have the inclination to do it, then it is really just about taking that first step, because as soon as you take that first step, then everything falls into place. There is some sort of magic that happens and it is amazing. People respond and have great respect for somebody that has the courage to follow their dreams and start their own business.
Visit Lucy's website: lmadcollection.com
Why LoA loves it….
To own a unique L’Mad Collection scarf or kimono is like possessing a wonderful piece of art, but having the pleasure and experience of wearing it instead of just having it on the wall to admire. The silk scarves genuinely are like individual works of art and reflect the unique personalities of the artists who create them. Lucy MacGarry is a design entrepreneur with a unique vision and we simply love her collaborative approach - the end result is absolutely worth it. --- Melanie Hawken, LoA founder and editor-in-chief