Q&A: London-based designer, Lira Leirner

I don't remember how I came upon London-designer Lira Leirner, I just remember being mesmerized. Easily entranced by flirty dresses and dewy eyed models, I got lost in her minimalist yet sumptuous designs. Cocktail dresses sculpted from red raw silk or a kitchen dress covered in nautical tattoos, everything was interesting and worst of all… affordable. Most of her designs are from 100 to 300 GBP, but could easily be mistaken for a designer dud found on Sloane Street. The fascinating jack-of-all-trades took time from her tea to chat with LadyLux about how growing up on a French farm led her to make sexy dresses.

LadyLux: What's your background?
Lira Leirner: My background is all over the place. I was born high up in the Pyrenees in France on a farm in a little room next to the cow’s stable, not in a hospital. This is something I am very proud of as to me it’s the “on paper” proof for the closeness I feel to nature despite the fact that I’m outwardly a city girl - heels, pretty dresses, neat hair and all. Put me in a tent in boots and a massive wool jumper, I’ll secretly be a lot happier. We then moved to a house near the beach in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a few years but I spent most of my early years in Hamburg moving from house to house yet always near a forest. I finally fully moved to my favourite city, London, where I completed a Sociology and Culture degree at Goldsmiths and have been living with my partner for five years since.

So is your collection “Nature DeLuxe” a manifestation of your closeness to nature?
LL: Yes. It manifests itself through my interest in beauty and nostalgia, which runs through the Young Day Dress Line as well. The aspects that interest me are the duality between the mundane and exciting and the act of looking twice and looking just a little closer in order to actually SEE beauty. I went through a phase of writing down every moment of beauty I came across, which sharpened my eye for them quite immensely. Once you learn how to look, you’ll notice how much more there is to actually see. However, much like the phenomena that inspired them, it is a difficult job to capture the details and beauty of the complexity through photography. My Nature DeLuxe pieces are definitely the least photogenic of all my collections yet in reality some of the most beautiful.

How did Lira Leirner start?
LL: Last November, my granddad's exhibition “Dimension’s of Constructive art” at the House Konstruktiv in Zurich had been brought over to Europe for the first time, marking a worldwide connection of the origins of Constructive Art in Switzerland and Brazil. It was quite a historic event for the art world, but it also was the setting for a series of epiphanies that led to my kicking into overdrive and setting up a company upon my return to London within two weeks. I only actually registered my company later, but started working nights and weekends from that moment on. The biggest epiphany I got from a conversation with a banker who, unbeknownst to himself, made me realize that one should contribute to and create (not consume) what one truly loves. I started with the website by Russel Martin, the logo by Stuart Bannocks, the dresses by myself and the pictures by the photographer Steve Bliss. Those were the foundation stones of Lira Leirner.

What got you so focused on dresses? I personally only wear dresses. I hate pants! So I find the concept very refreshing.
LL: Ah, I’m the same! Dresses are, without a doubt, the best piece of clothing anybody can own and wear. Yes, boys included. I pity men to a certain small extent that it is not widely culturally accepted to wear something as comfortable yet flattering as a dress if you are a man, fabulous exceptions not included. A dress is all an all in one outfit, making getting dressed very easy. A dress is a lot more comfortable than trousers because, as much as people try to avoid that awkward fact, dresses don’t “pinch” that certain lower area like trousers do. In fact, this anatomically applies to men even more so than to women, and I think that the fact that we can see some boys wear their trousers as low as we know they do is actually a way to spatially emulate a skirt but still “get away with it”.

Yes, dresses are so much easier. I never thought about men though…
LL: Furthermore, dresses are actually more demure AND sexier than trousers, something many people seem to completely forget. Most women have lovely legs. And for even more women, the loveliness ends at around mid thighs to the regions above it. Whilst trousers fully display the little bulbs we naturally have and love to have, more often than not in a squeezed in and uncomfortable form when wearing trousers, a dress will give it space and air whilst perfectly keeping it away from sight, actually allowing the gorgeous parts of the legs to do the speaking. Trousers do the opposite – they squeeze where it shouldn’t be squeezed and are loose where the legs are lovely. No, thanks. Dresses also have a wider range of forms and a wider platform in terms of coverage to display whichever concept or fabric it is I’m exploring. Dresses are statements and that’s what I want my pieces to be!

I noticed you cater to women of every shape and size.
LL: Originally, I made dresses for myself because I am petite and high maintenance when it comes to the quality of what I wear, meaning that most pieces out there simply didn’t suit my shape. This is why I have quite a few “small” pieces. However, having been in the situation of not being able to find high quality dresses that actually fit me, I have great sympathy for anyone in the same position. I feel strongly about the individuality of each woman’s body, especially when they are perfectly healthy but simply do not fit into a certain standardized ideal. For example, tall women are thin at a UK size 14 (US 10), while I am on the upper half of “normal” at a UK size 6 (US 2). What many high fashion lines fail to realize is that the standardized shapes created in order to cater for a “wider range” is in fact often counter productive, excluding an even wider range of body shapes. I therefore create dresses in a range of shapes and sizes, including dresses for tall women, curvy women, small women and boyish shapes. However, I feel so strongly about this issue that I have recently introduced a Custom Made Lira Leirner Line – not as a tailor, but as a designer.

How has your line been received in London?
LL: Overwhelmingly well. The sweetness and quirkiness paired with high quality fabric and actually snugly fitting, classic cuts have particularly attracted women who are girls at heart. My dresses have no vintage aspect to them at all, but include a pinch of nostalgia, which I think is why it appeals to vintage lovers as much as it does. It makes them reminisce about times when we wore the most amazing dresses and in my case when we built tree houses in the forest and pulled on cats tails. I have also been received quite well in the US, Brazil, France and Belgium, especially by fashion bloggers. And when I am actually wearing my own dresses whether to a club or just food shopping, I get stopped and asked where I got the dress – every time. Yes, in London, where anything goes!

What's the best compliment your designs have received from a customer?
LL: “This fits my body perfectly. I feel sexy, comfortable, and confident”.

Are you in stores? Or would you like to be?
LL: At the moment I am only selling online but the ideal situation would be to develop collections for boutiques across the big fashion cities in the world. I really should put my mind to it and contact a few buyers! Buyers, if you’re reading this, my email inbox is always open! (p.s. info@liraleirner.com)

Any plans of expansion?
LL: Well, if by expansion you mean exploration of garments, then yes, but it will be just me for quite a while. I am working on a collaborative project with the designer Stuart Bannocks right now, which will go live at the end of next week. They are friendlier on the purse than the dresses, unisex and uni-size! They are Royal Mail courier bags, computer bags, and clutches. OK, the clutch is maybe not exactly unisex, but the finish is amazing on all of them!

I know you're starting to dabble in menswear… have you ever considered making a female version? You know… trousers, shirts and blazers for women?
LL: I have actually made several blazers such as a cream velvet, cashmere check lined, two-piece pencil skirt suit but they are neither for sale nor on “display”. I’ve worn them out and about, but I don’t think they are good enough for the public eye just yet. The Raw Silk Shoulderless Dress has an accompanying jacket. I am definitely planning on making fabulous coats for winter and tweed dresses for autumn as well as other pieces throughout the wardrobe. I also think of the shirts I’m making for the men as unisex rather than for men only as I can see them worn by women just as much, and I am currently developing a pleated silk shirt for women. In short, I’m exploring different garments, but I don’t think I’ll be making trousers for women simply because I think these are better off in the hands of people who love them and know what they are doing there! I’ve made the Hooded Silk Travel Jumpsuit, though, with wide legs to emulate it looking like a dress to provide comfort and smartness in one. However much I venture out, I will always be going back to the form of the dress as it includes everything I love about fashion.

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