New Type #25: Mémère – Sarah LeBlanc Interview

July 26, 2017 10:00 AM

Upon arriving to the Mémère studio, it felt like stepping from the bustle of New York City into a vintage Chanel coin purse. The main entry displayed the simple typeface of the logo across a white wall, and over it a projector played "La Dolce Vita" softly in the background. A chic kind of European nostalgia decorated the various corners of the space, and it was accented with various shades of pale fabric swatches and half-empty spools of thread. Sarah LeBlanc, the founder and designer of the brand, greeted me with a tray of homemade muffins and coffee. And as we sat down in a pair of cozy fur-lined armchairs to discuss the line, I began to connect the delicate dots of the story behind the first Mémère collection. 

 

---------------SARAH LEBLANC INTERVIEW---------------

 

Audrey from TWELV: Congratulations on your new line! This must be a really exciting time for you. I’d love to get to know the brand a little more in depth. Let’s start with the name—Memere. What does that mean?

Sarah LeBlanc: It’s French-Canadian and it means “grandmother.” It’s what I call my grandmother, and she’s a sewer. She taught me how to sew when I was younger. She inspired the line, and I still often call her for sewing and design tips. 

  

A: That’s amazing. So the name has a lot of significance for you. Are there any other sources you draw inspiration from? 

SL: I think I’ve been inspired a lot by where I’m from in New England. It’s a very picturesque environment. I grew up swimming in the river and in a house built in the 1700s on the marsh. I would go and collect antiques with my mom on the weekends, and I just have a really romantic outlook on life in general. So, that really inspired me to look more into the Romanticism movement and to learn more about it. I try to do as much research as I can about the history behind romanticism and use that in my design. 

  

A: So you grew up in kind of this idyllic romantic setting. What initially led you into the field of design?

SL: I think my grandmother and my mom. And just collecting vintage clothing and fabric and cutting it up, making new things. That really influenced it. I’ve always been really artistic, you know, taking art lessons while I was growing up, and I’ve always loved clothes. It was just always something I’ve really wanted to do.

 

A: So you site something called “Wabi Sabi” as a major element of your Fall/Winter 2017 collection. Can you tell me a little more about Wabi Sabi and how it plays a role in your designs?

SL: Wabi Sabi is the Japanese concept of imperfection in beauty, and it’s basically the idea of valuing the beauty of imperfection. In Japanese culture, they consider these “flaws” to be beautiful themselves. For example, a bowl with a single crack in it. Or a tree with decaying bark. The imperfections are what make them interesting. So for our show, I requested the roses to all be a week old so they had this sort of weathered appeal. It’s all about finding flaws and turning them into things that are beautiful.  

 

A: Wow, that’s a really powerful influence. 

SL: It is. I actually first heard of it through Rei Kawakubo. She uses it in a lot of her work at Comme des Garçons and she’s also a major influence on the line. 

  

A: So, there’s a lot of Japanese influence as well as more traditional elements of European design.  

SL: Yes, the Japanese and the French. I’ve noticed how they sort of collide. They have a lot of complementary style elements. 

  

A: You wouldn’t assume that those cultures would have so much in common. And for the collection you have all neutral tones. Is there a story behind this color pallet?

SL:  I’m just naturally drawn to neutrals. I don’t really like bright colors. I was adamant on the nude color. I was really inspired by Chanel— specifically tea dresses that she made in the 1930s. She started by making frocks in these nude shades and they really influenced me. And the black in the collection is from Rei Kawakubo. In the ‘80s, her group called themselves “the crows” and wore all black. So, that was where the nude and black came in. 

  

A: Okay, so you’ve cited Chanel and Rei Kawakubo a lot in your work. Would you say they are your biggest fashion icons?

SL: Definitely Chanel. And I love Rei Kawakubo—I think she’s revolutionary. I think she’s such an artist. And that’s what I consider myself to be. I don’t really think of myself as a fashion designer, so much as an artist. Stevie Nicks is also my ultimate style icon. The brand itself is a combination of dark and a classic kind of witchy. 

 

A: With such a fusion of influence, you must have a really unique design process. What’s your favorite part of it? 

SL: I love the research. And I love gathering fabrics. I like going to the botanical gardens and sketching. I really like the whole conception stage and coming up with ideas. And of course, the final moments when you get to see your ideas come to life. The show. Those five or ten minutes and then starting all over again. I love that cycle. I live for that.

  

A: And then what would you say is the hardest part of the process?

SL: I think being an entrepreneur. You know, this market is very oversaturated and it’s challenging, so you really have to have a passion for it.  You have to just keep going and not give up. Dust yourself off and believe you can make it. 

  

A: What kind of woman is a Mémère woman?

SL: She’s very classy. I always think of what my grandmother tells me. She gives me little tips. Like when you go out, just show a little bit. Show one thing. Don’t show a leg and décolletage. The Mémère woman is classy and educated and has morals. I just think of the kind of woman my grandmother is. She is such a strong woman. She had these men who fell in love with her and she was adored. My muse is Linda Rodin. Someone sophisticated, but young at heart. Just someone with unique spirit. And chic. 

 

A: If you had to describe the collection in one word what would it be?

SL: Raw. It was my first collection. It was every idea I had in my mind of what is beautiful. I took a lot of photos and traveled to Europe for inspiration, really just putting myself and my collection out there for the first time. Whereas in my next collection that I’m working on now, everything is more streamlined and closer to what I intended the business plan to be.

 

A: Do you have any upcoming projects you’re excited about? 

SL: I think right now it’s my new collection. I’m really excited to be working on it. And then my e-commerce site is about to launch so that’s a really big thing too. I’m really happy with where everything is headed– just really excited for the future!

 

 

INTERVIEWED BY AUDREY ROSE ARNOLD

EDITED BY HOLLIS DE LANEY

 

PHOTO CREDIT: SEVENTH HOUSE PR

 

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