For Soho House’s first Fashion For Breakfast of 2017, Gianluca Longo got the low down from the fabulously fun and oh-so-sweet designer Markus Lupfer.
Having grown up in Germany, in a little village between Munich and Zurich near the mountains and the Austrian border, Markus Lupfer is now an adopted Londoner. His designs and humour combined with femininity are brilliantly British, inspired by the world Lupfer surrounds himself in, from his friends homes’ to his travels to Africa and Asia. We’ve been fans of Markus Lupfer for as long as we can remember so it was a joy to learn about his inspirations and what’s coming up for the brand.
Where did it all begin? Why fashion? I was quite young maybe 15 or 16 and that’s when I thought fashion was something I was interested in. I started to study fashion in Germany and always felt like I didn’t have enough information and was always hungry for more. I came to London and studied at the University of Westminster in 1997 – and I loved it. It was so creative and exciting to be here and I just felt free. I did a work placement at Clements Ribeiro and Linda Farrow and when I graduated I had a little piece in Vogue. They did a page with three designers and that was really the beginning. Koh Samui saw the article and wanted my graduation collection in the shop. There was a printed leather coat and the next day it sold for £1000! Republica used it for their album cover and he (Koh Samui) was so excited that he wanted another collection. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But he was on my back so eventually I agreed. I would go home and work on my own collection until 1 or 2 in the morning.
What was your first fashion memory? My Grandmother’s sister used to make my Grandmother’s clothes. I was maybe 4 or 5 and I remember there were fittings and she pinned things on to her… Then at 14 or 15, I had two neighbours – girls – and they loved to dress up. So I think that influenced me quite a bit. It was the 80s and the time of the rah-rah skirts. It wasn’t too far to Milan, so we’d take the bus for shopping days. There was one time that I decided to send my CV to I’m sure 20 designers, Romeo Gigli, YSL… I did it whilst my parents were on holiday and now looking back if was really funny that I did it.
Which designers do you look up to? Yves Saint Laurent. Chloe. So many.
The garments I was always interested in knitwear. I don’t know why but there were possibilities; things you can work on and make different. I love leather but I’m holding back as it’s more expensive and difficult. I love tailoring. But in building the business I decided to go for the more casual softer front.
Why London? In Germany at the time fashion was very disjointed. I came to London and I loved the city, the language was easier and I felt comfortable.
In 2006 you became Creative Director of Spanish label Armand Basi… I felt there was something quite special and exciting. He told me a story of how when he was young, he loved to travel to Africa and paddled in his canoe to the Congo. Mr Basi was so inspiring – so I decided to accept the job. I stayed in London and flew back and forth. We did the first three shows in Barcelona and then showed in London. When he unfortunately passed away, his daughters’ decided to sell the company.
How is London different from when you first started? Quite a big change. With the Internet and social media there’s much more happening. In the 80s and 90s it was much harder to publish your work because it was all about the magazines. You were competing with the big houses to get in the publications. And therefore you needed to be louder to be featured. And then it becomes a circle where you have to be more outrageous to be seen. On the other hand it’s more difficult to build your business. For some it works, but for others it doesn’t. The coming and going of designers was quite substantial. Often people lacked commerciality (in order) to be loud. We started showing in February 1999 and then went on schedule. Obviously then you have to make a noise. You have to show but the show becomes more important than the commerciality. We were a balance between both that grew quite nicely. But the September 11 season was difficult. The Americans didn’t travel. Suddenly everyone was being very cautious and careful.
Creating the signature LIPS design When I wanted a break from showing I thought – how could I do this slightly differently. So I did a 180 and thought of the shop floor. Rather than servicing the journalists, to service the buyers and customers. I knew I wanted to make more knitwear but how could I do it differently? It was quite plain back then. When I sign (my name), I do a Markus ‘kiss’, so I sent lip artwork to my factory and asked them to do a few tests. Sequined lips came back and I loved it. We produced it and sold 50. So the next season I did another version and now, 10 years later it’s still the most popular. It was really about believing in it and making it a signature.
Where do the collection inspirations come from? It’s slightly different every season but there’s usually a theme. We start with prints, then colours and then images. We have a lot of image based products. Once I have those in place it’s then ‘who is the girl?’ and ‘how does she want to wear it?’ Then designing lengths and silhouettes. I’m inspired by travel and things that interest me at the time – often environmental issues.
And the SS17 inspo? I went to a friend’s place and she had this amazing house. She took me in to the garden. And from the garden we went through a wooden door in to a secret garden. The whole collection was based on that. During the presentation we had flowers hanging so it felt like you were entering this surreal world.
As a ‘small brand’ how do you advertise? We’re using social and press… However as a small company you think of collaborations. One thing I always say to myself if you have a product that feels right you don’t necessarily need to advertise it because it speaks for itself. It helps that our products are affordable, are unique, they have emotion and are witty. So you enjoy wearing them. On my own website I get an instant reading of sales. I listen to my friends and I ask them questions. I listen to improve.
Would you like to have your own shop? Yes. It’s a big commitment. I’m a risky person to a certain point. And I have to be 100% sure I have a point of difference.
Collaborations I did one with Topshop in 2000. It was a very early stage when designers didn’t do high street collaborations. Now fifteen years later those collaborations I would step back from. It feels tired and it doesn’t feel right to me right now. The artist collaborations I feel very excited about. I’m working on one at the moment.
Advice to fashion students: Always be true to yourself. Really figure out what your ‘thing’ is and make that work. Your personality. Find your corner. It’s about hard work and dedication and making that happen. There’s so much work – so it must be your hobby. You have to love it so you don’t mind working all evening. If you start your business always stay within your means. Fashion is a big bucket with a big hole in it and the money just goes down.
Your dream brand to work for? Chanel. I know I could do it.
If not fashion what do you think you would be doing? Graphics. Graphic design. Architecture. I love things about the stars and the universe – so an astronomer.
In your down time? I love to travel and see the world. Last year I went to Burma. Ethiopia a few years ago. This year I’m going to the Philippines.
“There is no other city in the world as creative as London. Or as free. You need to be able to let go. The music industry is huge here. From styling to hair and make up; amazing talent that goes all around the world. There’s something really special and fearless about that”.
And we feel exactly the same about Markus Lupfer, the designer and the brand.
Sabina wears Markus Lupfer ‘Flower Lip Bella’ Tee