A conversation with Ingrid Vercruyssen, founder of the accessories and interior design label Lilou, invariably leads to a tour of her in-house studio, located on the ground floor of a stylish Victorian property overlooking the River Dee in Chester, UK. A cosy sunbathed room, with a Victorian style fireplace is home to a vibrantly painted AVL loom, and a smaller vintage sixteen shaft Harris loom. In every nook and cranny, there are racks and boxes of gaily colored and painted yarns–mostly silks–plant dye stuffs, yarn winders. It is here that a rather unique approach to textile design is finding its way into scarves, accessories and lengths of handwoven fabrics.
Ingrid summarizes the original idea of her venture as the following, “The raison d'être of Lilou is my desire to connect people with 'their' color. I wanted to create cloth that went beyond its basic function, and take the opportunity to expose people to their color, the ones that make them feel relaxed, energized, happy, motivated...I know, from personal experience, that color can really boost your confidence: When you feel good about what you are wearing, you feel like a million bucks, and it shows. Equally, when you wear clumsy colors (something I did quite frequently in my youth!), self-doubt follows you like a shadow. The idea was to create accessories that would be colorful, and have lots going on, without being over-bearing. They can be worn with a neutral wardrobe and really spiff it up. They can be casual, or formal, but the customer feels great wearing it either way. For me, design always starts with color.”
It is old news that the colors that surround us have a direct influence on how we feel, act, and react. Much research has gone into this topic, and it is known that impulses from our visual system's color channel not only travel just to the brain, but that a portion also passes through the hypothalamus (the part of brain that regulates basic body functionality: temperature, blood pressure, heartbeat, metabolism etc.) From the hypothalamus, impulses then go to either the pineal or the pituitary gland, responsible for our biological clock or hormone production, which in turn affects growth, maturation, and metabolism as well as having an effect on people with brain disorders or emotional troubles.
Colors, in short, are a paradox in our lives: we love them for their vibrancy, for how intimately familiar they feel to us and for how they influence us. And at the same time it is precisely this part of our personality that we choose to cover up in our everyday dress code, where subdued tones tend to be our first choice. And that, says Ingrid, is precisely what got her inspired in the direction she has chosen.
“Most of us choose neutrals as a safety measure, myself included at times. Real colors are reserved for those few ‘eccentric’ friends! Sadly we miss out on all the great things that colors can do for us.”
Ingrid takes the inspiration for the colors she creates from her direct surroundings, nature, art. Her eyes naturally focus on all the small color 'gems' that we tend to overlook in our busy lives. From there, it gets more technical: Drawing on ninety percent experience and ten percent serendipity, she intuitively chooses the dyes for her project. Then the yarns are chosen, and hand-dyed and painted in line with her vision. It is at this stage that dyeing is like alchemy, sometimes frustrating, but mostly exciting. Also, it is a painstaking, time consuming process notably because Ingrid is committed to using only natural dyes and sustainable mordants, as part of her commitment to ethical business practices and craft traditions.
She says about the process, “I am without doubt first and foremost a dyer, and only then a weaver. My craft is 'color', so to speak. If the colors do not seem 'just right', then I am not satisfied. Weaving is my tool of choice to convey the power of color. Using natural dyes is of course more time consuming and it is sometimes difficult to get predictable results without plenty of practice. But there is no doubt that they give a much softer, natural looking result, which is spot on with what people appreciate in colors. Natural dyes are not 'pure' colors, but rather are composed of a weighted spectrum of different shades and hues. This gives them a unique combination of vibrancy and softness. They are not as harsh or one-dimensional as synthetics, which in addition 'just fade' over time. Natural dyes on the other hand 'mature', develop, with age. Finally, I know this sounds like a ridiculous detail, but they also have lovely smells, not at all like the chemical versions. And when you spend days between different dye baths this ends up being an important factor, and makes the difference between work being a pleasure or a drag.”
Once the yarns are dyed and ready, the next step is to decide on a weave structure that will highlight the colors, and show the dynamics of the cloth. Spun silk has proven a great ally in this process, as it has a real affinity for natural dyes, and has an innate ability to reflect light, creating a dynamic result. The weave structure is often kept simple by design, second in importance to the colors. The result: a unique and fluid fabric in a constant state of change, and which time and time again manages to surprise and entertain both the wearer and onlookers alike.
Lilou's philosophy and designs can be seen online (http://liloultd.com). Ingrid also runs an online color consultancy service (http://lilou-interiors.com).
Pamela Ravasio is an ethical fashion journalist and consultant, and the publisher of the Award winning eco fashion blog 'Shirahime'