“When I was a child I have a memory of drawing some clothes and thinking that is so easy, why doesn’t everybody have this kind of job?” laughs Laurence Chauvin-Buthaud. The fashion designer behind striking new menswear brand Laurenceairline has a warm, easy manner that belies her dedicated work ethic. Born in Côte d'Ivoire and raised in France, she splits her time between her showroom in Paris and workshop in the city of Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire. While Laurenceairline is up and flying now, Laurence didn’t have the smoothest of entries into the world of fashion.
“I left home when I was really young, at 16, to go to Paris,” she explains. “I was a waitress for two years and after I decided to continue my study. I wanted to do something creative. First I was more attracted to interior architecture but then I decided to learn about fashion.” When she finished her studies she did a number of internships including a few months at Louis Vuitton “but at the end I feel like I cannot kill myself for luxury,” she says with a knowing smile.
“In my life, what is to be rich is my experience,” she continues. “The only thing I am sure of is my experience. So if I feel something I just go; I don’t know where but I just go.” In that spirit she returned to Abidjan in 2006 with the intention of creating a women’s t-shirt collection. “I was planning to stay one month but I stayed six months,” she laughs. She built the collection with the help of a local character from the factory she was working with called Mr Bamba. “I asked lots of people for help but nobody had any time but this guy just take time to hear me and to take my ideas seriously. That man was really important in my career,” she says. “With him I really learned how to make something with nothing.” However, sadly, the collection didn’t sell. It was a tough but important lesson.
“When I built this first collection I was really young,” she explains. “I really learned; these experiences were a step. Also I saw myself completely: I know what are my faults, what are my good things.” She took time out to reassess, during which she spent a year in London where some good fortune came into play. She met the musician Keziah Jones who asked her to make him a stage costume. Having just made friends with an excellent pattern maker called Christina, she invited her to work together on the costume. Following that success, Laurence asked Christina to come onboard full-time.
That collaboration was a turning point. “When we decided to come back to Abidjan I already knew exactly what I wanted to do,” she explains. “A really simple menswear line with the shirt as the basis of my collection. I decided to work with African fabric. For me it was interesting just to give another reading of the fabric in a non-traditional way.”
From her workshop base in Abidjan, the Laurenceairline collection is now entirely manufactured by local workers that Laurence has trained up. “I think about Africa and I see people that have a lot of talent but they don’t have the opportunity to learn properly some stuff and I also came from the same background,” she says. “I came to Africa and I just knew a few things but for them it’s amazing things and I really feel that what I know can help. I really feel that altogether we make something good. That makes me feel alive and makes me feel that I would love to continue.”