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LEO Brussels label bad taste
Photography Adam Peter Johnson

LĒO is the Brussels-based fashion label deconstructing bad taste

Founded by Leonneke Derksen, Joëlle Laederach, and Matthias Medaer, LĒO explores why one person hates something another one loves

“This summer, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party in a park in Brussels on this beautiful sunny day, and her brother, who’s in a hardcore punk band, dropped by. He ended up performing for us – these super explicit, sexual songs about genitals, and being a strong woman and rejecting men – and all these little kids gathered round and started dancing away. We were like ‘is this really happening?!’ It was so, so inappropriate, but it really made us laugh.”

Leonneke Derksen of Brussels-based label LĒO is explaining where she finds the inspiration for her collections – and, unlike many other brands, it’s not necessarily in the pages of a book or deep in the depths of the internet. “We’re more about drawing on our experiences, and tapping into certain feelings.” the designer continues. “We’re really influenced by these weird, awkward moments, when two things just don’t sit right together. There’s a lot of humour running through the DNA of the brand.”

Founded in 2016 Derksen, Joëlle Laederach, and Matthias Medaer, LĒO was born of a need to do things differently. The three friends met while working at various fashion houses post-graduation, at a time when conversations around the fast pace of fashion and the industry’s inner-workings were picking up pace.

“Our experiences at Chloé and Carven were really valuable, but even from the start, in our minds we were thinking there must be another way to work,” says Laederach. “We were working such long hours, well into the night, with these big teams, and we were like ‘how is this possible?’ Okay, the garment needs to be perfect, the fit needs to be perfect, but treating ready-to-wear like couture – the kind artists like Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior used to make – was a bit much. It didn’t feel spontaneous, and for us, it kind of took the fun out of fashion.”  

It wasn’t just the pace of fashion that the members of LĒO weren't keen on fitting into, though. Graduating around the time of the blogger boom, Derksen and Laederach were always the odd ones out on the Paris fashion scene. “Joëlle invited me and a group of friends to the Chloé show one time, and we all thought it would be fun to go in these totally over-the-top looks made up of vintage clothes we’d found in thrift stores,” says Derksen. “So there were all these guests in full-looks, and us hanging around on the fringes in these wild outfits thinking it was funny. Now, that’s taken on more resonance, as this new focus on sustainability and consumption infiltrates the industry.”

“We’re definitely about figuring out the limits of bad taste, and we’re not interested in staying ‘safe’” – Joëlle Laederach

The designers’ interest in the cycles of fashion is something that has permeated their work from day one, as they describe themselves as being part of an ‘in-between generation’ that saw the dawn of fast fashion. Many of the label’s collections take the bold graphic prints and trashy elements found in high street stores and elevate them to luxury standards.

“Our clothes are luxury, sure, but we’re not ignoring fast fashion – we play on it quite often,” explains Laederach. “Last season’s denim printed pieces, for example, have been through the whole fashion chain. They were made by a couturier years back, then filtered down into stores where they’re sold for a Euro or two. Then, we brought them full circle and back into luxury again.”

The three, who relocated to Brussels soon after setting up the label (“mainly for logistical reasons, and the fact you can rent a studio twice the size of one in Paris for the same money”), also find inspiration in bad taste – with their adopted city playing a big part in that.

“It’s a bit of a mess, which we really love,” laughs Derksen. “It’s a really vibrant place, and I think it’s quite hard to place things here – it’s not like anywhere else I don’t think. Antwerp has been cleaned up, and the same with certain parts of Paris. Opposite our studio, on this little square, there are loads of hipster bars and restaurants opening up, but there’s this one fried chicken shop, Hector Chicken, that’s still amongst it all, totally out of place. In Brussels, tackiness sits alongside luxury, which is really inspiring to us.”

“We’re definitely about figuring out the limits of bad taste, and we’re not interested in staying ‘safe’” continues Laederach. “Our design meetings usually consist of us trying to figure out limits – we’ll analyse various things and be like ‘okay, why do we like this? Why do we hate this? It’s all about exploring the boundaries of why one person hates something another one loves.”

For SS19, the result of this biannual bad-taste summit is a collection entitled Evasion, which bears dolphin prints, tie-dye shirts, satin parachute trousers with tribal Sisqo-esque motifs, and brashly beautiful snakeskin pants and jackets, as well as highly-covetable acrylic earrings and tiny bags – of which the likes of Dazed cover star M.I.A., Kehlani, and Rina Sawayama are fans.

“There are a lot of ‘tacky’ 90s elements to this season’s offering,” explains Laederach. “The prints, the accessories, some of the trims. You know, back then, you were going out and you were sure you looked good, but when you look back at the photos, you’re like ‘oh my God, I look so bad!’ But then look closer, at the details, at the feeling the image evokes, and you’ll realise there’s more to it than good or bad. The Evasion collection is a balance of all of that.”