Meet Lulu LaFortune, the Gen Z Designer Reviving Centuries-Old Crafts for the Modern Age

·7 min read
Photo credit: Angie Stong
Photo credit: Angie Stong

Furniture, home decor, and textiles designer Lulu LaFortune is on a mission to provide investment-worthy heirlooms to the next generation. Inspired by everything from the stained glass craftsmanship of the 18th century to the this year's runways at New York Fashion Week, the Los Angeles-based designer is producing beautiful, unique, and joyful creations for the home that are sure to be passed down for generations to come.

LaFortune grew up in Boulder, CO, land of the entrepreneur, and always dreamed of having her own label. Prior to arriving at SCAD, the designer dreamed of a career in fashion as she grew up sewing with her grandma and creating prom dresses with her mother. However, after one class as a fashion design major, she decided to pivot to interiors.

"It's funny because the construction of learning to sew and pattern-making translates really well from fashion to furniture, which was really fun for me to explore," says LaFortune. "I minored in textile design to be able to bring that fashion aspect into furniture and make my pieces more feminine because much of the furniture program at SCAD was very woodworking-centric. I also minored in interior design to bring it all together and be able to create a whole world with my pieces. Let's just say I got a little carried away at school."

Photo credit: Angie Stong
Photo credit: Angie Stong

Prior to graduation, LaFortune decided she wanted to work for an interior designer who also designed product as she says that she not only "wanted to move up the ladder but move sideways." LaFortune soon discovered Kelly Wearstler and became enamored with her style, career, and breadth as a designer of interiors, furniture, and home decor. The recent SCAD grad heard back from Wearstler after she'd given up and moved to New York six weeks prior, but within the month, she packed up her bags once more and moved to sunny Los Angeles where she spent the next two and a half years honing her craft under the design icon. The budding LaFortune worked with Wearstler's team on product, textiles, and even on designing the stunning Santa Monica Proper Hotel.

"In L.A., the design world is really small and so you're constantly meeting people and it's easy to connect through social media or word of mouth," says LaFortune. "I found while working for Kelly that it's easy to message someone who can help you find a person who works with resin or metal, which also helps you network along the way. As time went by, I realized I was ready and had the designs I'd been thinking about for a long time in place. I also knew some people I wanted to work with to make them happen. When the pandemic hit, I had all the time in the world and it was time to dive in."

The First Collection: Joie de Vivre

LaFortune's debut collection began with inspiration from her final thesis project at SCAD. The first piece, The Morris Armchair, was designed as part of her thesis project that was centered around the Arts & Crafts Movement, and thus the armchair was named for its most prolific leader, William Morris. LaFortune had also spent countless hours interviewing people of all backgrounds about the furniture that had been passed down in their families and the pieces they planned to pass onto their children as part of the project.

Photo credit: Angie Stong
Photo credit: Angie Stong

"I learned about the connection people make with furniture as they grow up, and I wanted to create pieces that would last throughout a person's life," says LaFortune. "As I built the other pieces, I wanted to work with stained glass, and the designs just came from there. I hadn't seen all the pieces together until a week before the photoshoot and it was so cool to see how they'd come together and evolved into this photogenic collection. It was amazing."

LaFortune says The Watts Table Lamp, which features a metal interpretation of French triage craftsmanship and stained glass lampshade techniques that date back to the 1700s, became an instant hit and remains a shining star of her creations so far. Her take on French triage craftsmanship also comes into play with The Madox Cabinet (named after a painter who was a member of William Morris's design firm) and she brings a modern take on stained glass to The Bayes Boudoir Lamp, while The Garnett and Dearle Pillows weave Arts & Crafts-inspired design back into the collection.

Photo credit: Angie Stong
Photo credit: Angie Stong

The Garnett Pillow was named after Annie Garnett, a prolific weaver who eschewed industrialization in favor of hand-crafted pieces and her work became a favorite of Queen Alexandra's. The Dearle Pillow was named after William Morris's friend and protege who created some of the top-selling Morris patterns. However, Lafortune's approach to design and sourcing the best local craftspeople is anything but antiquated. She says she found the woman who does her stained glass work after searching "#stainedglass" on Instagram right as the artisan was preparing to quit her skill for good. This is just one of several happy accidents that LaFortune has come across throughout the last year and a half via social media.

The Newest Collection: "Le Passé est Présent"

While she says her first collection was more "grandma meets Parisian," LaFortune's latest collection was heavily inspired by French and Scandinavian street style as well as the NYFW runways from the last few seasons, while still holding true to her love of centuries-old craftsmanship and techniques. "Le Passé est Présent" debuted earlier this summer, less than a year after her first and is equally as joy-inducing.

"With this new collection, I really wanted to cater towards a younger audience and release something that's more fresh but not necessarily modern," says LaFortune. "We're featuring The Watts Table Lamp in a polished aluminum and have a puffy sofa that was inspired by a Prada down coat, and now that's all over the runway. I love looking at how people are pairing contradictory items like ball gowns and sneakers right now while still looking back at a lot of old techniques of crafting and merging all these things together."

Photo credit: Angie Stong
Photo credit: Angie Stong

LaFortune says that all six pieces in this latest collection are named after classical artists (think: Ambrose Heal, Princess Honeychile, and Clara Longworth de Chambrun) while the colorways are inspired by major moments in pop culture. This design alchemy creates a funky mixture of 1821 and 2021, leading to the notion of the past is present. She hopes the following launches will see an expansion into a lifestyle brand and she is also considering fashion accessories.

What's amazing is LaFortune's smart, confident designs and maximalist aesthetic feels both incredibly mature for a 25-year-old and yet incredibly youthful and exciting. The designer says she doesn't spend much time sourcing inspiration from other interior and product designers, but she really loves what artists like Katie Stout are doing, among other young guns who are creating tomorrow's pieces today.

"There's a really fun crowd coming up in design right now," says LaFortune. "It's so exciting to be a part of and will help make all of us better in our respective crafts."

The designer also values promoting the incredible craftspeople across the country that help her bring her visions to life and her latest collection highlights Miguel Rosales and his role in upholstery and sewing various pieces. LaFortune says with her whole mission being the pursuit of great craftsmanship that allows her pieces to stay a part of collector's lives for years to come, it's important to support and showcase the incredibly talented people who help make that happen.

While social media and the rise of Tik Tok and platforms like The Expert, which can connect anyone to the world's top talent, great design is more accessible than ever before. LaFortune wants to make sure that translates more to thoughtful collecting than losing steam on the departure from fast furniture. She also hopes her vintage-inspired designs encourage the younger generation to mix in pieces from 1stDibs, Chairish, or even Craigslist and other second-hand platforms. And as the pendulum finally swings away from white-washed interiors to the colorful world of maximalism, LaFortune's cheerful yet chic creations are sure to become the instant heirlooms we cherish for decades to come.

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