Tuesday, February 21, 2017

In conversation: Helene Morris, Lonely



It’s interesting to note that two of the most beautiful stores in my neighbourhood come without any screaming street frontage: Curio Noir and Lonely. What lies behind the doors of both is something very special however, and their elegant, understated and unique approach is what makes them stand out from the crowd.
With an offering that encompasses lingerie, swimwear and womenswear, the impeccably crafted Lonely label was founded by Helene Morris (below) and partner Steve Ferguson around fourteen years ago. Their aforementioned Ponsonby flagship store on Mackelvie Street arrived in 2014, with its window-sized piece of marble a discreet-yet-statement making frontage hinting at the beauty within.
The fit out was the work of multi-disciplinary designer Rufus Knight in collaboration with Lonely CEO Steve, and has been called the physical embodiment of the brand’s thought-provoking aesthetic. It comes complete with sparkling water on tap and refreshingly spacious fitting rooms, which are such an essential for me when lingerie and swimwear are in the mix. Its design saw Knight awarded the top award in his field at The Designers Institute of New Zealand, Best Design Awards (the annual showcase of excellence in graphic, spatial, product and interactive design) 2015, picking up a Purple Pin in Spatial Discipline, the supreme award for that area. He also won two Gold Pins – for retail design and stand out emerging designer. The judging panel said the Lonely Ponsonby store has a "superb, international quality fit out that would hold its own in any fashion district". 
When I speak to Lonely designer and co-founder Helene, she tells me opening the store was a natural progression “to be able to give our customers a complete experience. The online experience can only deliver so much, and to be able to feel garments, try them on in an environment that reflects our values and aesthetic was something that we felt strongly that we wanted to do”. I ask her if there were ever moments of hesitation before putting the store’s bold design into motion, and get the perfect answer. “I think we have always loved challenging people, stereotypes and been confident in doing so,” says the designer. “I think rather than being hesitant we were really excited to show people that there is another way to create and enjoy the instore ‘physical’ retail experience.”
They have also maintained a very clear vision about what they wanted their globally successful, much loved Lonely lingerie brand to be all about, as in: "no padding, no push-ups, no G-strings". The photographic phenomenon known as the Lonely Girls Project was launched not long after the lingerie label, and has become one of the key identifiers of the brand. It shows real customers and lovers of the brand wearing the lingerie, and was a direct reaction to traditional lingerie imagery. Helene has said in the past the goal was to "empower women, make them realise that they don't have to be a certain way to feel beautiful”, and it has been a consistently glorious, runaway success. More women are being discovered and photographed all the time, and Helene tells me “it’s incredible how it has connected the brand with women from all over the world. We are really proud of what we have achieved with it so far.”
The Lonely Girls are body confident and amazingly diverse, but often still quite young. I ask if there are plans to feature older Lonely fans too, to which I get a definite “yes”. “We tend not to define age as a boundary for our customers,” says the designer, “but often we do find younger women more eager to come forward. Continuing to define our version of diversity is something we are passionate about.”
Next, talk turns to their newest collection for winter, which starts to drop into store in February! Helene says the ready-to-wear line features earthy coffee and tan tones alongside soft pastels, with splashes of bold marigold and ketchup colours that pop and dance. “We have worked with local artist Sarah Larnach and developed embroideries for our knitwear,” she continues, “and have repeated our popular wrap cardis in soft pastel coloured mohair.”  Their super popular, amazingly wearable swimwear collection has grown steadily over the past 18 months, and the new range has more new styles including soft rib wrapped pieces and a fresh take on their incredibly popular ‘Dita’ story which every woman I know seems to own several pieces from. The lingerie range seasonal update features beautiful chartreuse European lace, new spider web halter styles, “and we also have grown our collection of more simple shaped styles, my favourite being the Lena,” says Helene. This style was named after ‘Girls’ writer and star, Lena Dunham “who has been incredibly supportive of Lonely in the past year. We have also increased our size range to include 16 bands, which is a really exciting development”. Dunham is also now a Lonely Girl in the official sense, appearing in imagery for the brand's LGP alongside fellow 'Girls' star, Jemima Kirke (above, in photos by Zara Mirkin).
Last up I ask: what is the next immediate plan for Lonely, are any more stores being planned?
“We have such an amazing team and really hope that together we can expand our experience and product further both in New Zealand and beyond,” says Helene, and with their track record thus far, you just know that’s a given.
lonelylabel.com



 (this story first appeared in the wonderful Ponsonby News)

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