Behind an enormous men-only gym in North London hides an artist's work studio. Well, according to Google maps. There is nothing to suggest that this carpark full of bodybuilders might be the home of MARLOW London.  A quick phone call later, and the entrance is was around the corner.

The space is dominated by a work table strewn with leather samples and tools. Acrylic paints line the walls and there is a pink sewing machine in the corner. It is here that long-term collaborators Chloé Marlow and Klara Hultén are working on samples for MARLOW London’s upcoming AW2020 collection.

Chloé Marlow in the studio

The brand specializes in brightly coloured bags with lasercut messages: ‘THIS IS A GOOD SIGN’, ‘WORDS ARE WEAPONS’, ‘MORE SELF LOVE’. Marlow explains, “the inspiration for the brand as a whole was my experiences with mental health and self-love. I found in difficult times I needed words of reassurance, positivity and empowerment – and to be able to create expression in a whole new way through bags is really exciting.”  “Yeah,” Hultén interjects, “like when I’m on a tight schedule and super stressed I can look down at the bags and they literally tell me ‘KEEP GOING', you’ve got this! Wherever I turn there is an encouraging message.”

Marlow met Hultén in 2016 whilst apprenticing in a bag factory in London during her final year at Central St Martins. Hultén has since created her own studio specializing in leatherwork. “So,” Marlow clarifies, “I design the collection and Klara helps me to bring it to life. We’re a really good team - we’ve kind of grown together.”   Marlow researches words that resonate with her, finding them through music, films, street art and Instagram. She then sketches and creates paper mockups of bag silhouettes she feels are missing from her wardrobe and sends these to Hultén for feedback. 

Producing in the UK is important to them both. “I really love working with craftspeople here,” says Marlow. “Having had my first experience producing in the UK, I've been able to see the skill we have here and the history with leathercraft. Even the dust bags and tags are made in the UK, so that every element is made locally. It’s really lovely to meet people from all over the world who are producing and creating here, in and around London.”

The scale of the production is deliberate; each collection is small, with up to eight styles and every stitch is finished off by hand. Many of their phrases (‘AVOID EYE CONTACT’, ‘YOU ARE EXACTLY WHERE YOU NEED TO BE.’, ‘YOU’VE GOT THIS’) are the result of collaborations with other women: artists, poets or writers, although anyone can request their own lasercut messages.  

They try to be as sustainable as possible: the Italian-sourced leather is a by-product of the meat industry and coloured using vegetable-dyes from tree bark, vegetables and fruit. The most recent collection’s colours were inspired by 70s posters and tonal stripes, focusing on sunshine oranges and subtle taupes.  The disco vibe even extends to the toilet at the back of the studio, where rainbow streams of light are cast by a rotating ball lamp on the ceiling.  “Oh, I live for colour!” Marlow exclaims. “Just swatches and swatches! I can be quite fussy: add a touch of yellow here, a drop of blue, until we get the perfect shade.”

For Marlow, the whole process is about “bringing a bit of fun into fashion, but also a bit of emotion and depth.” She says it surprised her when the egg yolk yellow bag from her last collection sold out, as she had thought it might be a bit too unconventional. But as one of her new keyrings perched on the worktable asserts, why not ‘EXIST LOUDLY’?

Tags: Making Of , Marlow , London , Bag