meet the makers | May 13, 2021 |
Why this LA designer is making heirlooms for Gen Z

Some say youth is wasted on the young, but Lulu LaFortune is making the most of every minute. A stint working for Kelly Wearstler brought the Boulder, Colorado, native to Los Angeles, where she now fills her days designing high-end furniture, lighting and pillows. With a jaunty collection out in the world and a second on the way, LaFortune is riding the crest of a wave—and she’s only 24.

She attended the Savannah College of Art and Design, studying furniture design and fabrication with a double minor in interior design and textiles, and while working on her capstone project, she hit upon a theme that would become the basis of her debut collection, Joie de Vivre. “My senior thesis at school was all about heirlooms and the way that heirlooms and things that are high-end for furniture, much like designer fashion brands, are [made] to be kept for a long time,” LaFortune tells Business of Home. “I’m trying to get away from that fast-fashion, Ikea [model], where someone is buying it and throwing it away when they move. I’m trying to emphasize that we should be investing in pieces that stay with us for a long time.”

Left: The Watts table lamp (left) and the Bayes Boudoir lamp sitting atop a Madox cabinet Courtesy of Lulu LaFortune | Right: The Morris armchair Courtesy of Lulu LaFortune

LaFortune is a wunderkind, but you can hardly chalk it up to beginner’s luck. Although Joie de Vivre is her first launch, she has immersed herself in the interior design industry since she was an undergraduate. Upon graduating, she fast-tracked through Dakota Jackson in New York to Wearstler’s furniture design team in Los Angeles, cutting her teeth sourcing for the buzzy hospitality project the Santa Monica Proper Hotel, before accepting a product design position at James Perse, where she worked in the fashion designer’s growing home division in early 2020.

When the pandemic struck, LaFortune was furloughed—but with determination and a bright disposition, she got to designing. “I was like, ‘OK, here’s this blank slate of time that you never get in your life,’” she says. “[With] that moment of emptiness, I started my LLC immediately and began connecting with vendors to see if they were still open, and launched this collection while I was furloughed.”

The pieces in the Joie de Vivre collection reflect the designer’s effervescent personality and youthful spirit, with a material range that resonates with consumers across a spectrum of ages. From the Morris armchair, covered in rich blue velvet and dripping in silk tassels, to the Watts table lamp and its candy-colored stained glass, each piece is playful yet poised—and rigorously crafted by local workrooms in the L.A. area. “Every magazine, they’ve all been interested in this collection, which really opened my eyes,” says LaFortune. “It’s been really interesting—I have a woman who’s 60 that wants to buy my chair, and [at the same time], the brand designer at Snapchat wants to buy it, too, and she’s around 30. It’s an amazing thing to see that it [appeals to] such a wide audience.”

Left: The Garnett pillow and its joyful trim Courtesy of Lulu LaFortune | Right: A vignette styled with pieces from the Joie de Vivre collection Courtesy of Lulu LaFortune

LaFortune may have a wide band of buyers interested in her designs, but she has her sights set on Gen Z as her core demographic. “I’ve been on this tangent of how to connect with Gen Z while they’re working on building careers,” she says. “They don’t have money yet to spend $2,000 on a lamp, but ultimately, they are my clientele. So how do I bridge the gap until they’re ready to invest in furniture?” She is turning to Instagram as her main tool to cultivate brand loyalty in a younger demographic, in the hopes that five or even 10 years down the line, these same followers will be able to purchase her products.

In the meantime, she is already hard at work developing her next collection, with plans to develop a home accessories line at a price point more accessible to that Gen Z consumer. And while she is targeting buyers broadly characterized by a taste for fast fashion and Prime shipping, her designs are inspired by the handmade processes of 18th- and 19th-century furniture design, with flourishes of art deco and turn-of-the-century pomp. “I look at a lot of Copenhagen street style—I love the colors they use and their mixture of formal and casual,” says LaFortune. “It’s about bottling up a contrast of old craftsmanship and 21st-century pop culture.”

To learn more about Lulu LaFortune, visit her website or find her on Instagram.

Homepage image: Lulu LaFortune | Angie Stong

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