Cléa Lala’s exercises in style

There’s only one step from extended metaphor to embroidered graphics. That’s what Cléa Lala’s original creations show us.

Since they are made of different materials (textile and paper), cover different fields (urban, lingerie and haute couture) and evoke different emotions (aggressiveness and fragility), the pieces of this Parisian are difficult to describe.

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But there is nevertheless a common thread in her pieces: graphics, embroidery and the love of words, both literally and figuratively.

Among Cléa Lala’s creations, I particularly enjoyed her “excercises in style”. Somewhere between allegories and wordplay, Cléa Lala gives form to “words” – or deforms them – to deteriorate their meaning or remind us of their true origin.

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In another sense, we get the impression that the artist wants to give life to the expressions that we sometimes hum more by habit than for their real meaning. Whether as a reminder or simple inspiration, I don’t know, but music seems to be a significant influence in Cléa Lala’s pieces.

Cry me a river

Illustration graphics, typography, lettering, embroideries and metaphors… The good news is that Cléa Lala, the chain stitch pro, has created her own style!

The multi-disciplinary artist has collaborated with Levi’s, BHV Marais, Konbini, Paulette magazine, Maison Anne Fontaine, From Paris, Mademoiselle Pierre, Undiz and more.

INTERVIEW

Why “Cléa Lala”?

Because Cléa is my name and Lala one of my nicknames first, it was just my Facebook name but it has stuck ever since. I have kept it as a signature for my personal and professional projects.

Can you describe your work in 3 words?

  • Exploration: because I like to explore different techniques to answer different sensations I want to develop and share.
  • Revelation: first, because I like to evoke an image, a sensation or a new feeling through my pieces and reveal the meaning of words. Secondly, because my pieces say a lot about me.
  • Transformation: because one part of my work consists in transforming an abstract idea into a concrete form, and the other in transforming through customisation.

Why choose to associate graphics and embroidery? Where did you learn to embroider?

I don’t remember learning how to embroider. I just kept on experimenting with the things I liked to do when I was a child, whether it was textiles or creating objects. I have been customising all my clothes for years and I made myself a lot of accessories. It was a passion, a hobby that I kept for after school.

It was only after I graduated in visual communication (I passed a Literary Baccalaureate, BTS certificate and a BA at Olivier de Serres) and spending a year in Athens, that I really started to connect graphics and embroidery. Then I took some time out to work on some craft projects (which I had given up for the laptop during my studies). I also let myself be guided by my feelings, even though I had no idea how it would end up. That’s when I did my first cap, which ended up in a collection, and I realised that I was linking two fields which are very important to me: textiles and visual creation.

Are your creations 100% made by hand or do you sometimes use the sewing machine?

People ask me this question more and more lately. I even heard someone saying “Why does she embroider things by hand that are so nice that they could have been made by a machine?”. Sometimes I do switch the machine on, but I mostly handwork because it is a real release to me: the preparation and the conception phases take a lot of time and I love to reflect on my projects as much as I need to. Working with thread is amazing because it is not like painting or ink: if I don’t like it, I can always go back and try again!

But sometimes I have an idea and I just want it to take form. Then, I have the impression that the design process takes longer than the realisation itself. In this case, I use the sewing machine. But my creations are never 100% machine-made, I always intervene manually before, during and after, and usually I mention it somewhere.

You create your work by your own means and handle lots of techniques. Do you have a speciality?

I think that my speciality is in telling stories. It’s not in one technique in particular but it’s a method which consists of handwork, meticulousness and attention to detail.

I like exploring, and I could answer your question more precisely with Picasso’s quotation “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it “.

So, you lived in Greece? What memories do you have of that time?

Yes, I did. I lived there for a year, four years ago. I had just graduated with a BA from the Olivier de Serres Art School and I was very happy to leave school. I worked at BIOS. Exploring urban culture, which is a dream-like place where pluri-disciplinarity reigned. I have very good memories of that time. I met some very important people to me and my logo was born there. But, at the same time, I was only 25, in a country in which I had to learn how to read, write and speak was the main force I kept and that I used then to go back to Paris and start my personal projects.

You are a young artist, you have already collaborated with big brands, and your future seems promising. How does it feel?

Thanks a lot for your optimism! It is comforting, because brands help us to reflect on our work but I don’t think that cumulating collaborations is promising… Collaborations that I have worked on with brands such as Levi’s, Chantelle, le BHV Marais, Anne Fontaine, etc. have given credit to my pieces to the general public, but fashion is fashion: something transitory which must be renewed all the time!

From urban work to haute couture via lingerie, which clothing style resembles you the most?

All of them! But I like natural materials, basics and refined cuts. Having said that, I have a penchant for simple things, with one little detail that changes everything.

What is your relationship with fashion?

I love it as much as I hate it!

As a teen, I would read tons on fashion, I would go to exhibitions, my mom would record all the catwalks and interviews of stylists on the TV channel Paris Première, just so that I was aware. I loved the fact that people could work on, and play with, his or her image just by changing the “envelope” they chose to show.

But what I hate the most in fashion is fashion itself! This omnipresent importance of the pomp and of the first image, it’s both scary and disconcerting!

This embroirery reminds me of an old-school English expression “Let your hair down” meaning “take it easy”. I have seen you have a project using fluorescent thread, can you tell me more about it?

This embroidery was part of a set with “Cry me a river“, “L’effet que l’été me fait“ and “Laisse pas trainer ton fils“. It is something which I am exploring and, even if the illustration and/or the stitching of threads is mastered, I like to give them a certain freedom and, especially, a form of life, since we can play with the threads. I like the idea of making a living canvas from which we can get different forms (when the threads fall down or are tense) and so, offer different interpretations.

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Cry me a river

On which piece until now have you the most enjoyed working?

On “Cry me a river” without any doubt. This is not very funny but, in the end, I was very happy and it finally materialised.

But if you had asked me the question a few months earlier, I would have said one of canvas of the Valentines collection and, even earlier, I would have talked about my very first cap, with the hand-embroidered owl.

But, in terms of client and collaborative work, my last project on a collar with the maison Anne Fontaine was a real treat to conceive and make. I love working on projects where I can do what I want!

What are you working on at the moment?

Myself! I am taking back some private projects. I’m trying to focus and find some inspiration from my life.

I have missed your workshops (at BHV, Levi’s, etc.). Do you have any workshop coming? A few days ago, I was animating a workshop organised by Les Nanas d’Paname for NAF-NAF. I embroidered some pieces of clothes for the launching of the new collection… It’s very on-trend at the moment, so may be we’ll meet soon J

Tell me an artist or a person who inspires you?

Everybody! Often, images or words of people, artists or not, which cry out, they touch something in me… but this is not exactly how I would describe it. I think about it a lot. So I draw an image to get closer to that emotion that I want to crystallise and communicate.

Is there an anecdote you would like to share?

I made Cry me a river the same night I saw Darren Aronofsky’s movie, Black Swan. (I saw it a bit late).

Even though I knew the main storyline, I found it absolutely terrifying and I was deeply affected by the idea of art meets schizophrenia, where you could only reach perfection through mental disease. It’s completely crazy!

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Thank you Cléa Lala!

Her creations are on her website, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram. Go and have a look!

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