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One of the keys to being a great designer is having the ability to successfully integrate expertise and experience gained from other disciplines, industries or sectors into your work and being able to translate your inspiration into a tangible reality. Lee Broom tells Stacey Sheppard how his background in fashion has influenced his approach to design, propelling him to the forefront of the British design scene and enabling him to become one of the UK's most talked about contemporary designers.
Since launching his debut furniture collection at the London Design Festival in 2007, Lee Broom has gone from strength to strength. In just a few short years, he has built a prolific portfolio that encompasses lighting, furniture, bar and restaurant design and has built up an extensive fan base, the likes of whom include Kanye West and Roman Abramovich. But for someone who has risen to the top of the industry so quickly, it is astonishing to learn that Broom has actually had no formal training in interior design. His route into design is in fact rather unconventional. From an early age he was destined for a career in theatre and at 16 he was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
But a radical change in direction came when Broom entered a competition organised by The Clothes Show. "When I was 17 I entered a fashion design competition, which was judged by Vivienne Westwood. I won the competition and at the event asked Vivienne for her autograph. She wrote her phone number instead and asked me if I wanted to spend a couple of days at her studio," says Broom.
When the two days were up, Broom showed Westwood his portfolio of over 100 outfits designs landing himself a seven month internship at her studio and a job in Paris dressing the models for her show. "It was an incredible learning experience and that was very much the moment I decided I wanted a career in design," says Broom, explaining that it was this experience that prompted him to enrol at Central St Martins to study women's fashion.
Working with the doyenne of British fashion is something that many young designers can only dream of and whilst Broom chose not to pursue a career a fashion, he has in no way wasted the opportunity he was given and he says that his time with Westwood taught him a great deal.
"I really admire her tendency to reference the past in her work whilst not getting stuck in the past. I was inspired by this outlook and I have interpreted it into some of my own furniture pieces, particularly the Heritage boy collection, which was very much inspired by traditional British manufacturing techniques and materials," explains Broom.
Throughout his career Broom has acquired somewhat of a reputation for his fervent support of the manufacturing industry and has even been labeled by some as the pin-up of British manufacturing. "We have a lot of talent, craftsmanship and industry at our disposal in this country and this is something which should be championed," he says.
"I enjoy the process of manufacturing in this country. It allows me to pay visits to the factory and to keep a fine eye on the detail - an important factor as my products can often be quite difficult to produce. Working as a young designer with established British companies can be a meeting of two different minds but it provides opportunities to work with and challenge traditional techniques to push boundaries."
In 2008, the Rough Diamond collection followed a similar direction with Broom restoring vintage furniture back to its original condition before incorporating lighting elements. A year later however, his style appeared to mature. Gone were the attention-grabbing lights of the previous two collections instead replaced by a more muted yet nevertheless audacious reinterpretation of traditional British manufacturing techniques.
The 2009 Heritage Boy collection was divided into three distinct ranges: carpetry, parquetry and tile. The Carpetry Sideboard, which features a Wilton carpet front, inspired by antique Persian rugs and incorporating royal British motifs, even won Best British Design in the Elle Decoration British Design Awards 2010.
Most recently however, Broom has collaborated with Deadgood, a leading British design brand that specialises in producing the highest quality furniture and interior products. "Deadgood approached me with the idea of designing a collection and we instantly hit it off," says Broom. "I felt confident to create a range with them as the quality of their manufacturing and finish is so strong, as is their product design."
Product design for Broom, however, is his most recent endeavour. It is his work in interiors that really launched his career in the industry. "To support myself through college I set up a business with my friend Maki where we would provide interior styling on a very small scale for my local bar," says Broom. "As they expanded, we provided the same service for their other venues and this basically grew and grew."
A major refurbishment of a venue called Nylon in Moorgate kick started the pair's career and the success of the project led to the opening of a formal interiors partnership called Makilee. So what appears to be a somewhat fast and furious career for Broom has actually been gently simmering away for quite some time.
"Anybody who has had seemingly overnight success will tell you they've been slogging away at it for years. I had my interior design partnership for five years before I launched my solo career so I had some experience, particularly in running my own business," says Broom.
Building on this experience, he has now designed over 40 bars and restaurants across the UK and his latest project, the design of the personal shopping suite at Top Man in London, represents his first foray into retail design. But there is without a doubt plenty more to see from the UK's brightest design star.
"I'm currently working on my new upholstery collection for The London Design Festival in September. I am also redesigning all of the Coast retail stores globally so a big project for the next couple of years," says Broom. Eager to expand his portfolio even further, he says: "I haven't designed a hotel as yet so this is something I am keen to do. A major ambition of mine would also be to design and stage a pop concert. I think it would combine many of the disciplines I have learnt over the years such as theatre, fashion, lighting and interiors."
Now this is something we would surely all love to see! Lee Broom has recently been confirmed as a judge for the WAN FURNITURE AWARDS 2011.