Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen launches underwear range
- Credit: Steve Thorp
The bad boy of interior design shows his über-soft underbelly as he throws open his studio doors in Cirencester this Christmas.
When you get a direct message from Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen asking whether he’s in time to share his ‘breaking Y-front news’ in our December mag, what’s a girl to do? Naturally I dropped everything – well, wouldn’t you?
I was introduced to the Llewelyn-Bowen Design studio cum showroom in Cirencester on the eve of its opening in the summer, where Laurence was elegantly draped on a Pleasure Island-wrapped sofa while daughter Hermione fielded the welcome desk, and the three of us looked on as the occasional passer-by pressed their nose against the sweetshop window.
This welcome taste of the exotica is obviously drawing a lot of attention in the Capital of the Cotswolds.
‘A lot of people have seen this and thought, ‘Oh, my god, what is he doing – is it going to be a Spearmint Rhino... a nightclub?’ It’s so preposterously cheeky and naughty that people might look around Cirencester and think, no, it’s not like that here at all... but actually we know that it is,’ he says devilishly. ‘They have a tremendous sense of humour here, and also a tremendous sense of style.’
Now, of course, the LLB dynasty couldn’t be more a part of the fabric of the Cotswolds if they had a mane of shaggy fleece and baahed becomingly. Having been in their 17th-century home just outside of Cirencester for 15 years now, Jackie and Laurence’s birds have returned to the nest, and brought their partners in the form of Dan (Cecile’s husband, and Laurence’s design partner) and Drew (Hermione), together with Dan and Cecile’s offering of beautiful grandchildren, Albion (four) and new-born Demelza.
In the summer, there was a lot of hoo-ha about LLB, Cotswold District Council and Flake Grey paint, that the nationals had a field day with.
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‘I loved that; I thought it was a clever bit of journalism,’ says Laurence. ‘I had been ranting about how boring grey was, and assassinating Farrow & Ball. It was one of the locals who got hold of the fact that the published planning permission says that I have to use Dulux Flake Grey on my windows. This is, in fact, the exact colour I’ve been using on all my windows since I moved to the Cotswolds.
‘But, of course, with a clever bit of repunctuation, it sounded as if the planners had said, ‘Now, you, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, we know what you’re like, so you’re going to have to use Flake Grey...’ It’s all part of the circus!’ he laughs, ‘and I’m kind of like a benign lion, swishing his tail, going ‘nuhhh, whatever’.’
The sexy – and that word can’t be bandied about enough in this instance – House of Llewelyn-Bowen fully opened in August, and it’s the first time LLB has had everything under one roof.
‘It’s fundamentally our showroom – we’ve never done this before as a design business; we’ve never actually had somewhere you can come and experience what one of our rooms would feel like if you commissioned us to do it. But it has kind of grown; like so many businesses over lockdown, we spent a lot of time thinking about what we were and where we were going.’
The availability of the buildings on the Bathurst Estate in Cirencester came at exactly the right time for the expanding LLB empire. As the town’s former police station, there is evidence of its previous incarnation – ‘miscreants and criminals in that door’ states the sign. ‘Most of my clients, in fact,’ quips Laurence.
And, could the location be better? It’s doubtful.
‘This is the prow of the ship that is Cirencester,’ he confirms, ‘this is quite literally the pointy end, and there’s nothing else until you get to Bath, really.
‘We are becoming the Cotswolds’ answer to the House of Gucci. Dan is now so embedded as commercial director, we felt very much that the kind of resources we’d need to front the businesses on a design and retail level was entirely encapsulated in Hermione; Jackie is still very much the matriarch... and even Albion has started doing some very creative colouring in.’
This is, of course, how all the great businesses were built. The baton being handed down through the generations. In this respect – and many others, though it may not appear to be on the face of it – The House of Llewelyn-Bowen is a very traditional institution. The LLB offspring have left the nest and followed their fortunes, but there’s a distinct pull back to the design empire... that, and Jackie’s home cooking.
And, following on from the extended lockdowns and 2020 Christmas-that-never-was, the LLB Dynasty is going all out to bring Cirencester much-needed festivities.
‘I want these windows,’ says Laurence, gesturing to the ones in the showroom, ‘to be like Hamley’s, like Fortnum’s; I want people to get very excited when they drive into Cirencester that there’s something to really see.’
The plan is to create a ‘couture experience’, where paintings, drawings and other designs by Laurence are printed onto fabric specifically for a client, in a colourway, scale and texture that’s absolutely right for them. And you can be sure you’ve seen nothing quite like these designs anywhere else. Let me just leave a few of the names here: Generous Elephant. Suburban Jungle. Mortal Toile. Lilies of Denial. Flamingo-go. Coq et Ananas. Pleasure Island... and pause while you enjoy rolling them around your mouth.
And, if you think that feels good, just try stroking Laurence’s Uber (ooooober) Velvet. While listening back to the recording of our interview, wandering the corridors of the House of Llewelyn-Bowen, there’s a long pause before I hear myself utter a barely-perceptible ‘ooh!’ à la Ken and Kenneth of The Fast Show, and realise it’s the moment I stroke the velvet. Think I’m over-reacting? Just try it, and then feel free to judge.
‘You will find that every sense you own is being over-stimulated,’ confirms Laurence, ‘but that’s kind of the point of it... you should be in love with where you live and desperate to get home.’
As a lover of antiquity, the history of art and the enduring effect design has on all our lives, Laurence is all-too aware of the importance of historic houses – be they grand or modest – and how we should protect them for future generations. ‘Everywhere you look there’s a carved face, or detail in the damask... the 20th century was crap for design.’
There were were some pretty wacky things going on design-wise in the 60s and 70s, though, I venture... ‘There were,’ he concedes, ‘but then everything got buried under the morass of the late 80s and 90s.’
You can’t argue with that.
I’m told Pleasure Island is banned from Amazon from being ‘too erotic’.
‘Albion loves it,’ laughs Laurence: ‘‘the birds and BUMS!’ Obviously they’re coco de mer, and not bottoms.’
And, are you likely to see Laurence in the Cirencester HQ? Please form an orderly queue, but, yes, Laurence can be found hanging out there – when not busy filming, painting, writing, being a ‘horse’ for Albie or doting on his adorable granddaughter – and he’s not so starry he won’t do the odd stint on the till when Hermione wants a break (‘It’s bound to go horribly wrong,’ he says in mock horror).
And, always at the centre of his universe is wife Jackie – his ‘Queen of Heaven’ – working on candles for the House of Llewelyn-Bowen brand. ‘She’s POURING tonight!’ says Laurence, doing a perfectly camp Carry on Screaming-era Kenneth Williams. The special, super-luxe candles being released for Christmas are Shangri-La and Escandalo, being added to Jackie’s existing ‘Earth Mother’ Apothecary Range.
It seems the wild couple of wilder interior design and late-night London parties are perfectly at home in the (not-always-impeccably-behaved) Cotswolds.
‘After 15 years of being here,’ says Laurence, ‘we have thoroughly, fundamentally established ourselves, and I’m really passionate about us doing it right here. We could have done this in Mayfair – we may still – and we could have very easily have done this in Singapore – and, again, we might. But, actually, the point is that the flagship is the Cotswolds. This is our figurehead, and so much is down to us being in the Cotswolds – including taking the piss out of William Morris – and I’m always thinking about Cotswold houses when working on my designs.
‘What is really lovely for us, as the dynasty grows, is that we now quite literally live above the shop: we live here, we work here, we eat together, we have fun together... In a weird sort of way it feels very modern, but ultimately it’s the traditional way of doing things. Every business that started in Cirencester would have been a family business, and the skills would have been passed on.’
So far, so blissfully in control of home/family life and media focus, but it’s not surprising to hear that TV production companies are clamouring to make a fly-on-the-wall series based on life at the showroom. And Laurence isn’t averse to allowing them in to document the daily activities chez LLB – or ‘Dragon Corner’ as it’s likely to become known, given the distinctive rampant (and I mean that in a heraldic sense) dragon that’s part of the brand. So, let’s keep an eye out for programming schedules, and know that the design dynasty will be completely in charge, revealing just the right amount of ankle, when it hits our TV screens.
Also be assured that this really is home, as Laurence and his team are determined to keep money locally, encouraging others to ‘spend where they live’ to support the local community, citing local brands, such as Octavia’s Bookshop, Cotswold Contemporary Gallery, Joules, and Barrington Ayre.
‘I don’t need to go to London, I don’t want to go to London,’ he states. ‘I want to stay here as much as possible.’
Oh, I’ve just remembered I lured you in this far with the promise of Laurence’s pants. All I can say is, if you don’t have Llewelyn-Bowen Design Rockin’ Robin undies in your Christmas stocking this year, then someone needs to have a serious word with Santa... but, before that, have a word with the man at Dragon Corner; he’ll be delighted to assist.
Llewelyn-Bowen Design, 42 Castle Street, Cirencester, GL7 1QH, llb.co.uk
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is the voice of the Giant in Cheltenham Everyman's production of Jack and the Beanstalk this season, running until January 9, 2022. everymantheatre.org.uk
Cotswold Life readers get 10% off at Llewelyn-Bowen Design if they bring in their copy of the December magazine with them.