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The Interview: Lena McCroary, Founder and Creative Director, Sanne

Sadiyah Ismailjee
31 March 2020

Sanne has rapidly become known as a tailoring house which fuses forward thinking, contemporary, designs with the traditional art of tailoring. Savile Row bespoke tailoring is often considered old-fashioned and nostalgic. Founder and Creative Director, Lena McCroary wanted to use it’s historically loaded DNA and transforms it into clothing that is suited to today.

After studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins, Lena worked on Savile Row as a cutter for bespoke menswear. After 4 years, she realised an opportunity to build a house which created a new approach to Savile Row tailoring.

Located in prestigious Mayfair, Sanne’s atelier creates contemporary, cutting-edge sophistication with one-of-a-kind, sublimely-crafted products. Lena tells us more:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

Growing up in London, I was always surrounded by creativity. My mother was a jewellery designer, and my father a very talented musician turned lawyer, so my frontal cortex was constantly being stimulated from a time before I can remember. Imagination and inventiveness was valued in our household as an important part of daily life. My sister and I were encouraged and pushed to explore music, painting, drawing, writing, you name it. I’m always thankful for this childhood experience, it was simply wonderful.

My high school then further nurtured my interest, we had a fantastic art and textile department. Again they were subjects that were very much valued and taken seriously, and helped me build a strong portfolio of work which got me a place in Central Saint Martins, and a job on Savile Row.

When did you launch and what was the initial response?

Our official launch happened April 2017, and the response was nothing but positive from friends and family. But it was definitely a hustle and it took a lot of trial and error to fine tune our aesthetic and our brand message – which has evolved and matured so much since then to where we are now. Sales didn’t happen overnight; I would say it took us 2 years from our launch date to now have a solid customer base. We’ve listened to our clients and been aware of what is selling and what items don’t, and we use this information in the next collection.

What would you consider to be your brand identity?

The pursuit of luxury. It’s a constant in Sanne that is a very strong part of our house codes. The quality of the materials we use are unparalleled, they truly are the pinnacle of what luxury is, from the finest merino wool, to khan cashmere and vicuna. It’s fabric you want to touch and feel, it’s just wonderful to rub between your finger tips.

If you were to put our jackets next to one of Chanel or even Hermes – you wouldn’t see a difference in quality. And we strive to uphold this standard with each piece we create. Sustainability has also quietly been a central part of Sanne, as we exclusively use natural fibres, and of course our brand is fully bespoke, and not mass produced.

After studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins, you worked on Savile Row as a cutter for bespoke menswear. Savile Row has traditionally been male dominated, what was your experience like working as a female cutter in menswear?

By the time I made it on to Savile Row, there were already many women before me who had paved the way for a younger generation like myself. My boss was a female, and she was Lebanese, at a traditional British tailoring house! She was fantastic and taught me everything I know. She was kind and caring but also tough, so I believe she had the perfect balance to be a great leader and teacher.

What was the drive to start up your own fashion label?

I have always been a dreamer. So much so that one of my primary school teachers was convinced I was deaf, and insisted my mother take me to the doctors to have my hearing checked. The reality was that I couldn’t help myself from wandering off into my own world, and as soon as I had imaged myself as a fashion designer I had complete tunnel vision. Anything and everything I could do to to achieve that dream I did. I was absolutely relentless in my pursuit of this fantasy.

The drive came from creativity to begin with, the business side I had to learn completely from 0, this came much less naturally to me. I have diagnosed myself with dyscalculia, which is dyslexia but with numbers. Which is why building a team which can do everything I am terrible at is absolutely key to building a successful business. We are always looking out for the best people to join our team.

Where do you find your inspiration for your in-house designs?

Its always an ongoing thought process – I can find inspiration in absolutely everything. I love flowers, I can always find quite literal inspiration in the forms of their petals; as I did in my last collection. And I’m also hugely inspired by people, especially the big personalities and hostesses of the 50s and 60s. Marisa Berenson, Jayne Wrightsman, Gloria Vanderbil, women who know the power of clothes as an extension of their being. Confident, bold, glamorous, beautiful and strong.    

What is the design process at Sanne?

I make a lot of notes to myself, of colour combinations I’ve seen which and I’ll jot down, or a certain cuff or small detail on a jacket I’ve seen someone wearing on the street. Then I’ll go back through my notes and develop those ideas, some of which after a second thought seem totally rubbish, and others which stick and form the beginning of a collection. At first my ideas are all over the place, and I spend time editing and refining them. It’s a very instinctual process, you have to trust your gut – if it doesn’t feel right from the beginning, it’s probably not going to work.

Who is the Sanne customer?

The Sanne customers know who they are. Our male customers as well as our female customers know the power of clothes as an extension of their being. Dressing is a way of life for them. They are travelling internationally and constantly; always exploring, always searching for something new. They use fashion as a tool and adapt it to their circumstances, at home, at work, at play, on holiday etc. They are affluent yet appreciative. They appreciate the power of clothes and how they have the ability to communicate and amplify them as individuals.

How can women incorporate tailoring into their wardrobes?

I think a staple in any wardrobe is a well fitted jacket. It’s a must. Pair this with a shirt, a pair of jeans and a chic loafer and you can look so effortlessly elegant, and can elevate a very simple outfit. I always feel very chic and feminine dressed like this.

But tailoring isn’t just about jackets and suits, it’s about beautifully made well fitted clothes that are considered and will last you a lifetime. This can be any item, a silk blouse, a jumpsuit, an overcoat, or a dress.

What is your favourite piece from the current collection?

It would have to be the flower dress, it’s just a dream! A petal pink, silk organza fantasy. I just love to see customers try it on, it brings a smile to my face and theirs.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Doing exactly the same thing, just on a bigger scale. I absolutely love life. I am so curious about people and the world, and I want to learn as much as I possibly can. Keep on exploring, keep on learning, keep on creating. I want to travel and gain as many life experiences as I can, with all the mishaps, joys, and failures included that I’ll experience along the way.

What are your business achievements to date?

I’m not much of a business woman, I prefer not to have the distractions from my creativity -  but I’m not a hopeless one either. Luckily my partner excels in developing strategies, so I have a lot of support and advice from him. But I would say the biggest achievement to date would be to have the team I have today. We are very small, but trust each other implicitly. We listen to one-another, we disagree with one-another, and we value one-another. Being able to pay my own salary, as well as a team of 3 people at age 25 definitely feels like a big achievement.

What is the future for Sanne?

To be at the forefront of timeless luxury. To one-day be a brand with such strong codes and values – it can stand the test of time. I wish for the Sanne jacket to be an heirloom piece; a piece which a mother will pass on to her daughter, and which her daughter will pass on to her daughter.

What advice would you give to anyone starting a fashion label?

Work hard. And very hard. Surround yourself with people who share your dream, and who push you. Constantly develop your ideas and your craft. It takes a lot of time and hours to discover your own language and your own point of view, but you must listen to your instinct and follow this always.

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