Fashion / Style

The Monogram Masters: Emerging Brand Le Lion Knows How to Make Fashion Personal

BY // 03.15.18

Full disclosure: I did not fully learn to embrace (obsess over) monograms until I moved from California to Texas — 12 years ago, now. Growing up in Los Angeles, I had typical Southern California casual-cool parents, and the tradition of putting a formal monogram on one’s possessions just wasn’t part of my adolescent wardrobe dialogue.

But then I moved to Texas — call it the south — where I first learned the vital importance of a quality monogram from my then-editor and dear friend Brooke Hortenstine, now a marketing/branding guru at Ashlar Projects. (If you ever need tips, she is the expert of experts on the art of monograms, FYI.)

Since learning that it’s pretty adorable to have my own initials stitched, stamped, and embossed on things, C.G. has landed on pretty much everything: bathrobes, L.L. Bean totes, agendas, stationery, matchbooks, cocktail napkins, sleep-shirts …

I even once asked the gals at Madison (a go-to for monogrammed goodies) what it would entail to monogram my white-canvas, slip-on Vans. Let’s just say, for a $50 pair of tennies, it’s far more complicated — and more costly — than I could have ever imagined.

No surprise then that I’ve become obsessed with emerging fashion brand Le Lion — a gem of a discovery I made during a late-night Instagram spiral. The collection — unbelievably soft merino wool sweaters that can be customized with dainty, hand-embroidered details, from monograms to your zodiac sign, even a portrait of your pup — is bound to be an instant classic, with an heirloom quality that really has nothing to do with fashion or trends. (Amen.)

I imagine classic-style icons Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly would have been fans, had they been around to see the launch of Le Lion.

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To the delight of monogrammed-obsessed Dallasites, the girl bosses behind Le Lion, which debuted its e-commerce platform on March 5, came to Dallas a couple weeks ago for a trunk show at Merry Vose’s darling boutique, Canary.

Post Texas jaunt, I caught up with the brand’s founders, Laura Gelfand (she is a Figue and Ralph Lauren alum) and Martha Fish (her C.V. boasts time at Figue and Tiffany & Co.) in a fun little e-mail correspondence about modern monogramming and what we can expect from Le Lion in the future.

Here, a peek at my inbox…

Can you remember your first monogrammed item — ever?

Martha’s first monogrammed item was engraved stationary and she was obsessed — followed quickly by luggage, Bermuda bag covers, signet signs, and charms. You name it. It is very much a part of her style DNA.

For Laura, monograms weren’t as relevant growing up, but she recalls her mom constantly personalizing everything.

“I have really early memories of my mom helping my sister and I customize our Camp Mohawk uniform T-shirts with puff paints and glitter paints to make them our own,” she says. “We would show up at day camp with these completely crazy T-shirts but we loved it!

“I have always liked to be different in my style and to be able to express something personal through it. I think this started for me at a very young age.”

Embroidery seems to be having a moment (love that an old-school craft is having a resurgence). What prompted you to get into the embroidery business?

Le Lion is about the business of personalization and making something unique to you. There seems to be a resurgence in putting your personal stamp on possessions, whether it be a monogram, crest, favorite phrase etcetera.

The first Le Lion collection is very much about embroidery and embellishment: It is a natural fit for knitwear, lends itself well to the fabric, and provides an incredible juxtaposition of something special and sparkly, with something classic and effortless.

The idea for le Lion derived from a vintage sweater of Laura’s that had a burst of sequins on it. The elevated staple became a favorite and Laura developed an emotional connection to it — she wore it constantly and it became the impetus for the embellished knits collection. We continued to refine the concept by including this idea of emotional connection to a functional product by personalizing it.

Tell me about the factory you work with in Italy.

We are fortunate to work with a small, family-run factory in the little town of Puglia in the southern part of Italy. The family lives above the factory and is completely devoted to the business and to their craft. Their attention to detail and fit is spectacular and they are constantly educating us on the quality and fabrication of our garments.

In order to best communicate (the family doesn’t speak English), we liaise with an American who lives next door to the factory. It feels like an intimate operation, one where all parties involved are interested and invested in.

The factory workers call us “Le Regazze” — “the girls” in Italian. They are always so excited and proud of their finished product. Beyond that, they are eager to show us their culture.

On our most recent visit, the owners took us to the local commissary where you can get olive oil and wine dispensed from what looks like a gas pump! We also popped in to the local grocery around the corner from the factory for snacks — they make homemade Taralli and we can’t get enough of it. The experience is always inspiring and rewarding to know we have such wonderful people working on our behalf.

My friend and PaperCity contributor Billy Fong loves unusual and unexpected monograms, especially for L.L. Bean bags. (He has one that is monogrammed with the word ‘vodka’ — so witty.) What are some of your favorite unusual ideas for reinventing traditional monograms?

We love the unusual or unexpected monograms. They can be as simple as putting your husband’s initials on your sweater versus your own — or, they can be something completely far-fetched and conversation-starting. It’s fun to leave it up for interpretation.

Martha has an old Goyard bag monogrammed with her initials MF and people thought it meant mother F&*$%r!

It is such an innovative way of taking something that can be so traditional and twisting it. The Le Lion customer has been fairly tame thus far, but we’ll have styles in future collections that will be more conducive to humor and silliness.

Without even having formally launched a site yet, you’ve gained huge traction via social media. How was Instagram played a role in the development of Le Lion?

Social media has been an incredible opportunity for us to begin the storytelling of Le Lion. Not only do we feature the product and share inspiration, but we communicate and connect with our customers.

Instagram has been an incredible platform for us and the conversation rate has been impressive. Every time a new customer comments or direct messages us, we are so excited — getting instant feedback before you have even launched is so flattering to us.

Finally, we can shop online!

The official e-commerce website launched on March 6, allowing our customers to walk thru the process, choose colors and styles, and be a part of the customization. Another exciting element will be the pet renderings: Customers are able to upload an image of their dog or cat, which will then be interpreted by an artist and embroidered onto our petite crewneck.

On that note, how do you see retail evolving?

E-commerce is such an interesting place right now and sites continue to evolve in their offering. We feel strongly that providing an experience — one that is personal — is the ultimate luxury in retail.

Customers will come to Le Lion to shop elevated staples with personal touches — and they will be instrumental in bringing the garment to life. Our hope is to create connections, moments, memories, and heirlooms.

The sweaters are gorgeous and so fun, but do you ever see the line expanding into other categories? Accessories? Shoes?

We have really invested in knitwear and know that we have much more exploration to do with the category. However, there is no question that the concept we have created can be applied across a range of categories.

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