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Updated: Jul 5, 2022

When it comes to looking for a brand name, we’d all love to have Billie Marlow's surname, which happens to be her real name! The Franco-English House of Marlow label seemed like the natural choice for this lingerie enthusiast.

House of Marlow founder Billie Marlow

Having been raised on the island of Saint Martin in the West Indies until she was 15, she instinctively likes light, solar materials.

Back in France with her family and living in La Rochelle, she spent a year travelling Asia after leaving secondary school, before going on to study for a degree in language, international business and entrepreneurship and then beginning her studies at Esmod in 2015.

“I was put off from enrolling at Esmod straight after my baccalauréat. The image that parents have of fashion can often cause problems, but I don't regret this degree because it helped me to mature and start at Esmod with a better thought out plan in mind. At the age of 22, I think I was more attentive in my work at Esmod than I would have been at 18”.

Having completed a double degree in fashion design and pattern-making, she graduated from Esmod specialising in lingerie in June 2018, but she knew as soon as she arrived at the school that she would only ever be interested in specialising in lingerie. This didn’t prevent her from following the same curriculum as everyone else during the first few years, though. “I would obviously have holes in my business today if I hadn't taken those modules in off-the-peg ladies wear. It’s the background you really need to get before you can start to specialise”. In fact, she is now planning to add homewear and some outerwear pieces to her collection.

Billie Marlow began her career with the same determination, embarking upon an internship with lingerie designer Paloma Casile shortly after graduating. She then worked in the style department at Livy and later gained experience working with many other small French and international lingerie brands in product development, design, pattern-making and sometimes even photo styling. Despite this flexibility, there were still some brief quiet periods that gave her the opportunity to create personal pieces that were in keeping with her end-of-study collection. These were photographed and posted on Instagram, and there was an immediate demand for them. She also spend 6 months completing her training in accounting, cash flow and social networking with the Chamber of Trade and Craft and the Ateliers de Paris to reinforce her existing knowledge with a view to setting up her own business. She consequently launched her own brand in July 2019.

Planet Esmod: : How is your company currently structured?

Billie Marlow: There are three of us at the moment. François Laurendeau is in charge of visual design and communication for House of Marlow. He's the photographer who develops all the visual content, which is an essential part of the brand. He’s also my partner in life. He does his own freelance photography for other brands as well, and is even a pattern-maker for a menswear brand. In fact, he also trained at Esmod, specialising in menswear. Last but not least there’s my mother, Stéphanie, who designed the gold-plated costume jewellery that accompanies my collection. I was making jewellery with my mother, who has her own range of silver jewellery, for a long time before House of Marlow came about, and this was what gave me my appetite for design and entrepreneurship. I also help her with the accessories side of things, but I must admit that the lingerie already takes up 200% of my time, so she’s pretty much on her own.

P. E.: And you’re now making a living from House of Marlow?

B. M.: Two years after it was founded, (author’s note: this interview is taking place on the brand’s anniversary) I’m still not making a complete living off the brand, but it does provide the minimum I need to survive in Paris.

P. E.: Where are your products made?

B. M.: The collection is made entirely at my workshop in Paris, where I have two technicians working with me all year round. For the past year, I’ve also been using a manufacturer who performs just a couple of the steps in the creation process, namely the embroidery and the covering stitches on the cotton pieces, so it’s ‘Made in France’, but still affordably priced, with basic briefs starting from €40. This can go up to €120 for the more luxurious materials with hand finishing. The bras go for between €50 and €90, while bodysuits range from €120 to €220.

P. E.: How are you funded?

B. M.: I am entirely self-financed, but I have benefited from an unsecured loan from the Fondation de France, supported by Danone, which is an interest-free loan repayable over 5 years with complete flexibility. I must have won the jury over with plans for the company's development and its satisfactory start over the first six months.

P. E.: What did you learn at Esmod that now serves you on a daily basis?

B. M.: Well the basics of fashion design and pattern-making, of course, but the teaching I received at Esmod also pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of style, since I was forced to look further ahead, be more creative, give more and more of myself, even where technical drawing was concerned. This desire to go further and further and achieve ever-greater levels of perfection is as useful now with my own clients as it is to my own brand, and of course the basics of pattern-making are vital to product development.

P. E.: Is it not too demanding to study at Esmod?

B. M.: Oh, absolutely. It takes over your life. More recently, I’ve worked with students from other schools who got to sleep in on weekends! I didn't really understand this, because that rarely happened at Esmod. You have to be strong psychologically, because it can be difficult, at times, it's difficult to juggle your personal life and your training at the school; you sometimes feel you want to drop everything and just give up, but the advantage of all this pressure is that everything seems so much easier afterwards. Even the pace at which most companies operate is easier to keep up with than the pace at the school, but it is interesting and formative. It's hard work, but it's also fulfilling!

P. E.: What would you say is Esmod’s strong point?

B. M.: The lecturers, because they're the ones that push us further and further to achieve some form of perfectionism.

P. E.: What advice would you give to current Esmod students?

B. M.: I would tell them they should never, ever give up! You have to work hard and keep at it, but you should also try and enjoy yourself sometimes. When we are caught up in the busy pace of classes and assignments we sometimes forget about enjoying ourselves, which is a shame, because you might later regret not having recognised the opportunity it represents, because you’re too tired or stressed. It’s important to always remember that it's worth it, and that after graduation there will be great opportunities, encounters, a real career for you.

P. E.: What if you could do it all over again?

B. M.: I would gladly take the same course again. Sometimes, I even wish I could do another year at Esmod! When you’re at the school, you forget that life afterwards can be even more difficult, and that you’ll often then find yourself alone in the face of adversity. I still sometimes miss the innocence of my school years, and that’s something we’re all too rarely aware of when we’re studying.

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