Luella Bartley Reflects on Why She Shuttered Her Label

Luella Bartley and her former employee Katie Hillier are back together again at the helm of Marc by Marc Jacobs, but what really happened that forced Bartley to dissolve her business back in 2009? The designers reflect in Style.com/Print.
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Luella Bartley and her former employee Katie Hillier are back together again at the helm of Marc by Marc Jacobs, but what really happened that forced Bartley to dissolve her business back in 2009? The designers reflect in Style.com/Print.
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If you read Fashionista back in the early days (when the site looked even more different than it did yesterday), you know that we (and our earliest editors) were kind of obsessed with British label Luella, and kind of really, really bummed when it suddenly shuttered at the end of 2009.  

Things seemed to be going well: Designer Luella Bartley did a Target collaboration in 2006, and in 2008, she launched a handbag line and won the British Fashion Council's prestigious Designer of the Year award.

At the time, there were a few reports about what had happened -- backers pulling out seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. Fortunately, five years later, Bartley is designing again, for Marc by Marc Jacobs with her former employee, Katie Hillier. And for the first time really since Luella shuttered, both ladies are reflecting on that time in an interview with Tim Blanks for the latest issue of Style.com/Print.

Bartley explains that, even though the company was making money, it wasn't enough: "Straight after I’d won Designer of the Year in November 2008, [I closed my label]. I’d made money—from Target, for instance—but I watched it all go down the drain. I was paying for everything, the production, the shows…"

It sounds like irresponsibility and a desire to have children may have also played a role in Bartley's decision to call it quits. Hillier recalls one particular instance when they had to clean their studio in order to move back in, and instead, Bartley went on the road with a band. "This was pre-children," explained Bartley. "I had the kids when I still had the business, which was the wrong way round. I was breast-feeding Kip in the Target boardroom in Minneapolis." She then moved to the country and wrote a book. "I’d been, 'I don’t want to do this. I really want to move to the country and have a kid.' So I was really into the romance of the landscape and the horses for a while."

Later, after Bartley moved back to London, Hillier brought her into the fold in a touching display of friendship. Bartley explained, "I couldn’t really find a thing, and Katie has always totally believed in what I do more than anyone. So she said, 'I’m not doing this [Marc by Marc] without Luella.' That’s proper friendship, proper emotion."

The story is an example of how challenging it is to run a fashion label and keep it afloat independently. We bet both designers are relieved to now be part of a huge, LVMH-backed company en route to an IPO -- and we're just as pleased to see them back at it.