Interview: Lee Broom on His First-Ever Illustrated Monograph, Fashioning Design

Penned by Becky Sunshine and published by Rizzoli, this new book explores more than 100 products and exhibitions

Earlier in 2022, English designer Lee Broom celebrated the 15th anniversary of his eponymous label with an exhibition of serene, ethereal and outright astonishing beauty for Milan Design Week. Furthering his accolades in this milestone year, Broom has now released his first-ever monograph, Fashioning Design, penned by accomplished writer and editor Becky Sunshine and published by Rizzoli. Broom began working on the book in April 2020, as other projects were paused due to the pandemic and his restlessness needed to be channeled. Sunshine and Broom communicated via Zoom for multi-hour sessions, during which they drafted the narrative that now accompanies hundreds of images representing more than 100 products and exhibitions. The resulting work offers so much to those who admire Broom and admire his design work, though the insight, images and storytelling will easily inform and entertain those new to the designer.

I’m not the kind of designer that just sits down and sketches for the fun of it,” Broom tells COOL HUNTING about the earliest stages of book ideation. “I have to manifest what I’m doing and have an idea of what needs to happen. As things were put on hold, Charles [Broom’s husband and business partner] said to me, ‘Why don’t you do a book, because you’ve talked about doing a book for the past five years. You’ve not had any time. This would be a perfect time for you to sit back, reflect, look at what you’ve done and then  work out how it would look.'” Broom took this to heart and began by mapping out all the things that he’d done that he felt were meaningful. He discovered through lines and points of connectivity. He took a draft of this mind map and submitted it to Rizzoli and they gave him the go-ahead to do a book.

I think one of the key things that I recognized was really being inspired by heritage and things from the past,” Broom says. “That really stemmed from me working with Vivienne Westwood, her kind of design ethos about looking back to historical moments, techniques, movements, whatever it might be, to influence contemporary clothing really resonated.” When he was 17, Broom worked for Westwood and she too contributes to the book.

It’s a mission for me to create a future classic… They’re future heirlooms, if you like

Broom channels the past into the future. “It’s a mission for me to create a future classic more than anything—not something that’s classic in appearance, but classic in terms of it could become timeless, but there’s an edge to it. I’m designing pieces that people should be able to pass down to generations and keep for the rest of their lives. They’re future heirlooms, if you like.”

Anyone familiar with Broom’s work understands that, coupled with his quest for perfection of classic shapes, there’s always an element of the spectacular. “It’s about a product that somebody would look at and [say], ‘I have no idea how this is put together,'” he says. “This is floating in mid-air. This is completely seamless. I think that sets you apart from something that’s more mass produced. I actually think that looking back on my work, I can see where I’ve grown in confidence as a designer because ultimately I feel like I now have the confidence to create something that’s incredibly simple and release it and be happy with it.” 

Broom is quick to admit that when he first started designing products, he didn’t know how to make a lamp or a chair or anything that would later populate his repertoire of high-design. “You can either see it as a strength or you see as a weakness,” he says of his beginnings. “For me, I see it as a strength because what I will do with any of our manufacturing partners or craftspeople is present something that might be very superfluous or even ridiculous to them. But once you set about a conversation, and once everybody has enthusiasm around what they’re doing, then they might be like, ‘Well, you know, I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve never done anything like that.’ This allows you to feed off of each other with creativity.”

Throughout his tenure, Broom’s observed substantial technological change and it’s influenced his designs. He cites improvement in LED technology as an example. His first release utilizing LED bulbs with the Crystal Bulb, a design that created a lot of attention when it debuted. Originally, we were forced into the idea of using an LED because we were using a halogen bulb and the halogen was not working with the crystal,” he explains. “It was getting too hot and there were certain elements that were corroding. It just wasn’t going to work.”

“We tried to find an LED that was the same size of a halogen and also dimmable. It wasn’t available on the market so we went about developing our own which we did, and we still do for a number of different lights,” he says. “Technology is moving very quickly. On the other hand, it’s not quick enough, and I’m actually surprised that LED technology hasn’t adapted a little bit more because there are still basic challenges that we face.” 

Broom’s presentations, from installations to films, are often underscored by a subdued theatricality. The image above shows a collection he debuted at Milan Design Week; instead of having a fixed installation he created one in a cargo van that drove around town—a signature Lee Broom move. The designer believes this is informed by his time as an actor and “the idea of seeing everything as a performance in a way,” he says. “When I started, there was much more of an emphasis on the form follows function philosophy. When I began presenting shows that were a bit more theatrical a lot of people weren’t doing immersive things at all. Now people are much more open to that and they don’t mind if you’re a designer and an artist at the same time. I love the idea that in the same way art can create an emotion in somebody or a theatrical performance can or cinema or live music (can), a designer can as well.” 

“There’s a lot more stuff that I would love to do and design and create and I think it’s important to still have these ambitions,” Broom says. “I definitely still feel like I’ve only sort of scratched the surface of what I could do as a designer, or what we could do as a brand.” It’s an ambitious sentiment but one that Broom backs up with an understanding that he’s also running a business. The book reinforces this and, he concludes, it has been a fulcrum between work from the past and his vision for the future. “It’s made me realize again, that idea of the longevity of my pieces,” he says. “I will only release pieces that are going to be there for good.”

Images courtesy of Rizzoli