Sunday, February 14, 2010

Penny Le Roy

Penny Le Roy was a South African fashion designer who made a big name for herself in the 1970's with her lino block printed garments that she sold in her own retail stores here and abroad.
This is one of her signature prints on a black velvet A-line skirt.
The Penny Le Roy story runs like a golden thread throughout my life and it was in her studio in 1993 that the dream for my current business acquired another layer of colour, and another way of getting it onto cloth.
All through my years in high school, I was friends with a beautiful girl called Justine Le Roy. We hung out together. At that time in my life I wanted to become a science fiction writer and I had no plan at all to go into the textile industries. I did not know about tie dye or lino block prints.
After I left school, I was less sure of what I wanted to be and I ended up working in casinos as a croupier to earn a living in the mean time. In 1993 I began to experiment with dye and lino prints. I shared a factory in town with a leathercrafter called Fern. One day we were talking and when she heard me speak about Justine Le Roy she became suddenly animated. She wanted to know if Justine was related to Penny in any way. Once she found out that Justine was Penny's granddaughter, she would not rest until Justine had organised for us to go to her home in Melville and meet her in person.
I will never forget that day. The light in the room. The smell of ink. The sense that this room had seen the birth of many, many ideas... I had been friends with Justine for all these years, so that it could distill into this one fulcrum moment in time where I fell in love. Head over heels. In this moment my fate with fabric was sealed forever.
The story does not end there.
As is usually the case, we do not understand the significance of some events in our lives until much later. Perhaps it is because the scale is so large it can only be fully understood from a great distance?
I lost contact with Justine after that, for more than ten years. One day the significance of the Penny Le Roy thread became more clear to me, and I decided to write about it on my website. A short while later I received an e-mail from Dominique Le Roy (Justine's younger sister). She was collecting all the material that she could find online about her grandmother, when she stumbled on my site. Penny Le Roy had passed away in the mean time.
This thread of events re-united me with Justine just in time for our 20 year school re-union, and we drove there together, giggling, lost, fashionably late...
The Le Roy family continues to inspire my work with their colour, creativity and laughter. The granddaughters are both intensely creative. Dominique works in stained glass and Justine sews, prints, paints, makes and tinkers with anything she can get her hands on. The gene is alive and well.
The Le Roy's really know how to have a great day in full colour!
Kind regards

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