The Woman Behind The Brand
Love Stories is a Dutch brand putting the light-heartedness back into lingerie. Founded by former interiors stylist Marloes Hoedeman in Amsterdam in 2013, Love Stories was born out of Hoedeman’s frustration at not being able to find fun, flirty, comfortable lingerie that had been designed by women, for women.
Today, she presides over a team of 30, runs 15 Love Stories boutiques across the globe, and the brand has expanded into swimwear, loungewear and kidswear all distilled through a lens of laid-back living. Hoedeman lives in Amsterdam with her husband-to-be, Eric, and their two children, James, six, and Lola, four. Here, she tells us how she revolutionised the stale, pale world of lingerie and built an international tribe of Love Stories lovers.
I grew up in a very small town just north of Amsterdam. It’s the kind of place where you don’t have to lock up your bike, and everybody knows everybody. It looks like an old Dutch painting, with cute painted houses and people wearing clogs. I was a creative child; my mother was a primary school teacher and encouraged me to embrace art, ceramics, crafts, and fashion. I was always rearranging, curating and styling things. As a teenager, I used to come home from school for my lunch in the middle of the day and change my entire outfit, including my hair. I spent my weekends reorganising my room. Styling was in my nature, although, if I look at pictures of myself from that time, well – let’s just say, good style needs some time to develop!
Big city lights
I moved to Amsterdam when I was 20 to study interior and fashion design at the Artemis Academy. While I was studying, I did an internship at a styling company who worked for the Dutch edition of Elle Decoration; they liked my work, so I continued to work for the magazine and slowly built up my portfolio, eventually working for the Dutch editions of Glamour and Vogue. I always tried to bring a fashion sensibility to my interiors work – I loved translating memorable catwalk looks into interior schemes. Then I began working for hotels and private houses.
The Love Stories lightbulb
I’d always loved lingerie, but the available options seemed either way too practical and boring, or way too sexy. Not even sexy – just unimaginative, a ‘get it off, ASAP’ approach! But the main thing that struck me was that the fun had gone: there was no excitement in shopping for underwear anymore. I kept thinking, why does so much love go into creating a dress, but not underwear? Lingerie is the first layer of the day, it sets your mood – care should be taken over what you put next to your skin. I did some research into the lingerie industry and discovered that much of it is run by men. I wanted to bring back the fun, to create the kinds of romantic, flirty pieces that me and my friends wanted to wear. Just as important: they needed to be comfortable.
“I wanted to bring back the fun, to create the kinds of romantic, flirty pieces that me and my friends wanted to wear.”
The soft bra revolution
Today, the soft bra has become a movement, but in 2013 a lot of lingerie was just about making your boobs look bigger. Of course, if you want your boobs to look bigger, that’s absolutely fine – go for it! But with Love Stories, I want to encourage women to appreciate their body as it is. I’d been wearing non-wired bras since I was a teenager, and I really believe that if you feel comfortable, you feel confident, and you will look so much prettier as a result. Our Love Lace bralette, which was the first bra I designed, is still our best-selling style for that reason. I remember when I gave a friend an early sample to try, she came back a week later with the feedback: “This is like a holiday for your boobs!” I knew that that was how lingerie should make you feel: comfortable, relaxed and pretty.
“This is like a holiday for your boobs!”
‘Eclectic’ is an overused word, but it sums up my style. For me, it’s all about the combinations of materials, prints, colours and references, whether taken from my travels, a children’s book, or perhaps a flower I saw on my morning walk to work. My creative process is the same, whether I’m designing a bra or interiors schemes for our stores. Sometimes my style can be very clean; other times it can be very colourful and bold. I think perhaps where I differ from others is that I am not afraid to dare. I like to try weird colours or unusual combinations. Also: I’m a total hoarder. If I find half of a butterfly wing on a windowsill, I think to myself, I need to put this in a little box! I like to have things around me to inspire me, souvenirs of life.
A word-of-mouth approach
I called the brand ‘Love Stories’ because I wanted it to be exactly that: a word-of-mouth label that builds relationships with and between our female lovers all over the world. Our brand isn’t fuelled by empty celebrity or influencer endorsement deals. It’s about a woman calling up her best friend and saying, ‘Listen, girl, you need to try this bra on!’
The perfect mismatch
Love Stories isn’t about perfection. I always like to have clashing elements in our lingerie, because it’s more realistic. I like a mix of sporty and feminine touches: athletic elastics with feminine ruffles, bold leopard print with elegant lace. We have this mantra, ‘the perfect mismatch’. It’s about mixing up colours and shapes, wearing different tops and bottoms. You can’t be this perfect person with co-ordinated underwear all the time. Besides, matching things is boring.
The elusive work-life balance
I’m not a supermom, and I don’t try to be one. I take the kids to school every morning, and I try to spend some quality time with them at the end of the day when I get home. But sometimes you just have to say ‘whatever’ and let the house be a mess. There is no magic formula for achieving a work-life balance, but I know to ask for help. I have made some stressed out FaceTime calls in my time, checking in with the supermoms around me, asking, ‘How do you do this?!’ And I make time for family holidays, as we are lucky enough to have a holiday home in Sardinia. When we’re in Amsterdam, in the rat race, my children understand that I’m a mom with a job. But when we’re on holiday, I can give them lots of attention.
Looking to the future
We’re coming up to the 10-year anniversary of Love Stories, and I never imagined we would be this successful. Plotting 5-year plans, 10-year plans – I’m not that kind of girl. I think the pandemic year has taught us all that even the best-laid plans can go awry. And if you’re only looking at your plan, you forget to live in the moment. It’s important to be flexible and open to change. That said, we would love to expand in Asia, the US and Australia. And we would love to open more retail stores, our Houses of Love, and to really explore what we can do in these retail spaces to connect with our Love Stories tribe. There are so many possibilities, and I’m so excited to see what the next decade brings.
Love Stories is the brainchild of Marloes Hoedeman; a former interior stylist, now creative director. Living in Amsterdam with her boyfriend Eric (recently engaged) and two kids James (4) and Lola (3). Easily recognized by her iconic red hair and bursts of laughter. We sat down in her beloved Amsterdam to find out why she ran into the world of lingerie without a roadmap, and how that led to building a whole new universe.
Let’s start at the beginning: where did you grow up?
‘In a small town outside of Amsterdam – the kind where you don’t lock your bike. I grew up surrounded by nature, with parents that gave me plenty of space to explore my creativity. They enrolled me in a progressive school that focused on arts and crafts.’
Is this where your entrepreneurial spirit comes from?
‘For sure. My parents instilled a trust in me that I can do things on my own. That if I work hard, I can make my dreams come true.’
'I think lingerie should be created
by women, for women.’
What is your professional background?
‘After finishing styling academy in Amsterdam, I jumped in headfirst: taking jobs as a freelance interior stylist for fashion magazines, hotels, music videos and homes. I always looked for a cross-over of fashion and interior. Though I have zero background in lingerie, I did always have this tremendous love for fabrics, colour combinations and design.’
Why did you start Love Stories?
‘Simply because the type of lingerie I wanted to wear, didn’t exist. It was either too sexy or boring, and either overpriced or poorly constructed. At the time, everything was about push-ups and nothing felt comfortable. After many hopeful research trips and what felt like a million trade-fair visits, I realized that the world of lingerie was a snoozefest led by men. I think lingerie should be created by women, for women.’
How would you describe your way of working?
‘I’d say I have none, and that’s why it seems to work. I lead Love Stories from the heart and by trusting my intuition. I’ve always been very clear about this with my employees: I’m not a veteran CEO with a brain full of strategies – I’m a designer, a creative, and we’re in this together. I’m humble about my weaknesses and I hope to learn from everyone I work with.’
Vogue Living NL, 2019
What are some important things you learned along the way?
‘My biggest lesson was to give my team space to do things on their own – even if that means making mistakes. It’s really the best way to grow. I want everyone to know that they’re part of this company, and hope to see them thrive in their expertise.’
How do you balance building a brand with me-time and family time?
‘Honestly, it was trial and error. At first I tried to mix everything: I’d be on my laptop while spending time with my daughter or quickly jumping on Facetime with my son during a meeting. That didn’t make anybody happy. Now I made a deal with myself that wherever I am, I am fully present. It’s easier to step away from work now that the team is just right. It’s also important for my kids to understand that mommy loves her work. I really engage them in what I do, and explain how my working means that we can go on family vacations.’
'We’re really just getting started.’
On the topic of vacations: what’s your favorite place to unwind?
‘Our family home in Sardinia! It sits on a mountaintop surrounded by nature; nothing but the sound of crickets. I spend my days doing as little as possible, just hanging out with my tribe and friends that swing by.’
What is your morning ritual?
‘I usually wake up around 6:30 when my daughter climbs in; I make breakfast that the kids eat in our bed. I shower, throw on my ever-so-glamorous attire of jeans and a sweatshirt, and if I’m lucky I smack a quick powder on my face. I prep their lunch, get them dressed and jump on my bike at 8:15 to drop them off. I usually pick up a croissant and coffee on my way to the office. I also try to work out two mornings a week.’
At the time of this interview, Love Stories is almost turning seven. What are some iconic memories of the past years that you cherish?
‘SO many! This entire Love Stories adventure feels like a life of its own. So much love, sweat and tears. At the height of my first pregnancy, we popped out six stores in six countries. What also comes to mind is the Love Stories tour we did in Ibiza, and the Swimclub runway in Bondi Beach, Sydney. When I got back to the hotel, I got an e-mail from our Swedish friends at H&M, whether we’d be interested in a collaborative collection. It launched on our five year anniversary!’
What is still on your wish list?
‘We’re keen on doing more collabs; we have a list of people and brands that we’d love to join forces with. Also, as we move into this digital age, we’re constantly reevaluating and reshaping how the Love Stories feeling translates to screens and e-com. At the same time, we feel strongly that a physical presence remains important to us; we’d still love to open boutiques in cities like New York and Tokyo, perhaps turn the store concept on its head, publish a magazine, open a hotel, a space for people to meet, expand the collection to kids and men… We’re really just getting started.’