FROM the depths of despair to the stylish streets of Monaco – that’s the ultimate dream for designer Mark Leonardo.
After his life looked on the brink of ruin, he has risen from the ashes like a phoenix to produce a stunning fashion line that he hopes will soon be worn by the Principality’s fashionistas.
He is confident his new range, named Lucavi, will match the flair and bravura of established brands like Gucci and Versace.
And that will complete an amazing turnaround for the 35-year-old who less than two years ago was contemplating ending it all after his addiction to alcohol, drugs and gambling cost him his marriage and business.
APART from a modest holiday with his children on the beach at Great Yarmouth, Mark Leonardo’s life had hit rock bottom.
His marriage, his electrical contracting business, and his dreams had been destroyed by a cocktail of alcohol, drugs and gambling that cost him £100,000 in one year alone and caused two terrifying brushes with suicide.
Then came a light bulb moment as lifetime passions for fashion and design, fitness and boxing, plus a dash of his Italian/Spanish heritage coalesced into his new luxury fashion brand, Lucavi.
Re-energised, his addiction demons exorcised, and with experience gained from creating two once-successful companies, he quickly wrote a business plan and secured £30,000 in funding for his new fashion name.
“Despite previous success, this is the first time I have set out to work at what truly fires me up,” explains 35-year-old Mark.
“I was always interested in branding and design and had an Instagram account about fashion during lockdown that attracted 100,000 followers, and things were starting to come together in my head. I could picture what I wanted the clothes to look and feel like, the high quality that would attract discerning buyers, and I wanted to keep control from day one.
“But what should I call it? I already liked the idea of blending my kids’ names, Luca, four, and seven-year-old Sienna - also known as Vee, as in Vienna - so it was boiling down to Lucasi or Lucavi – just six letters that would look bold and eye-catching on a garment.
“Then came a flash of inspiration on that holiday: a large boat moored just off the beach was called Vienna – and that clinched it.”
The branding taps into heritage from Mark’s Italian great grandfather: “I've always loved Italian culture, arts, and fashion and particularly the 80s when there was a real buzz of creativity about all things Italian.”
Born in Harlow, Essex, Mark grew up and now lives in nearby Takeley village close to Stansted Airport. Though popular at school, he recalls often feeling lonely and depressed, which he masked with alcohol.
“But for booze I might have been a professional footballer - I was attached to soccer academies in Harlow and Cambridge - or a music producer,” he says.
“At school I was known as ‘The Music Mogul’ because I would download music and sell my own mixes and I also started dabbling with design and branding.
“But I messed up, so I was a carpenter for four years, then re-trained to become a qualified electrician. The money was better, and I was good at it. I built two companies from 2016, employing 13 people, and turning over around £250,000 a year. We were doing big office fit outs, prestige jobs, major residential projects, and we even did Southend Hospital’s A&E department.”
But this brought stress and fuelled an increasingly unhealthy relationship with his addictions.
By then Mark was married and had started a family; the crunch point came when his wife was seriously ill after giving birth to their son, Luca. Though she recovered, several years of stress and strain caused the marriage to end.
“I had been in a mess for some time,” Mark admits. “I twice wanted to kill myself. Once, I finished work late on a major contract and just wanted to drive through the parapet on Southwark Bridge and into the River Thames. Another time I was on the motorway after another tough day. I was crying my eyes out. I rang the suicide helpline who said they'd ring back, but they never did.
“I was at the point of picking a pillar to smash into when a piece of music came on the car radio, ‘And the Beat Goes On’, and somehow, I knew I had to go on too.”
Nevertheless, in 2019 Mark’s mental frailties caused his business to collapse and the future looked even bleaker until the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.
“Lockdown was the best thing ever for me,” Mark recalls. “It forced me to get my life back in order and cut out the alcohol.
“For the first time, I also realised I wanted to follow my passions rather than go back into the same business. I realised how we often avoid what we want to do due to self-doubt or worry about what friends will say – it’s all so destructive.”
He also used the lockdown to work on his mental ‘wellness’, building a gym in his garage mostly for boxing workouts - he has weekly one-to-one tuition from professional boxer John Hedges - and plays golf regularly.
Mark is undaunted by any comments about big name competition for Lucavi: “Fashion needs livening up. I want to bring back some of the 80s fun. We will start with staples such as T-shirts, jackets, and hoodies, but move into footwear and accessories in the future.
“Lucavi will stand out and match Gucci and Versace at a keener price, starting at £72 for our small logo embroidered tee, ranging through the Diamanté tiger tee £95, small logo embroidered sweater at £126, large logo embroidered sweater for £148, and up to £360 for our flagship product, the reversible Jacket, delivering double the opportunity to look good.
“We are majoring on the Lucavi fit: it’s confident, and delivers a sense of weightlessness to make you feel good all day. It will be a slimmer fit as we want to be associated with fitness, though sizing will follow the usual Small up to XXL.”
The colour choice will also be tightly controlled initially: black, Racing Green, grey and white. Mark’s Italian blood made him consider Racing Red like Ferrari but he conceded: “That’s one for the future - I wanted to concentrate on current market colour trends. We are also launching with as much sustainability as possible with the garments and packaging, and I want us to tighten up on that as we move forward.”
Fitness/boxing will be part of the promotion and modelling, but two major models/influencers have also been signed up: Stefan-Pierre, who shot to fame in 2017 after receiving 14,600 right-swipes on the Tinder app, and the leggy blonde model Charlotte August.
Confident he is now on a path he knows he should have taken many years earlier, Mark is mapping out more cherished goals:
“With Lucavi established, I want to reach out to others who may be suffering as I did, so I would love to work with a mental health charity. I also want Lucavi to partner with major environmental organizations, promoting sustainability and battling climate change.”