Dion Lee's debut collection, straight out of the Fashion Design Studio at the Sydney Institute of Technology, was shown in a Kings Cross car park in 2009 to rave reviews. The follow up, at the slightly more impressive Opera House last year, showcased Lee’s impeccable, Madame Grès inspired draping and Rorschach-like prints.
The winner of last year’s L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF) Young Designer Award has gone on to be hailed as the leading light in Australian fashion. And while you would assume that all the hype would lead to more than a little pressure, Lee seems to have taken it in his stride. This month he released a collection for work-wear specialist Cue ahead of showing at LMFF. We had a quick chat with him about the Cue collection and his plans for the future.
Unlike many small-designer/big-brand collaborations, it was Lee who approached Cue about working together. “The idea of a collaboration was something that had interested me, as it [offers] the potential to expose your collection to a new market,” he explains. “I approached Cue because they stood apart in many ways – mainly from a product level, as they are very focused on cut and fabrication. They work from a design studio where everything is pattern made and developed in a way that I relate to.”
Indeed, Lee and Cue seem an almost perfect match, with Lee’s razor-sharp tailoring certain to appeal to Cue’s core base of fashion-conscious working women. For Lee, the collection started with the idea of work wear and uniforms and grew from there, bringing a utilitarian and street sensibility into a professional setting. It is this mix that appeals to him. “I like that all of the pieces feel a little displaced – mixing quite casual and formal elements together.”
There were little of the usual constraints that come with working with a mass-market brand. “I didn’t really think about price and Cue was great to not to make it about that,” Lee says. “It was really working back from what we wanted to do. This is not disposable fashion and the pieces are designed to be wardrobe staples that people continue to wear in seasons to come.”
And staples they are likely to be. Classic trench coats and dresses are given a twist, with utilitarian pockets and a floating yoke. Black blazers have slashed sleeves, shirts are cropped and dinner shirts are made modern. Thrown in the mix is a particularly desirable khaki parka, a clinging leather dress and a leather-accented biker jacket.
When it comes to his own brand, Lee is continuing to grow the label in his own way. “I think the growth of the brand has been very organic,” he says. “Even though it has only been established for two years, I have really wanted this growth to feel manageable and gradual.”
He attended Premiere Vision in Paris as part of his LMFF prize recently, finding “amazing” fabrics for his upcoming spring/summer 2012 collection. Having just finished a photographic project with Bec Parsons, to be released in the coming months, Lee is “very much in the spring/summer 2012 bubble” as he prepares to show again at Australian Fashion Week in May.
It seems having the weight of an entire industry hasn’t fazed Dion Lee in the slightest.