Interview with Dion Lee

Alyson Penn

Australian designer Dion Lee is relatively new to the fashion world (his first solo show was in 2009) but has already made plenty of waves. His structured, sculptural designs have caught the attention of Vogue, Target and an aspiring couturier (and would-be politician) by the name of Kanye West. The award-winning designer will return to New York Fashion Week to premiere his new line at MADE after flying straight in from his hometown of Sydney. Read on to find out about his collection, his favorite spots in the Lower East Side and what it was like to work with a future presidential candidate.

Tell us a little bit about your background. Dion Lee: I grew up south of Sydney and studied fashion design at the Sydney Institute of Technology, and that's really where I started my brand.

How old were you? DL: Around 23, 24. My first collection that I showed commercially was my graduate collection, so I started out of college and evolved from there.

How would you describe your overall design vision? DL: I suppose I'm attracted to design that's quite technical. I'm very interested in the construction of clothing and how pieces go together. I try to put clothes together that have a sense of ease and are relaxed in aesthetic—kind of a combination of the two elements.

What can we expect from this new collection? DL: It's a little warmer in tone and softness, I suppose. I think there's still that signature element of different manipulations of fabric, but in a way that has a more earthy, raw, primal feel to it.

Where do you draw your inspiration? DL: I find that collections are often a reaction to the previous collection. I'm inspired by the process of making clothes and often draw from the construction process. I really love seeing how things are made and the process behind the construction of clothes, and use those technical elements to inform the aesthetic.

What do you think the difference is between showing in New York City versus other cities? DL: I first started showing in Sydney, and I think it's very different from showing in New York. Sydney is a much smaller industry and the pace is very different to New York. Other cities don't have the same overlap in terms of scheduling. So there's a much different pace to the shows and castings and how everything runs.

Have you noticed different trends in Sydney as opposed to NYC? DL: Both have their own aesthetic. Sydney has such an outdoor culture, and it's so close to the beaches. I think that very much influences how people dress; there's a very relaxed attitude. But in many ways I think there are a lot of parallels to New York and the urban lifestyle here, like the way in which people put clothes together in a very informal way. I think there's that kind of approach to style that is quite effortless.

Do you have any favorite go-to spots when you come to the City? DL: I've been staying across different places downtown—in SoHo or the Lower East Side—and have been exploring the restaurants in those areas. I really love Fat Radish and Dimes and have been going to Dudley's a lot as well, which all seem to be in the Lower East Side.

We read that you collaborated on shoes with Kanye West back in 2012. What was that like? DL: It was cool. It all happened very organically. He came to visit my studio through a friend who was working with him and offered to design some shoes for the collection I was working on at the time. I showed it in London the following season, and he came on to the show and was really supportive. He's a very passionate person and has a great [understanding] of music and design and fashion.

Dion Lee's spring 2016 runway show takes place at 11am on Saturday, September 12, at Milk Studios.