Since launching his eponymous label over a decade ago, Dion Lee has become synonymous with Australian fashion. Now headquartered between hometown Sydney and New York (where he currently lives), the generation-defining designer has gone on to become an international name. A recent divergence to a more gender-neutral, seasonless and fluid approach stays true to Dion’s body-conscious aesthetic, while marking a refreshing new direction not just for his own label but for the industry at large. Below, we catch up with the breakthrough star to find out about his career trajectory and ongoing connection to Australia.
When did you realise you were destined to be a designer?
I was always creative growing up. I went to a performing arts high school and originally wanted to be an actor and film director. I was always drawn to clothing and dressing up, but it wasn’t until I was older that I developed an interest in fashion. It started with a fascination in pattern-cutting, structure and transparency: things that have a dimensional element to them. At college I was most interested in pattern-cutting, the training of how to visualise a pattern flat and then the idea of construction and exploring shape architecture around the body.
How did you get your foot in the door of the fashion industry?
It happened quite quickly. I presented my graduate collection from college at Australian Fashion Week in 2009 and it evolved from there. Almost overnight, I had my own business at the age of 23. I never had the experience of working under a designer or house prior to starting my brand. Much of what I have experienced is the result of learning from my mistakes and constantly growing and evolving my aesthetic. Over the past decade the industry has shifted significantly, and I’ve learned many lessons. I trust my instincts and do what feels right. I didn’t necessarily have the confidence to have this approach earlier on in my career.
Growing up in Sydney, how does your design language reflect an Australian upbringing?
I have headquarters in both New York and Sydney and am personally based in New York. Pre-COVID, I travelled back to Australia at least four times a year and made it a priority to reconnect with the ocean. I’m always most inspired while travelling and making a connection between landscape and more abstract ideas; this has been the foundation of my collections from the very beginning. Looking back at previous collections, it is amazing for me to see the evolution of the product and my growth as a designer. The signature has remained the same, however my ability to refine the aesthetic of the brand and elevate the product is what has been the most rewarding.
Why do you think Australia produces such innovative creative talent?
There is an ease in the lifestyle in Australia that stems from spending a lot of time outside. There’s a balanced relationship with nature, which influences how you dress, and also an athleticism that comes from being active and connected to nature. I think understanding these subtleties and nuances have proven to be a strength for Australian designers, especially with the industry shift towards seasonless collections.
Who else inspires you?
Living in New York has made me more confident as a designer and allowed me to push my aesthetic and refine my technical practice. I’m inspired when I travel, experiencing new places that stimulate and challenge me. Staying in New York for the past year, I’ve experienced the city in a different way and bonded with people who have stayed, so creating a really strong sense of community has also been inspiring.
Your recent collections have expressed fluidity in silhouette and gender. Could you tell us a little bit about this unisex approach?
I used to feel more detached from my product and brand, designing womenswear and feeling a disconnect between the end customer and myself personally. Often if I designed for myself, it wouldn’t resonate with the customer. Since moving to New York I’ve been putting more of my personal style into the product and identity of the brand – and it’s proven to be successful. Gender, body confidence and sexuality have always been key expressions of the brand identity, and the idea of challenging the traditional segmentation of men’s and women’s fashion has always been part of the subtle articulation of the product. The overarching message is one of confidence of expression and sexuality through clothing.
What is your personal philosophy on wellness and grooming - and what does your daily routine involve?
Every day I use Biologique Recherche face wash, moisturiser and night cream. I am also now enjoying incorporating By Beth Collagen into my daily routine in each morning. The last year has been interesting with COVID, I’ve gone through stages of cutting my own hair or having friends cut my hair. During lockdown, I set up a small weight bench in my apartment to lift and did runs on the Brooklyn bridge. Now that gyms have reopened I workout twice a week in the mornings before work.
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