Madewell, J.Crew‘s sister brand, just gets better and better. And a lot of that has to do with Kin Ying Lee, the label’s creative director. Not only is Kin nice, funny, and cool, she also has amazing personal style. So it’s not surprising that she makes the “Madewell girl” appear effortlessly hip.
I got to spend some time with Kin this summer on Madewell’s road trip–where a bunch of editors visited Montauk to just hang out with the brand’s team–and adored her instantly! Luckily, she was nice enough to answer some questions for Fashionista about her life, her career, and what’s next for Madewell. The brand launched its latest denim style, the High Riser, today, and you can pick it up at their Denim After Dark event, which takes place tonight at select Madewell stores across the country.
Fashionista: Tell us about your roots! Where are you from, where did you go to school?
Kin Ying Lee: I’m originally from Hong Kong and moved to the northeast of England when I was six years old. I knew I wanted to be a designer from a young age—I used to sit with my grandma while she was sewing and sketch outfits for her. I went on to study design at Kingston University in Surrey [England].
How long have you been designing for Madewell?
I’ve been at Madewell for five years. (Madewell was founded in 1937 as a workwear company, then relaunched in 2006.) Back then, the design team was made of just an assistant and me.
What’s the best part of your job?
Creating clothes that I love with an amazing group of designers. Like our brand-new High Riser Jeans, which are–drumroll please–debuting today. (Shameless plug: find them at Madewell.com, and in select Madewell stores at our Denim After Dark party). They’re the perfect skinny high-waist fit, very vintage-modern, and we’re all obsessed with them. Another great part of my job: Madewell has such a rich sense of history and heritage—it’s something I continually draw from for inspiration. We have an incredible archive of vintage Madewell denim to reference, and the ability to see the wear and tear of these garments and how they held up thorough generations never ceases to inspire me. And I’m so fortunate that we can travel the world to find inspiration–I’m always amazed by the creativity and sense of serious fashion history in Paris; and in Japan the street style is unparalleled.
If you had to wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be?
It’s hard to pick just one, but if push came to shove I’d go with a pair of vintage-wash slouchy/skinny jeans with a silk blouse and and a bootie. Then I’d toss on a Barbour jacket and accessorize with a pair of rings I got in Japan that represent my two children.
We’re big on movie inspiration here. Do any films inspire your style?
I love the iconic pieces seen in Indiana Jones: the perfect leather jacket, tough boots and menswear-y shirt. When I’m feeling a little homesick, An Education is perfect for a dose of English schoolgirl style. And In the Mood for Love is a perennial favorite—I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and it reminds me of Hong Kong. The style of the clothing in the movie isn’t my style per se, but I love the overall feel of the film, from the storyline to the lighting to the cinematography. And I’m a huge fan of Maggie Cheung.
We know you love food–so do we! What’s your favorite ice cream in the whole world?
Vanilla ice cream from Cincinnati-based Graeter’s (graeters.com). I top it with crushed sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. Sounds weird, but it’s incredible—trust me.