Designer Dion Lee, 27, a Sydney native who almost won the Woolmark Prize in 2013 (Antwerp’s Christian Wijnants got it in the end) and counts Net-a-Porter as his most important stockist, is already on the way to becoming a household name.
Kate Bosworth, Emma Watson, Charlize Theron, Miranda Kerr, Rooney Mara and Karlie Kloss have all made appearances in his body-con dresses, which have sculptural cutouts, vivid hues and bold nature-inspired prints. Kanye West designed a few pairs of shoes for him. And editors around the world, including Anna Wintour, are saying he’s the next big thing.
One step towards global recognition, says Lee, is New York. Today he’s presenting his first full collection here after showing in London for two seasons, and before that, in Paris and Sydney. “I love New York and I think there’s a really positive energy in the city that resonates with the collection and the brand,” says the designer, who grew up by the beach in Sydney and finds inspiration in his hometown’s laidback lifestyle.
Lee loves the ocean, of course; water finds its way into his aquatic hued dresses (beautiful shades of turquoise, azure, midnight blue and Klein blue) scuba-inspired shapes and fabrics such as neoprene and reflective knitwear, shiny like a fish’s scales.
An admirer of Helmut Lang and minimalist nineties fashion, the Sydney Institute of Technology graduate also loves architecture and lists the Sydney Opera House as a major influence. He always starts with razor-sharp tailoring, contouring the body with structured but fluid shapes that sometimes reveal the skin with an evocative rounded slit around the breasts, arms, waist or back. Then he creates dreamy prints and develops cutting edge fabrics, contrasting a rigid fabric with an ethereal net, for example, or with a lacquered texture that seems to shine from within.
The summer collection will blur the lines between seasons, a hint to the reversed rhythms of New York and Sydney. “I was looking at the four seasons and combining these elements into shapes that were pairing summer and winter, and it’s turned into something with clashing environments,” says the designer. “I created prints of seasonal landscapes, silhouettes that contrast different seasonal elements and lots of layered textiles–silk, stretch textiles, leather outerwear and more evening elements as well.”
Contrasts–of seasons, cultures, colors, shapes and moods–often fascinate Lee. He grew up in awe of the nineties’ menswear-inspired conceptual fashion, but also loves laid-back beach styles. He’s attracted to a raw, industrial sensibility, yet enjoys a good dose of glamour. Lee cuts body con dresses that reveal a healthy amount of skin, but he’ll never make anything as obvious as a bandage dress: his woman has a relaxed, confident sexuality. “I’m attracted to things that don’t feel completely comfortable together,” he says, “Things that feel a little challenging and combinations that feel like the right balance of what you’re comfortable with and what feels unexpected.”
But most importantly, beneath his beautifully quirky universe, there is a deep love for women. “I’m attracted to women who have a really strong sense of who they are,” he muses, “women who bring their personality to their clothes and do things their own way. Someone who has their own tastes and is able to take risks.”