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Designer to Watch: Dion Lee

While we love Australian designers like Collette Dinnigan, Lover, Ksubi and Sass & Bide, we'd say that country's fashion scene is a bit quiet, at leas

While we love Australian designers like Collette Dinnigan, Lover, Ksubi and Sass & Bide, we'd say that country's fashion scene is a bit quiet, at least when it comes to its influence on the Northern hemisphere. That may be about to change, thanks to Aussie newcomer Dion Lee.

Australian's fashon elite have already embraced this 24-year-old wunderkind, and his ready-to-wear pieces are found in some of the poshest retailers in the country, including Land’s End Australia (clearly no relation to the US version). The boutique carries the likes of Proenza Schouler and Balmain. So his clothes are in good company.

Last week, Dion won the 2010 L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Designer Award. He will receive Au$10,000 (about $9,200) and the opportunity to attend Première Vision, a textile trade event in Paris.

We very carefully calculated the time difference between NYC and Sydney and called him for a chat.

Fashionista: Your pieces are so sculptural. Do you have any other sort of design background? Dion Lee: No, just fashion design. I started with a strong art influence and I think that’s where I take a lot of inspiration. I also cut on the stand quite frequently so it turns out quite sculptural.

Your last couple collections have had a color palette of white, black, and cerulean blue. Has there been a specific inspiration for these colors? Oh, you noticed that it keeps popping up! I’m not really sure where it comes from. I’m quite into that industrial blue. It’s quite pretty, even though I’ve taken it from an industrial landscape.

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I’ve read that you like to work with “new” materials. I saw a plastic jacket and stainless steel accents in your most recent collection. Can you give me some examples of other materials you’ve worked with or want to work with? I've inset glass pharmaceutical bottles into garments. They were woven into a chain which allows them to float as an extension of the garment.

So how are you going to use your $10,000 prize? Definitely put it back into the business. At the moment we’re very spread out and there’s a lot of time lost in the general running of the business. It would be nice to have more time for design. I’ll also be going to Paris for the Première Vision where I’ll have access to textiles I normally wouldn’t have. It’s a football field of suppliers from all different areas. Here in Australia we have such limited access to a lot of these fabrics so it’s exciting.

Your clothes are in some pretty high-end Australian shops. Have you been getting any attention from international retailers? I’ve had lots of interest, but the thing now is to let the business evolve organically until the internal workings are in order. I’m conscious of not over-extending myself. I’d like to be prepared with a strong team to deal with orders if they do come through. Also I went to Paris last year and did a showroom presentation. The response was really really strong.

What do you think makes Australian fashion unique? There’s a certain element of ease to the Australian lifestyle that does translate to the clothes. Climatically, I think that builds into it. It’s a relaxed way of looking at fashion, but it doesn’t mean it’s not as serious. But it definitely influences the shapes and how things are worn.

My Aussie friends have long insisted that Australian fashion is trend-setting and always a season ahead of its Northern Hemisphere counterparts. What do you think about this? DL: (laughs) I think we have the potential to be but I don’t think that’s necessarily always the case. In some ways I suppose it’s good to be removed from the international seasons to be more creative.

Take a peek at Dion’s modern look here: