designer ximon lee is “killing it,” says kanye west
The 24-year-old Parsons graduate refuses to be defined by location or gender norms — he just wants to make clothes that inspire people.
Photography Ken Ngan
Less than a year ago, 24-year-old designer Ximon Lee finished his BFA in Fashion Design at Parsons in New York. Since then, he's been on something of a fashion world tour. He's spent time in Stockholm, where he became both the first designer from the US and the first menswear designer to win the H&M Design Award, he's shown with VFiles at NYFW, and he's hung out in Paris with Karl Lagerfeld and Kanye West — who told him he was, "killing it," after seeing his recent collection at the semifinalist showcase for the prestigious LVMH Prize. Though Lee says his focus is primarily menswear, he insists he doesn't want to be locked into one category. His pieces are best described as architectural, oversized and streetwear- inspired, with a palette of blacks, light greys and oceanic blues.
We caught up with the young designer as he was working on his upcoming collection for H&M (it will include pieces for both men and women). He had just returned to New York (where's he's based) from Paris and called us from the airport — before he was off again, this time to Hong Kong.
How has where you've grown up influenced your aesthetic as a designer?
Where you grow up, what language you speak, what kind of practice you uphold in an environment — those things influence everything you do. My worldview, my sense of values, everything is based in the culture I grew up in. When I speak to you, I might think in a different way than anybody else. I might mix three languages together to express myself and my emotions, and I think that's important.
When did you first know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
I took a summer class in which I was exposed to all the different fashion construction techniques for the first time. When I came to New York I was very sure that I would do graphic design. But learning about construction and textiles was not what I thought it would be. It was like transforming an idea from a sheet of paper into a three-dimensional product. That was the moment when I realized that fashion is more involved. Like architecture, you're building something. You can touch and feel your work, and see it moving.
Your collections have been defined as menswear, but you closed your H&M show in Stockholm with a woman. Why is it important for you to design for both genders?
I don't believe in the idea of unisex. It's such a blurred concept and you can't focus when you say, "I'm doing unisex [clothing], for both men and women." My focus was on menswear but I think that when you have great work, it gravitates towards both genders. When it's on the rack, in a store in London or Hong Kong, it doesn't categorize itself as menswear or womenswear. If a girl loves a menswear jacket, and she wants to wear it, it becomes womenswear.
Can you tell us a bit about your forthcoming collection with H&M?
The collection is heavily denim-based. I think denim is really sexless. There's so much potential to play with it and develop it, because it can be treated in so many different ways — bleached, washed, aged, worn. I also did bonding, which makes the fabric very rigid and textural. Right now I really want to focus on just denim.
You've mentioned in other interviews that people watching inspires you. What's the best place to people watch in New York?
It could be anywhere or anything: a deli next to my studio, girls walking in really tacky jeans, a random coffee stain on an apron in a coffee shop on the same street. I love the street corner near McCarren Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It's a mix of old guys, hipsters coming from work, tourists and local people who have lived in Greenpoint all their lives.
Having trained in New York but lived in Hong Kong, Manchuria and elsewhere — with a Korean family — how do you define yourself as a designer?
I hate labels, so I wouldn't label myself with a city I've lived in. When people ask me where I'm from, I don't say I'm from New York. I graduated here and I'm based here, so I'll usually define myself as a New York-based designer. But it's really about design, how to inspire people, fashion: that's what important. My first official show will be in Paris, which will make things even more complicated. I'll be spanning different continents.
Text Kristen Bateman
Photography Ken Ngan