dion lee, australia's finest fashion export

As Dion Lee's latest luxe collection comes to Matches, we catch up with Down Under's finest fashion export.

by Felicity Kinsella
Mar 18 2014, 7:45pm

Dion Lee

Abbey Lee, Miranda Kerr and Gemma Ward are the beach babes most people will associate with Australian style, but the continent's latest Sydney-based talent is bringing fashion from the outback straight to the forefront. Dion Lee's clinging slips, sculpting bodycon, Bondi beach and Australiana references are being lapped up by an industry which delights in sex appeal and elegance combined. Launching his namesake label straight out of college, he was the first designer to hold a show at the sunny and stunningly atmospheric Sydney Opera House in 2010, won last years International Woolmark Prize and has shown twice in London before moving his collections to New York two seasons ago. On top of this the 26-year-old has inherited that relaxed Aussie demeanor and is one of the most chilled out people we've ever met in fashion! 

Where did you grow up?
I grew up kind of south of Sydney, in a pretty, beachy suburb. 

Were you really into the beach?
I was when I was young, I was like a nipper. 

A nipper?
Yeah, it's like surf life saving but it's not something I continued as I grew up.

When did you first get interested in fashion?
I was always interested in fashion. Growing up, it was something that I was quite preoccupied with but I suppose it wasn't until I was older that I realised it was something I could actually do or study. It was only in highschool that I realised I wanted to study fashion.

How did you get into designing straight after uni?
I went to college in Sydney and then was invited to show my graduate collection at the  time at Australian Fashion Week and from there it just evolved and I can't remember what happened since then!

What was it like meeting Donatella Versace and Victoria Beckham on the Woolmark Prize panel?
That was just last year, it was fun. Quite a surreal selection of judges so was great to talk them through the collection.

Tell us a bit about the current collection...
The inspiration was quite mixed. I started with the idea of taking quite Australian archetypes like an Australian outback identity and kind of adapting that in a way that felt quite modern so that was a very crocodile, kind of rugged aesthetic, and applying that to my own woman.

So you used really typically Australian references...
Yeah, it's funny because no other Australian would ever touch them! I think it's that thing of people looking at their own culture and going "this is so not cool," so it was fun to play with something that as Australian's we have a cultural cringe about.

Have all of your collections been inspired by Australia?
Not really, some people say that to me but I think that I've drawn from the things around me, whether or not that's kind of surf culture. I think if anything, the lifestyle definitely influences how you design a collection and what's relevant to a designer from Australia. I think it's important that a collection is relevant to where it comes from.

Would you ever move away?
Yeah definitely! But we have quite a bit going on in Australia at the moment, we've just started opening a few retail stores. We've just opened one in Sydney and we're about to open one in Melbourne. So I think there's a few things to do in Australia first before I move. I think I would either be in London or New York.

Which do you prefer to show in, London or New York?
They're both very different, I really loved showing in London and that's why I'm really exciting to do something with Matches because it's still really important to spend some time here and do some activities based in London. I think they're two very different industries. 

If i-D came to Australia, where would you take us?
Probably to this super-secluded beach that's an hour out of the city that's super secluded and really desolate and isolated.

Australian's seem like a pretty chilled out bunch, what are you like the night before a show?
I've been quite mixed, it depends how much sleep I've had! The last few shows I've been super relaxed. It depends on how organised everyhting is.

What's your career highlight so far?
I don't know, I think that's always really hard for a designer to answer. I don't think it's happened yet. 

You're still so young, did you ever think it would get this big so quickly?
Not really, I suppose how my brand evolved was that I wasn't heavily strategic from the beginning. I was really just responding to opportunities that presented themselves and allowing the brand to grow in a very organic way. I didn't really set out to achieve a certain thing so I neither feel disappointed, nor am I patting myself on the back either!

You should be! Are there any other designers that you look up to?
Yeah, I think when you're a designer you really respect every other designer in a way because you understand the challenges of not only what goes into a collection but all the other influences you have around you at the same time and all of those things you have to work through.

Do you think there are any designers around at the moment who are like your competition?
To be honest, being based in Australia, you really don't think of yourself as part of the global fashion community in a way. We're in such an isolated part of the world and feel a little bit detached from everything that's going on which is a good and a bad thing.

Many say you're the best designer to come out of Australia in a while, do you feel the pressure of carrying Australia's fashion scene on your shoulders?
Not any more. I think originally I felt quite pressured by the expectation of what I should do next and how I should evolve the brand but now I'm kind of a little bit more zen with what will be will be.

Do you have a muse?
Not particularly. Interestingly I don't really use a muse to help me design. I think the collection's made up by many women who I work with and who influence me in different ways so there are many different personalities and many different women in them in a way.

How important is it to you to keep it a bit sexy?
I think that's a slight signature of the brand - that something's quite conscious of the body. I'm interested in construction that is playing with that tension of things that are quite structured but deconstructed at the same time. So definitely, in the cutting I like things to feel structured but fragile at the same time.

Where do you see the brand in five years?
Hopefully still continuing to evolve the collections and hopefully able to continue working with people who really inspire me and doing things that keep me motivated.

What would you be doing if you weren't a designer?
I always think about that... If I wasn't a designer right now I would probably take a bit of a break and do a whole bunch of things, but if I was to start another profession... I really love creating images and creating things that convey a really strong point of view, so I'm really interested in film and potentially exploring that as a medium a little bit further.

Do you have a favourite film?
No, I have a hard time making decisions!



Text Felicity Kinsella

Miranda Kerr
abbey lee
Victoria Beckham
donatella versace
Gemma Ward
felicity kinsella
dion lee
woolmark prize