A graduate of New York’s elite Parsons School of Design (where Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen, Jason Wu, and Alexander Wang are also alumni), Lee won the Parsons Menswear Designer of the Year award with his final collection before graduating in 2014. The following year, Lee was a finalist for the prestigious Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy Prize. Kanye West was a judge in the competition and famously said that Lee was “killing it,” as W reported. In 2015, Lee also snagged the H&M Design Award, bringing his menswear to a wider audience. This award resulted in a capsule collaboration collection between Lee and the fast-fashion retailer, proving that the young designer is capable of competing in the international commercial fashion market.
Creative director Christine Kohler, who has worked at ad agencies Publicis, Grey, DDB, and Draft, and whose fashion editorial work has been featured in S Magazine, Autre, Schön!, Purple, Galore, Pressure Paris, and Contributor tells Culture Trip she would “love to shoot Lee’s pieces in a post-apocalyptic environment, where wide-open and broken-down spaces highlight the long lines, particularly of the knits.” Here, Kohler brings up a touchstone of Lee’s collection: his flair for the avant garde. While most experimental couture works exclusively for the runway (think Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe), Lee’s innovative designs are accessible and wearable. “Lee uses a tactile playfulness that builds on utilitarian, boxy, construction wear-cut clothing,” Kohler says. “Elevated fabrics and knitwear take his designs into an odd future.” In this way, the designer bridges commercial appeal with his high-concept designs.
For autumn/winter 2018, the designer moved into womenswear, which is, traditionally, a more robust market than menswear. However, the designer is not abandoning the unorthodox style that distinguished his former menswear collections. “I invest what is gained in the pure concept aspect of my work into the commercial collection. They speak to each other, but there is no energy lost there,” he said to WWD. Lee’s foray into womenswear also speaks to the designer’s ability to embrace gender fluidity.
Lindsay Jones, an accomplished creative director and head designer/founder of Músed (formerly of Marc Jacobs and Zac Posen), finds Lee’s “oversize and sexless” creations an interesting take on the “deconstructed modern dresser.” Jones tells Culture Trip, “The skirts on men and over-the-top shapes are reminiscent of gender-bending in Comme des Garçons.”
“He cuts a strong silhouette,” says Jones. Indeed, the sexless aspect of Lee’s work is most strongly felt in silhouettes that defy gender norms. Lee’s tailoring is heavy and romantic, and relies on exquisite draping to elongate the body. Lee’s silhouettes also borrow from bygone eras: “The vintage collar juxtaposed with a modern shoulder is very smart,” says Jones. Again, this high-concept garment is made accessible by weaving tradition with innovation.
Because Lee’s work incorporates woven fabrics, denim, PVC, and luxe embellishments, and his silhouettes are loud and moody, the designer “makes his clothes wearable with neutral colors,” says Jones. Colors like gray, black, navy, and nudes allow the complex layering to take center stage, while giving the body texture in an interesting way that’s still commercially viable.