Central Saint Martins graduate Ed-Lee first popped onto the scene with his defining menswear graduate collection in 2014. Soon after, he was back in the studio to begin working on what would be his official debut as a professional designer. This AW ’15 presentation was not only well-received by the industry, but also certified Lee as an emerging name to keep in sight.
Lee’s current ability to design without any commercial restraints means he’s better able to experiment with luxury fabrics, silhouettes and gender, though he says his work is more personal than any conscious attempt to push boundaries. Taking inspiration from flappers of the roaring ’20s and infusing that with ’70s glam, Lee’s collection is a brilliantly constructed body of art, offering a more refined approach to menswear.
We caught up with the rising designer to talk about abiding by the “traditional fashion code,” studying at CSM and running a business with a very small staff.
How your current collection is different from your graduate collection?
“The AW ’15 collection is a continuation and reinterpretation of my graduate collection. I would say the atmosphere is relatively more casual than SS ’15, adding pieces that are more subtle to slightly tune down the ’20s flapper style from my graduate collection. I really wanted this collection to be more polished and [well] rounded and therefore it has a broader range of garments, [like] the jeans and leather pieces, to inject a little bit of street vibe into it.”
With gender not being a statement anymore, do you feel there are any boundaries left to push?
“To be honest with you, I don’t think about this when I design. It is not my intention to push the boundaries of gender. The way I design now is very personal and as I am not producing most of the collection and I don’t have the commercial pressure like a lot of designers yet, I am just trying to present what inspired me culturally and visually. It just happens that these things tend to be what people generally perceived as feminine. But I do think people are more open-minded about gender nowadays and for sure we have less pressure on how we should dress based on our sexuality.
However, I still believe in the traditional fashion code to a certain extent, as there are so many connotations associated to the way we dress by society throughout the history of fashion and to me that’s what makes fashion such a strong language itself. When I expand in the future, for sure I would have to take the commercial side into consideration, as well as having the personal touch to the collection, I believe that’s when all these ‘boundaries’ become more ‘visible’ to me. I am not too sure how it’s gonna work out in the future, but the thought of that really excites me now.”
Your current collection has a ’70s glam-rock edge to it. What inspired this look?
“Yes, it’s a mix of the ’20s flapper look that I always love and ’70s glam. [The] ’20s is an era that I have referred to for a while; it was really kind of the beginning of modern fashion and there were plenty of ideas that I still find fresh even put into the context of contemporary fashion. I truly appreciate the work of, for instance, Callot Soeurs and Paul Poiret.”
How did you first get into designing?
“I was always very sensitive to colors since I was a kid. In fact, I was actually studying graphic design instead of fashion in my first year at Central Saint Martins. I find it very natural for me to do design and I chose fashion because to me, fashion is like creating a second layer of skin—it is the most personal medium to express my vision and I want to see how people interact directly with I create.”
You mentioned you get inspired by couture and value artisanship. How important is that to your work?
“This has always been a main part of my inspiration. The time and effort put into couture is very inspiring to me and that’s something we see less and less in contemporary fashion. I really would like to bring the spirit of that, but in a more contemporary manner. It would be great if we could slow down the pace of fashion a bit and look more into the details of fashion, and I hope to present people the traces of the luxurious era of couture in my work in a fresh perspective.”
What artist has inspired your work the most?
“I have been to Adrien Ghenie’s exhibition in Paris recently. I always like his work, but in [person] it’s even more impressive. [Up] close you could even see all these collages underneath the beautiful expressing brush strokes and I hope I could also deliver this sort of sensitivity and emotions in my work, too.”
Anything else to expect from Ed-Lee in the future?
“In the coming future, instead of expanding the company and doing a big collection, we would love to concentrate on producing small, but focused collections and engaging more with our customers. We are a very small team at the moment and we only take personal orders, due to the vintage fabric used in the collection, but we are very happy to keep working on a relatively small scale and everything is made-to-order, so we are able to keep up the exclusivity of every piece we deliver.”