Aussie Invasion: Meet Designer Dion Lee

by Paige Reddinger

The Outback’s latest star designer is 28-year-old Dion Lee, whose collections are earning stellar reviews stateside—not to mention hefty orders from Net-A-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman.

How did you get your start in fashion?
I studied fashion in Sydney and I was invited to present my graduate collection at Australian Fashion Week. I started filling some very small orders to a well-known boutique in Sydney, and everything sort of happened from there.

What was your earliest fashion memory?

I’m very close with my mother and sister, and they have influenced me a lot.

What was your first foray into the business?

I interned with the stylist Tina Kalivas when I was studying fashion in Sydney. It was a great way to see how someone was running a business. Tina came from a very technique-based background—she was trained in costume—so I developed a really strong sense of theatricality and technique.

Why did you start your own business?

Well, I didn’t have a real strategy or plan—the growth was a bit reactive and fairly organic. I made a lot of mistakes just sort of finding my way, but I’ve learned so much in such a small amount of time. While I was at college, I was getting a little bit of support from the Australia media, which I was very lucky to have. Then I started working with a stylist, Christine Centenera, who was at Harper’s Bazaar. She really supported me while I was starting out.

What did it feel like to have your first show at NYFW?
It was scary! It’s always hard showing out of your comfort zone, because I didn’t have my team with me, I was working out of a temporary space, and I lacked all the resources I would have had in Australia. But it was a great experience.

How much time do you spend in New York?
I usually stay for about two weeks—a little before Fashion Week, and after—but I’m going to try to squeeze in a holiday and go to Mexico for a bit.

Have you had a moment where you really felt like you “made it”?
There have been lots of amazing moments, but being featured in American Vogue and opening our first retail store in Sydney were amazing. Having one’s own retail space is a huge step for any designer. And we recently opened our second store in Melbourne a few weeks ago!

Would you ever relocate outside of Australia?

I’ve been considering it, but it’s about what’s most important right now within the business.

What’s your aesthetic?
There is always a fairly industrial element that runs through everything, but it’s still quite sensual and easy. I try to make the clothes feel approachable and wearable.

What is your favorite or strangest Aussie cuisine element?
Vegemite. Most people not from Australia don’t understand it, but it’s one of those things you crave that reminds you of growing up.

Do you eat kangaroo?
Nawwrr. I’m a vegetarian!

How many frequent-flier miles do you have?
Quite a few. I’m getting used to being on planes, but I don’t have a lot of time to use up those frequent-flier miles.

Any best-kept secrets about life in Australia?
There is a really amazing beach about two hours south of Sydney called Wattamolla Beach, which is super beautiful and kind of private.

What is your design process like?
I’m always kind of writing things down and doing small sketches. As the collection grows, I’m doing a bit of draping on the stand. We experiment with fabrics, but it generally starts with a big idea or a reference and filters down from there.

What is your inspiration for Spring ’15?
The collection is about looking at a highway aesthetic and all of the visual elements that come along with it. It began with the Australian artist Jeffrey Smart, who does bright landscapes that have a dark feel.

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