PLAIN SAIL­ING

NOTH­ING COULD RAIN ON DION LEE’S PA­RADE – NOT EVEN HIS HOME­TOWN’S NO­TO­RI­OUSLY UN­PRE­DICTABLE WEATHER. HIS FASH­ION WEEK OPENER AT THE SYD­NEY OPERA HOUSE SHOWED WHY THE DE­SIGNER IS MAGIC WITH FAB­RIC.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - MI­LANDA ROUT

Three hours be­fore Dion Lee be­gins his fi­nal show in Aus­tralia, un­der the sails of the Opera House, it starts to bucket down. Tourists scat­ter for shel­ter and the con­struc­tion of the runway is halted. Lee is be­ing told re­peat­edly he has to move the show in­side: lights can­not be put up as staff may get elec­tro­cuted. His team are fran­ti­cally try­ing to come up with a plan B. Is there enough room in­side? What about mov­ing that bench to this cor­ri­dor next to the the­atre or what about the foyer? Could that make a runway?

But Lee does not want a bar of it. This show means too much to him. The de­signer is open­ing MercedesBenz Fash­ion Week Aus­tralia, he is ven­tur­ing into menswear for the first time and it’s the last time he will show here for the fore­see­able fu­ture – he has moved to New York, where he has been show­ing for some years. This is not just any col­lec­tion; this is a turn­ing point for Lee, a grad­u­a­tion from Aus­tralia to the world. It is his time to re­flect, pay trib­ute to his home­town and look for­ward. And the sails of the Opera House are key.

“I re­ally wanted to re­mem­ber this show for a long time. It feels re­ally spe­cial,” Lee says. “Hav­ing moved over to New York, re­lo­cat­ing my­self per­son­ally and re­lo­cat­ing the de­sign stu­dio, it feels like it will be the last show I will do here for a while. In that con­text it has held more weight. It is im­por­tant that the show does feel iconic and Aus­tralian and I have such a his­tory with the venue.”

Six weeks ear­lier Lee is sit­ting at a café in Syd­ney, with the sun pour­ing in through the win­dows and over his shoul­ders, con­ced­ing to WISH the weather is an un­known vari­able with his re­sort 2018 show. “It is a huge gam­ble do­ing a com­pletely out­door pro­duc­tion,” he says, in the first of a se­ries of in­ter­views he does with WISH, agree­ing to let us fol­low his col­lec­tion from start to fin­ish: from Syd­ney to New York and back, from the ideas in his head to how it ap­pears on the runway.

“There is al­ways an el­e­ment of con­text in the col­lec­tion that does in­spire you,” he says. “Know­ing where you are go­ing to present a re­sort col­lec­tion, know­ing the en­vi­ron­ment of where you are go­ing to present a col­lec­tion, know­ing it is the open­ing of Aus­tralian Fash­ion Week, I wanted to do some­thing that re­ally com­mu­ni­cates my brand sig­na­tures and ref­er­ence things that have ex­isted in col­lec­tions pre­vi­ously.”

So Lee be­gins with the Opera House. The de­signer does in­deed have a his­tory with the place, hav­ing shown there three times in the nine years since he started his la­bel. Un­like many of his con­tem­po­raries, Lee does not start with a sketch; he starts with a mood board. For this par­tic­u­lar col­lec­tion, his mood board has ar­chi­tec­tural draw­ings of the Opera House and close-ups of the chevron tiles that line the sails. “There is not re­ally a bad an­gle in the place,” he says. From the Opera House, his think­ing goes to water and to sailboats to rope­knot­ting tech­niques to flags. “Cre­at­ing par­al­lels with the en­vi­ron­ment is some­thing I have been fo­cused on with this show,” he says. This trans­lates to find­ing ma­te­ri­als that re­flect the light like water, or have an ar­chi­tec­tural pat­tern or tex­ture like the tiles.

“We were look­ing for fab­rics that were ei­ther spun with silk or some­thing that gave the fab­ric a gloss,” Lee says. “So we started cre­at­ing tex­tiles that would re­ally play on light within that en­vi­ron­ment.” The de­signer has be­come well known for ex­per­i­ment­ing with ma­te­ri­als and con­struc­tion and this col­lec­tion is no dif­fer­ent. One of the fab­rics he cre­ates is a silk or­ganza mixed with “re­ally fine plas­tic to give it a water feel” and an­other is a silk satin bonded on to Swiss lace.

The next step is the shape of the clothes and how they will work on the body. “I think the sil­hou­ettes of this sea­son do feel a bit more uni­sex – a lot of soft tai­lor­ing, re­laxed shapes on the body, noth­ing too form­fit­ting,” says Lee. “We want tex­tiles that move off the body and cre­ate a sense of move­ment. This is where we go into the de­sign stage; com­bin­ing those tex­tile de­vel­op­ments and con­cepts with the sil­hou­ettes.” This re­laxed shape and soft tai­lor­ing is in­formed by two things; one is the move by Lee into mak­ing clothes for men this sea­son and the other is his long-stand­ing affin­ity for de­con­structed tai­lor­ing in his clothes for women. And this is where the next de­sign el­e­ment comes in – per­haps one not associated with be­ing par­tic­u­larly fash­ion­able: the sports uni­form.

“Olympic uni­forms, that was one thread of ref­er­ences,” he says. “The con­cept of men’s and women’s uni­forms to­gether, uni­sex uni­forms. Be­cause we are show­ing a se­lec­tion of menswear on the runway for the first time – that is what has re­in­forced a par­al­lel be­tween men’s and women’s tai­lor­ing.” On Lee’s mood board in his New York stu­dio, there is even a pic­ture of one of the fa­mous lo­gos for the Syd­ney Olympics – the

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