Dion Lee is a top designer in Australia — in November, he became the youngest designer to receive the annual Australian Fashion Laureate, considered the Australian fashion industry’s most prestigious honor — but he’s still making a name for himself in the U.S. Currently in growth mode, establishing his brand in the states is a main focus.
Lee launched his namesake women’s line in Australia in 2009. In May, he launched a menswear line and in February an eyewear collection, with a new footwear line due next month.
Glossy spoke with Lee about why New York Fashion Week and wholesale partners are keys to his stateside expansion.
Are runway shows still relevant?
A show allows you to communicate clothes with movement, with a really strong feeling. Combined with an environment and a soundtrack, it creates a strong point of brand communication — but it’s different for every brand. Different things work, based on the type of customer you’re speaking to. Last season, we showed in both New York and Australia — but I want to avoid doing three runway shows a year, if we can. We may do a beautiful dinner [in Australia], instead — something that’s more intimate, less stressful.
So, you’re a NYFW devotee?
[NYFW] is evolving very organically. The cycle of fashion and how rigid it is is a very daunting and stressful parameter to work within, so it’s nice to be able to think outside the box: One season, you may feel like showing in one city, and the following season, you may feel like making a film or doing a presentation. It’s a more creative framework to think within.
Does the new men’s-women’s show schedule mean any changes for you?
We moved men’s into the women’s schedule last year, starting with resort 2018. The breakdown of the traditional format, of [separate] men’s and women’s [New York Fashion Weeks], was encouraging to me, in terms of wanting to introduce menswear; I really wanted to see the collections side-by-side. The new calendar works for the brand. Of course, it’s going to be more challenging for buyers, in terms of how they break out their schedules and where they allocate budget from — but as a designer, it’s nice to have to have the freedom to integrate collections and consolidate sales days.
A look from Dion Lee’s spring 2018 runway
Any plans to explore see-now-buy-now?
There’s now a stronger link to what we show on the runway and what we have in stores; with accessories, there’s definitely a buy-now-wear-now element: The eyewear we’ll show will hit stores at the same time, and eventually, we want to do that with shoes — we’re launching a full shoe collection this season. We’re conscious of the products people really want to go out and buy immediately.
How do you treat the markets differently?
In Australia, the customer is much more aware of the brand — and we have our own retail channels, so we’re less reliant on wholesale. Wholesale is generally a much smaller market in Australia. We even run our own retail within department stores, like David Jones. In the U.S., we’re very much a wholesale business; it’s still about building the brand and continuing to grow.
Does the same apply online?
We’re re-launching our website at the end of this month, with the spring/summer collection; we’re changing how we approach e-commerce. There is a lot of technicality within the product, and we’ve designed a format that lets us tell the story of each one. And we want to do less online; we’re reducing the amount of products we focus on. It’s important to be able to retail your own product, and [control] how that’s communicated. But it’s also important to have exposure through other sites, to have the alignment and positioning that comes with being on a multi-brand online channel.
The six months ahead will be very digitally focused; I want to see our digital presence evolve and grow. And I hope to open retail in the U.S. It makes a lot of sense to have a store over here, with me now living over here; I have a stronger understanding of how I want to approach [local] retail and what would be important for a store in New York. We’re just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.
Images via Black Frame (photographer: James Robinson)