D/A UK visits Edeline Lee in her London studio to discuss the fashion designer's bold SS19 collection
“I feel like an archaeologist,” says womenswear designer Edeline Lee, across the table in her east London studio. She isn’t suggesting that she gets down in the mud, trowel in hand, when seeking her treasure, but she does dig deep for it. Just like an archaeologist, to find her meaning she needs to build a better picture of people and how they live, through curiosity, endeavour and empathy. “It’s not me imposing what I think women should wear, it’s me trying to figure out – as a woman now, what do I want to wear?” she says. “I want to create something that works for women, so what works for me? It’s personal and intimate. I feel I’m doing something in service of women. That sounds cheesy!” – her face erupts into a wide smile.
Since the British-Canadian designer launched her label in 2013, awards and accolades have followed; her line is now stocked worldwide, from Vivaldi in New York to Costume in Dublin. Lee is one of those lucky people who knew her path in life from a young age. “I made my first garment from a pattern at 12. My parents were rigidly against me going into the arts, though, which only made me more determined. I used every avenue I could to be close to fashion. I worked in theatre doing costume design, building my portfolio on the side. I learnt that, in this industry, you need to stick it out.” She studied at Central Saint Martins before landing apprenticeships at both John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. “Back when I was growing up, you’d see their work and it was the dream,” she says. “They were very different, but both brilliant. Genuine storytellers. I loved that then and still do.”
This morning, fresh from eight days in Paris showing her SS19 collection to buyers, and London Fashion Week immediately before that, Lee went straight to the Frieze art fair. Lee loves art, of course, but she was at Frieze to meet clients: women in the art world were the first to flock to her elegant, distinctive designs.
I love where you look up close and there’s a tiny touch that’s handmade and special, but from a distance it looks minimal
“They’re aesthetically aware, but they don’t necessarily want to be fashion plates,” she says of these clients. “The way I think about colour and structure seems to resonate with them.” They are still loyal, of course, but the word is now well and truly out. Alicia Vikander, Karen Elson, Livia Firth, Cynthia Nixon and Solange Knowles have all worn Lee’s designs. These women don’t mess about, and Lee knows this: “We’ve worked hard to find fabrics that fit our woman’s life and allow us to experiment. We have a fabric you can just pull out of your suitcase and it always looks polished” – music to collective ears. All Lee’s garments are made in England using fabrics woven in Italy and France. Cut is important, of course, as is detail. “I love where you look up close and there’s a tiny touch that’s handmade and special, but from a distance it looks minimal,” she says.
That’s clear to see in Lee’s SS19 collection. The seemingly simple shapes have intricate constructions, playful yet sophisticated details, a delicious, rich palette and bold, hand-painted zigzags. Plus, you can’t not love a designer who knows how to work a ruffle. For the SS19 presentation of the collection, she leaned in on her love of storytelling and immersive performance: “It was about showing that a woman has many self-expressions. Her public face as well as her vulnerable side.” It ran eight times on a continuous loop, and professional dancers were cast alongside the models. The audience could enter and leave as they wished, so each person had a different experience. Lee herself was dancing by the end.
Did this collection answer any more of Lee’s questions? “It’s like a giant puzzle. Each season, you get some pieces in the right place, but you screw up a little bit over there. That’s why I feel lucky I chose fashion. The craft is so rich, you never stop exploring. The day after the season finishes, you get a fresh start. You might be able to get it better. We’ll see.”