When the international fashion community discusses Australian fashion, designer Dion Lee automatically comes to mind.
He has made a steady ascent, due in large part to the structured, architectural silhouettes of his eponymous label that he launched right out of fashion school at the Sydney Institute of Technology in 2008.
From showing his collections domestically, he has moved up to London Fashion Week and, now, New York Fashion Week.
But despite the rave reviews, the 29-year-old fashion star stays grounded.
"It's great that we're recognised, but it's not something that I'm too conscious about," says the Sydney-based designer.
He was in town last month for Singapore Fashion Week to show what he does best - tailored detailing, laser cuts and technical constructions.
Sleek teal dresses came accompanied with strategic cut-outs; there were satin separates treated with laser cuts; mesh was draped around evening dresses, as well as more straightforward tailored pieces. Each detail added an overall fluidity to the collection.
"There is an element of experimentation that is really important to my design process. For this collection, there was a concept around the idea of things that collapse. It was about slashing the fabric and allowing it to mould over the body in a way that felt like the drape was allowing gravity to pull it down," says Lee of his highly technical creations.
The soft-spoken designer's participation in Singapore Fashion Week was part of a move to boost the brand's profile in Singapore. Lee's main line and secondary line, Dion Lee II, are sold exclusively at multi-label store Inhabit at Mandarin Gallery. While his focus has been on the United States and Europe, he hopes to expand his business in Asia.
From the decision to stage his fashion shows abroad to launching his online store 18 months ago, Lee has demonstrated a business acumen that is surprising for a designer his age.
"When I started my brand, I was really more interested in something that was global rather than something that focuses purely on the market in Australia," says the boyish-looking Lee, who was dressed in a dark hoodie, jeans and Nike running shoes.
Operating in a highly competitive environment, Lee appears to have shielded his brand from some of the challenges faced by other Australian labels.
In recent years, established Australian designers, such as Lisa Ho, Bettina Liano and Kirrily Johnston, have faced financial uncertainties. More recently, these difficulties hit another Australian favourite, Josh Goot.
These developments have coincided with the influx of international high-street brands, such as Topshop, Zara, H&M and Uniqlo, and online retailers.
"Prior to these entrants, the market was a less competitive space. Australia is very different from a lot of places in a sense that all designers have their own stand-alone stores and that's not the case in other countries. When it works, that is really amazing, but when it doesn't, that's quite risky," says Lee, who opened three stand-alone stores within the last year.
Faced with promising sales both domestically and internationally, Lee says that he is excited about taking the next step in his business by introducing new categories.
Activewear, accessories and menswear are product lines he plans to pursue while staying true to his aim of empowering people with "a sense of confidence and effortlessness".
For a start, Lee, who is not married, is dipping his toes into activewear by launching a collaboration collection with Target. The collection will be available in Australia from July 2.
"It's interesting that I wanted to get into fashion to be creative, but I ended up having my own company, which came with all these things that I had no idea about. But the business has allowed me to exercise both a creative way and an analytical way of thinking."
This article was first published on 12 June, 2015.
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