Last Friday morning, I dropped in to visit Australia's most cerebral designer in his Surry Hills studio. A dilapidated staircase leads to Dion Lee's workspace; a fitting birthplace for pieces that are about "an idea of construction but taking things apart." I find Lee, impeccable in track-pants, and we drink coffee and talk astrology, why being a Libra means he's "all about balance and symmetry" and how he's scheduled a Sunday in bed after working around the clock since returning from his recent overseas trip.
It's a rare personal insight into the 24-year-old designer who has been something of a phenomenon since he showed his debut collection in a Kings Cross car park, straight out of fashion school in 2009. This year, busting through the pressures of expectation, he captured the hearts of international press with an artful show, heavy with Rorschach blot prints, showing off his pleats and draping at Sydney's Opera House. This month alone, he's made a modest acceptance speech as the winner of the Qantas Spirit Of Youth Awards, announced a deal with high street retailer Cue, something he "can't really talk about until early next year" and watched his Spring-Summer drop on Net-A-Porter as a part of their Cruise collection.
It's a sure signal the rest of the world is ready for Dion Lee. "There's been lots of international interest and much of it has come off the show in Sydney but Net-A-Porter has really helped. I think a lot of people look to it as a reference for what's current and emerging," said Lee. "At the moment I'm not running in international seasons but it's something I am looking to do next year. I was meeting with my PR agency in London doing a bit of pre-production and potentially doing a show in September of next year."
An international show will indeed be met with lots of anticipation. His simple yet intricately constructed collections have yet failed to create intrigue -- empirical evidence would suggest tears will be shed; quite possibly by the designer himself. I ask him about this: does this mean his design process is an emotional one? His smile gives it away. "I think with every collection, I seem to have a breakdown and hate it and think it's a complete disaster and then everyone likes it. When you are behind something, you see every single flaw and, because you have such a clear idea in your mind of what you wanted something to be, it's very easy for it to not measure up, for it to be substandard in your mind. I think that's the interesting thing about fashion is that it is so time-based and you almost don't have time to have that reflection or have that feeling-sorry-for-yourself period... you live in tomorrow in a sense that it's going to be better, that the next collection will be better."
Lee's Autumn-Winter effort, Eyes Lie, was reaction to his previous, a want to do something quieter. "It's the idea of the visual deception of something looking quite strong but also being quite soft in a way. Then I adapted the lines of corsetry in a really soft pleated tulle way so it has a soft but quite sculpted look." Then adding: "It's amazing how quickly you move on. I already have my head in other things."
A few nights later, I saw Lee at dinner back at the Opera House and surrounded by admiring fashion editors. He'd read Susan Miller's year ahead horoscope in the recent issue of RUSSH over the weekend and was a little concerned. "It's not as positive as last year's," he queried. "Don't worry, it's across the board and same for all signs," I assured him, wondering if he'd actually managed a day in bed. But Lee, who is planning to spend a month in Paris over the end of January hardly needs comforting about what's in store for him. The planets have aligned. And I'd go so far to say, he's a rising star.