Purple Magazine
— The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

dion lee




portrait by JACK PIERSON


Australian designer Dion Lee adds a dark and progressive element to New York fashion today. Drawing inspiration from minimalist fashion, electronic music, and industrial culture, he reshapes the silhouette with a nonbinary approach to anatomy. 


OLIVIER ZAHM — You have been working and developing your brand since 2013. What was the original impulse?

DION LEE — It started with my graduate collection, which I had been asked to show at Australian Fashion Week. That was the first collection I produced and sold. I was working with a few friends and stylists in the industry, and they were shooting pieces for fashion editorials while I was still studying. I was 23 and in college — young and stupid — and I just went for it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — If you’re too conscious, you’ll never start, especially in a complex fashion industry with many obstacles and difficulties.

DION LEE — Exactly. Or if you’re too conscious of what is expected. I didn’t plan to start a brand or business, and I didn’t have a clear direction for where I was going. It was reactive and organic, with one season flowing into the next.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A decade in fashion is already an achievement.

DION LEE — I feel like I’ve grown up in the industry. I was 23 when I started to show my collection, and I’ve learned a lot about myself since then. I’ve had to find my identity through the brand. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it difficult for you to define your brand’s identity? 

DION LEE — It’s hard for me. I’ve heard other people describe the brand as an intelligent take on sexy clothes, with a sometimes dark or rebellious spirit… I identify with that.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And would your brand and your designs be able to exist outside New York?

DION LEE — Yeah, I think so. I started my brand in Australia and moved to New York, as I was craving more cultural energy. New York has an energy that feeds me socially, creatively… That’s sometimes too much energy exchange! But I want the brand to have a global voice, and I intentionally work with collaborators who bring a unique geographic or cultural perspective. New York definitely has an influence on me, but I don’t think it’s only New York. I like change and feeling a little uncomfortable or challenged.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In a way, the best definition of your clothes is your own community. You have a strong community of people around you. 

DION LEE — The brand has become a reflection of the people I work with and the relationships I have around me. There is also a strong connection to music, which has always been a big part of my life — wanting to collaborate with musicians and explore that crossover in all types of music, but mostly dance culture, performance, and live music. In recent years, I’ve been collaborating more closely with musicians on special projects, tours, and music videos, and it’s exciting for me to understand their process and share a creative exchange. Musicians are the perfect people to wear the clothes because there’s a confidence required, a strength, empowerment, and sensuality.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because it means a lot if musicians are interested in your clothes. They can wear them at night; they can breathe and move in them, and there’s an energy.

DION LEE — There’s an energy, for sure, and it’s also linked to the performance aspect. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — The music at your show was really good. Who was it?

DION LEE — The music was a shared project with the artist Jacolby Satterwhite and the musician Nick Weiss,  who collaborate as PAT. Jacolby also created a video/animation work for the show and recently opened a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was the first time he’d played music from his new album. We had been talking for a while about collaborating on a project or show, and the screen concept made perfect sense. The way he works across so many mediums is really incredible: painting, video works, video games, music, live performance, and choreography… It’s not just music that I draw from; it’s art of all mediums, and it’s the things in my world and the people whose work I admire or am influenced by. I think it’s just folding that back into what is inspiring to me and what I connect with in the world around me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, for you, designing clothes doesn’t happen in a bubble. It’s immediately connected to music, contemporary art, performance.

DION LEE — I don’t know how designers can connect with the world if they are just working in their studio, if they’re not experiencing life and interacting with it. I find myself observing people and what people are responding to. That’s often what I am doing as a designer — absorbing what people are responding to around me and using that as a starting point with my own perspective. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think that fashion design can be done by everyone — by a musician, by creative directors coming in from another domain?

DION LEE — It’s a pretty hard job. You can be a creative director and not necessarily a designer, and I think there’s been evidence of that in recent years with some very successful brands. I’ve become a creative director, but I started as a designer. It is challenging to be both without a strong team around you. Learning the craft of fashion and understanding patternmaking, fit, and construction are things I have learned over a long period of time and am still learning, and it’s hard to learn without experiencing what works and what doesn’t. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, it’s teamwork.

DION LEE — Always. It’s about collaboration, and good creative directors are curating great teams to bring ideas to life. They’re curating talent, which again comes back to feeding your own creative growth and learning from really talented people.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s an important statement because your work is collaborative. You don’t stop collaborating with photographers, musicians, patternmakers, and stylists. You’re like a conductor.

DION LEE — Very much so. It does feel like that, pulling everything together and trying to compose in a way that works.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s your motivation to go on to the next collection?

DION LEE — I’ve had moments where I’ve questioned myself about what is motivating me to make another collection after 10 years of doing two main runway shows and pre-collections and never taking a break from the cycle. There’s this Rei Kawakubo quote that always comes to mind, where she’s talking about her own work and how she’s only motivated to do the next collection by her frustration with the previous one. And I relate a lot to that because your own frustrations can drive you forward. There is masochism, for sure. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — The frustration means you always want to perfect your work.

DION LEE — You always stand back at the end of each season and look objectively at your own work and think, “I really want to work on this” or “I really didn’t like that.” You almost don’t have the time to step away. There’s so much criticism within fashion, but I’ve always been of the mind that what I think of my own work is more important than what other people think of it. And that has allowed me to think more objectively about it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your fashion is progressive. You’re trying to do something new, unexpected. Even though your aesthetic is pretty dark, it’s positive.

DION LEE — I like to think there’s a bit of darkness to my design, but I always try to find the optimism within that. I still want it to feel uplifting. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Aesthetically, how do you create a silhouette that says something about our evolution as a species? Because we are evolving drastically as well as regressing drastically. We are going down and up at the same time. It’s pretty confusing.

DION LEE — It is confusing. It’s interesting to think about the evolution of the human body, and designing for this body. There’s so much context in pure anatomy and the form we’re designing for. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — And an evolution of the brain, too. 

DION LEE — Or the destruction of the brain. Staring at our phones, frying our brains into oblivion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And is fashion photography important to you? If you’re coming to Purple to give us this interview, it means you value the magazine as a medium for fashion.

DION LEE — I’m a big collector of books and magazines and first fell in love with fashion through print, buying imported magazines, air-freight Italian Vogue arriving three months later in Australia. I have a collection in my apartment and studio in New York, and it is an important part of building references for any project or collection that feels meaningful to me. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, if you project yourself into the future, what scenario do you imagine for yourself and for the fashion world? Do you think it will grow, or do you think it will collapse? How do you see its evolution? 

DION LEE — There are a lot of young brands now. There was a period, a few years ago, when there was a huge influx of Internet brands, and it became overwhelming to follow, but many went as quickly as they came. From speaking to buyers, I think brand loyalty has become more important, supporting who has been consistent and created awareness. Right now, experiencing the physical presence of brands is really important. I have a number of stores in Australia, and we’re in the process of opening a store on Mercer Street in New York and in the design district of Miami. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, what’s important to you about the physical experience of a brand? 

DION LEE — A physical environment is a more intimate way to experience a brand, especially after our many years of a default digital world. Each environment is also an opportunity to collaborate with an architect and curate a sensory experience through sound, furniture, and objects. I want to use space to bring people into different experiences. Maybe it’s a music performance, or exhibiting something in the space, or a photography collaboration. That’s the part of physical space that’s important to me, that cross-section of cultural perspectives. I don’t think we want to go into a store only to buy clothes anymore.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you also find a way to keep your clothes accessible? Price strategy is difficult now. 

DION LEE — I would like them to be accessible, especially to younger customers, but it’s a challenge creating a technical, elevated product at an accessible price. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you see celebrity culture as a medium or a vector for fashion?

DION LEE — It can be funny. [Laughs] It’s a spectacle and entertainment. I see it as a way to connect with more people. Every celebrity is speaking to a particular audience that you might not speak to, and it’s often a way to make something more relatable to that audience. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — But it’s interesting when you don’t force it, right?

DION LEE — That’s always been my approach — allowing it to happen organically. It’s only if I am really into an artist or musician and their work, or if there’s someone who I have always wanted to work with. But mostly, it’s the artists who reach out, asking if we are interested in creating something special for a particular project. You’re going into it with admiration and mutual respect, and it makes you want to give more to the process.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you see the evolution of fashion today?

DION LEE — Designers are more conscious of their own identity and brands, as well as individuals on social media. It used to be a very insular world, and there were many worlds because they weren’t as connected as they are today. And our world is more conscious of the environment.


[Table of contents]

The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

Table of contents

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