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October 21, 2017
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Women ahead of their time: Edeline Lee's S/S 2013 collection was inspired by the powerful, intellectual women of the Bloomsbury Group. Sources (L to R): brownsfashion.com, edelinelee.com, vintagelifestylemag.co.za.
Edeline Lee interview
Edeline Lee. Photograph by Sabine le Marchand.

"When women tell me that they've never had as many compliments as when they've worn an Edeline Lee, that's a killer compliment," says fashion designer Edeline Lee, "It makes it all worthwhile."

Since launching her eponymous line two years ago during the A/W 2012 season, recognition and praise have come swiftly for the Vancouver-born designer who has made London home for the past 13 years. But, kudos from her clients and the likes of Hamish Bowles have been justly earned, in a journey full of fits and starts.

Lee has had her feet in the industry since she enrolled at Central Saint Martins in 2000 (together with Christopher Kane), deferring a seat at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Law School for a number of years. "My parents finally let me let go of my place at law school when it was clear (to them!) that I wasn't ever going to go." She went on to apprentice with Alexander McQueen and John Galliano while in school but dropped out in 2004 to work as First Assistant for Zac Posen in New York. Returning to Central Saint Martins in 2005, she completed her BA, then became head designer of the playful conceptual label The Rodnik Band in 2006.

A brief hiatus from fashion followed, during which time she got married, had a son, and got divorced. But it was a collaboration with jewellery designer Cora Sheibani during the S/S 2013 season that got heads turning en masse. With a collection of dresses inspired by the turn-of-the-century Wiener Werkstatte (the "Vienna Workshop") movement - a group of Vienna-based creatives who produced a wide variety everyday objects from furniture, metalwork and jewellery - orders started rolling in for custom work. 

By A/W 2012, Lee had debuted her own collection inspired by De Stijl ("The Style", of which Piet Mondrian is considered a founder) artists Ed Lissitzky and Bart van der Leck, which T Magazine declared to be, "a small, confident tour de force in taste and technique."

Edeline Lee interview
The scene of Edeline Lee's A/W 2013 presentation.
Source: goodleypr.co.uk.

From her first three solo collections, signature traits seem to be emerging. Her clothes have an overall sense of composition with the use of clean lines and soft architectural shapes. Silhouettes are precisely cut, elegantly gracing the body with not a cling in sight. And while the clothes are undoubtedly modern, they seemingly transport you to another era, perhaps reflecting her consistent references to the early 20th century. Hemlines falling below the knee are coyly demure and even a "little bit old fashioned," as she once described her aesthetic.

"I like things that have a soul - where you can see and feel the hand of the maker behind it," Lee tells The Genteel. "I'm a bit bored of plastic fashion. True quality and craftsmanship is much harder to attain, but in a world where we are inundated with quick fixes, this is what feels new and fresh to me." Lee's collections are also entirely handmade in England; having also trained on Savile Row, she "love[s] the old-school traditions of England," and "being able to visit my factories constantly, it's the best way to keep quality high."

Craftsmanship, yes, but for Lee, it doesn't come at the expense of imagination, who has developed wonderfully rich narratives around her handful of collections. In the midst of her fashion week presentations in regal historical venues - she prefers "performative mise-en-scenes in lieu of catwalk shows" - her models assuredly play their parts, seemingly frozen in time.

Her S/S 2013 presentation - which took place in London's Lowther Lodge, home to the Royal Geographic Society - was inspired by the powerful, intellectual women of the Bloomsbury Group. Lee considered the secret affairs of the likes of Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and Nancy Cunard, and imagined them plotting escapades in the future. For A/W 2013, Lee took inspiration "from the vintage regalia of a Texas Odd Fellows' union that got her thinking about secret societies and the way clothes can communicate in code." As Grace Carter reported for frank, "In the historic Middle Temple Hall...sunlight streamed through tall windows onto thick patterned carpet as models played out a theatrical sketch to an intimate 15-at-a-time audience. One finely dressed model polished apples, another played the piano, two more danced arm-in-arm while a group recited poetry." 

It also is a very creative thing to be a mother - I guess the ultimate act of creation. It's changed my perspective on everything.

It's tempting to wonder whether these narratives reflect Lee's own fantasies and wishes - or, even, her reality. When asked, Lee is ambiguous: "As I develop a collection, a story is born out of it. I'm not sure how it happens. But I am a woman, and when I put on my clothes, I put on that facet of my identity for the day. Clothing can be hugely transformative and uplifting. That is the wonderful thing about fashion. For me, each season is another story, another mood, another facet of the Edeline Lee woman."

Despite an approach to design that is intellectual and romantic in equal measure, Lee seems to have healthy dose of hustle and pragmatism, perhaps from the slow and steady road she has paved since she began at Central Saint Martins 13 years ago. "It's very exciting and gratifying to have your work recognised. But I'm always running around with clothing and rails in the back of my car and figures and lists in the back of my head. You never really stop working." And not to forget the transformative impact of motherhood. "Becoming a mother turns you into a magnificent multi-tasker," says Lee, "It also is a very creative thing to be a mother - I guess the ultimate act of creation. It's changed my perspective on everything."

After spending the first decade of her career working for other designers, these last two years have been instrumental in developing her own voice. With wisdom and measured optimism, Lee seems to have a good grasp of what lies ahead. "There's a lot of noise out there so, as a new label, it's important to have a recognisable signature even while you creatively move forward every season. But there's a lot of considerations outside of purely the aesthetic. You have to work around the resources that you have, think about what your women need and desire, hit the right price points. It's a constant learning process."

And while we're getting used to seeing turn-of-the-century inspirations from Lee, she insists her inspirations are always changing. "At the moment it's travel. I just visited Russia for the first time. And I'm in Korea at the moment, my first time back here in 16 years. I'm also planning a trip to Nepal - super exciting." Tales from the Land of the Morning Calm and the Roof of the World - something to look forward to for S/S 2014? We can't wait.


Edeline Lee is available at Moda Operandi Boutique and Harvey Nichols.

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