American menswear has long valued a cool, casual and ‘working-man’ aesthetic; after all it gave us denim, sneakers and Marlon Brando T-shirts. So no surprise that designer-to-watch Dana Lee is winning over New York with her slick takes of classic, homegrown styles. Canadian-born Lee started designing six years ago and currently is one of few women Stateside with her own menswear label.
Her current S/S11 collection is inspired by everyday life styles and includes her ‘Weekend Fleece’, an organic muslin ‘Classic Shirt’ and, of course, the traditional jean jacket. Lee boldly shuns catwalk models, preferring to use her own friends. A pioneer of fashion socialism, Dana Lee talks to Dazed Digital about ideas, inspirations and a childhood making bridges from toilet-paper tubes.
Dazed Digital: You claim to be inspired by regular people and everyday things. What are the influences behind your current SS11 collection?
Dana Lee: NYC Chinatown mish-mash: the colors, patterns, and prints. Drinking 75 cent coffee at the Lucky Bakery on Howard street. Late nights at Winnies.
DD: At the moment, you’re one of the very few women designing menswear in the US. How do you feel about that?
Dana Lee: Very lucky. I feel honored to be able to put a woman’s name on a man’s garment.
DD: Why did you first decide to design menswear?
Dana Lee: I never really ever questioned it. Growing up, I wore a lot of men’s basics so was really into finding perfect simple items like perfectly textured t-shirts and sweatshirts.
DD: How would you describe your aesthetic?
Dana Lee: I like to make clothes that are defined by texture, color, finishing, and the overall feeling of the garment. So I’d say it’s more about the way the garment feels than the aesthetic.
DD: Why did you decide to only use ‘real’ people to model your clothes?
Dana Lee: My collection is really not built for the runway. I like how different people can bring out the personality of the clothes, and how the clothes can bring out the personality of the people. In my first look book, we involved some friends and since then photographer Jody Rogac and I have been casting friends and friends of friends ever since.
DD: How would you describe the man who wears your clothes?
Dana Lee: Someone who knows their self and knows what works for them. Someone who likes to throw their clothes in the washer, wants to feel comfortable, yet who is in-tune with the times.
DD: What other designers do you admire?
Dana Lee: Margaret Howell and Jil Sander, not only because they are successful menswear designers but also because they are masters at fabric and cut. For women, my current favorite designer is Christophe Lemaire. If my lifestyle allowed, I would dress head to toe in his clothes.
DD: You grew in North Vancouver. How has your Canadian upbringing influenced your work?
Dana Lee: There is definitely a deep-rooted sentiment in me for more sturdy, basic designs. Growing up in the northwest naturally encouraged lots of time spent outdoors- hiking, camping, the usual northwest clichés. That said, we had a bit of an off-beat family so I can’t quite say we were epic Canadians. We weren’t religious, for some reason had no shower (only a bathtub) and never ever watched sports. Instead, my brother and I were kept busy doing hokey things like making bridges from toilet paper tubes. I was always self-conscious of not having the same inherent pop repertoire as my friends and felt a bit out of the loop.
DD: What do you like most about living in New York?
Dana Lee: How anything feels possible here. The food is unbeatable. No matter if you are dirt poor or born with a sliver spoon in your mouth.
DD: What would you be doing if you weren’t designing clothes?
Dana Lee: The northwest part of me has always fantasized about starting a dog shelter, or building a bed and breakfast.
DD: What are your new-year resolutions?
Dana Lee: Sleep, more sleep and sunshine!
DD: What has inspired you for A/W11?
Dana Lee: I was in Paris for a month during September and have recently been back in Canada, so the collection is a strong reflection of the resources that I’ve found in both places. I’d say there is a warm, stoic feel, lots of grounded peaty tones and some odd pops of colour.