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May 29, 2016
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Australian Dion Lee a designer for all seasons

May 29, 2016

Fashion retail is experiencing a seismic shift: the audience is global, seasons are increasingly irrelevant and the rise of social media means consumers don't want to wait for runway styles.

Australian designer Dion Lee - Dion Lee

Designer Dion Lee, the breakthrough star of Australian fashion who has worked with Kanye West and whose clothes are worn by the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Cate Blanchett, understands such challenges better than most.

Lee launched his brand in Sydney -- which has opposing seasons to the the fashion capitals of Europe and North America.

"We're obviously very conscious of the seasonality differences between Australia and the northern hemisphere so that's something that... we design into," the 30-year-old tells AFP.

"I think the geography is a challenge. It is not a challenge that is insurmountable," adds Lee.

One of his solutions is to ensure his collections -- known for their precision lines, fine tailoring and sculptural forms -- have a core which does not change regardless of the time of year.

He is not alone -- British design house Burberry recently announced it will switch to 'seasonless' collections, with items suitable for wear year-round available at its outlets worldwide soon after they appear on the fashion week runways.

The rise of online shopping and social media has meant fashion is having to adapt away from the traditional seasonal approach, where consumers wait months to buy trends from the catwalk.

Lee says: "There's been a global conversation I suppose about the relevance of seasons and how the model has really changed and is starting to evolve with the rise of online being so prevalent and e-commerce being a large part of our business."

"I think that it does break down that notion of seasonality because it's always one season somewhere in the world. You have designers that are selling swimwear 12 months of the year," he adds.

- International interest -

This approach -- and the fact his clothes are available on internationally lauded fashion sites such as net-a-porter.com has boosted his global profile.

Sales in North America -- Lee's biggest foreign market accounting for 35 percent of wholesale -- are expected to be up 90 percent in the year to June 30. Asia is also a growing market although currently only accounts for 16 percent of total wholesale sales.

Lee is fresh from Fashion Week Australia, a showcase of the country's best designers which this year centred on 'resort' wear -- a focus that saw bikinis and bright, billowing prints hit the runways at events attended by local retailers and international buyers.

Held on a rooftop overlooking Sydney, Lee's collection showed another side of fashion and featured sharp-edged suit jackets and full, structured skirts, prompting Vogue Australia to praise his "urban inflected shapes and sharps and those clever twists and turns in his tailoring".

The magazine's editor-in-chief Edwina McCann, says Lee's aesthetic appeals to young, urban customers the world over.

"I think in the modern world it doesn't really matter as much where a designer actually comes from," she says.

"And Dion -- and I think many of our designers are benefitting from that now -- that their clothes are appealing to a certain customer who is global rather than national."

- Kanye, Cate and J-Law -

He launched his brand of wearable womenswear in 2008 soon after leaving design school, a move he now jokes was "slightly naive, slightly stupid".

"Some of my early shows in Sydney were really impactful in terms of establishing the international profile for the brand," he says.

Inside a Dion Lee boutique in Australia - Dion Lee

He has a fiercely loyal following in Australia and has built up a reputation in New York and London -- even attracting the attention of Kanye West. The singer reportedly went on to design some shoes for Lee's UK runway show in 2012.

Lee says seeing stars such as Blanchett, Lawrence, and singer Selena Gomez wearing his clothes is "surreal... especially when it's people that you really respect".

"But it's also seeing people that aren't famous wear your clothes that you have respect for," he adds. "I think there's something really nice about seeing women feel empowered when wearing your clothes."

American Vogue said he had "come of age as a New York fashion designer" in a review of his February show during the city's prestigious fashion week. He will return there this week for another showcase and spends much of his time in the city, but Lee still sees himself as an Australian designer.

"Growing up here, going to college here and spending the first years of my career here, I think that has definitely had an influence on how I've developed the aesthetic for the brand."

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