We got together with New York based menswear designer Dana Lee.
She’s only recently started her self titled label, and we wanted to hear from the woman herself on what she has in store, her inspiration, and also the processes in which she goes through to produce a collection.
Opening Photography by Maya Villager and Spring 2011 Lookbook Imagery shot by Jody Rogac.
Read on below.
Please tell us a bit about yourself, what would you say your job title is and what is it that you do?
My name is Dana. I design and produce a menswear brand, Dana Lee, out of NYC.
I was born and raised in Canada. I’ve been working in men’s fashion independently now for about 6 years.
How did you get involved in designing men’s garments? Did you start in women’s?
I started in Men’s. Since then I have been designing Men’s only. As a teen, I spent a lot of time in thrift stores and looking for dead stock.
My girlfriends would go to the mall, and I would take the bus alone to the East-end Army & Navy store scavenging for size small poly-cotton heather blue t-shirts and wool longjohns (mid-nineties, pre-American apparel). That was the start of it all.
Those years opened up whole world for me: the idea of styling with basics- usually with men’s, because the men’s items were less embellished, more classic, well-textured.
I never really aspired to be a fashion designer but just had a specific taste for clothing that I never managed to shake off.
Could you explain your creative process?
That’s a tough one. I guess it’s more circular than linear or perhaps linear with lots of small circles along the way. I usually get tipped off by a color combination and then go from there.
What are the key elements for you when designing a collection each season?
Color, textural quality, fabric character, nuances in cut, ease of wearing. Producing something that is still interesting or engaging without compromising those values.
I’ve come to accept that I really don’t like designing with seams or lines. I’d say my work is more defined by texture, color, finishing, the overall feeling of the garment. So I try to develop those elements as much as possible.
Who and what inspires you? A lot of designers say furniture and other objects inform their garments. Is this true to you too?
Objects: mainly the colors or the patina of certain things.
Furniture: I guess in the sense that furniture tends to get held onto for years, used everyday, and in many cases never goes out of style. There is something compelling about the possibility of making product that can be used often and for a really long time.
It would be wonderful to produce clothing like that-to find that certain something that makes someone fall in love, long term. I pull a lot of ideas and inspiration from regular people and plain real life: looking at people on the daytime streets. Not just the pretty ones. Looking at how people wear their clothes, what they are doing in them. The stains on their shirts.
What’s the theme for Fall/Winter 2011?
The colors in a Van Gogh landscape.
Any stand out pieces?
Two pop colors that define the collection.
How do you think the label has developed over time? Do you find it a constant battle to stay true to your values?
I find it easier to stay true, more and more as time goes by. When starting out, you are so limited by resources, capacity and experience. Everything is new. You want to fit in and at the same time break new ground. You have all these great visions and ideals, but the end results are often compromised. It can be frustrating. (My namesake label has just officially launched a couple seasons ago in Fall10, so I’m mainly referring to past projects- my former brand, etc.)
Recently, there is more time to develop things calmly and in good quality. That’s a really good feeling. I’m a bit older now, and have a slightly different perspective on what matters. I think that will come across in the Line.
We know you’re a New York girl, how and in what way does the big apple inspire you?
The food! The diversity. A sense of the world being at your fingertips. The eerie feeling that anything is possible.
Do you think being a girl designing menswear gives you more of an edge? I personally think you have a great eye for fabric and the fitting is superb. I guess this comes from a woman’s finesse?
As a female I’m attracted to certain qualities in men, as are a lot of other women in my generation: intelligence, modestly, wit, integrity. More than face-value looks, it’s the underlying subtleties that can really define a man and that ultimately make us weak in the knees.
I think about these qualities when I develop a piece of clothing.
Also I’ve recently read that you make all your garments in North America. What are the challenges in achieving this?
On the most part, it is more expensive. So we have to price each garment a bit higher. On the flip side, we can produce smaller runs. People can buy a shirt or jacket knowing that they are 1 of 50. Local production also offers the chance to be more involved in the development process.
It’s nice being able to see who is making and managing things and being able to step in make quick changes on the fly.
From being a fan of your collections, I spotted you like to concentrate on the basics and the classic items. Why do you think this is important?
Changing the body and adding extra seams tend to distract from the elements that I enjoy the most: color, fabric character, finishing.
Classics get more wear, and I believe that it is important not to waste. I want to create clothing that is useful.
What’s your working environment like? Are you quite regimental, or do you like to have everything creatively scattered?
Regimental at heart. I don’t like mess or clutter and I like to have a clear backdrop before starting anything, even a movie. I clean everything, put the chairs in their places, take out the garbage.
That said, when things get busy all ideals can go straight down the toilet.
We see you’re not really stocked in Europe. Do you have any plans to branch out this way?
Yes, we are currently preparing for the upcoming Paris Market. Also the Fall 10 collection is currently stocked at Hunting and Collecting in Belgium and available online.
Are there any projects you have coming up that you can tell us about?
One, but I cant tell quite yet..
Any last words?