About five minutes into talking with Chris Lee, I realized that her scarf was patterned with chickens. It's made from a printed silk she created for her graduate collection, "Rooster." Born in Korea but educated in the States, Christy (as she's known to friends) finished Parsons this year, picking up the super prestigious Menswear Designer of the Year award. I've always thought there was something innately cool about a woman designing clothes for men. And Christy's impressive skill set, which includes expert tailoring and an awesome sense of humor, is set to put her right at the top of the pile.
OC is now the (very proud) exclusive stockist of Christy's collection. With a strong focus on fits and fine materials, the pieces are full of surprising touches. "Menswear is all about details," she says, and hers more than most. We met Christy back at her alma mater, where she dazzled us with her knowledge of suiting and poultry.
Photos by James Parker III Alice Newell-Hanson: Can you start by talking me through the rooster idea?
Christy Lee: The faculty told me to create something [based on what] I did over the summer—whatever I did the most or what I had the most fun doing. I thought, what did I do most over the summer? I interned, but I didn’t want to make a collection that was fashion-related; I wanted to do something else. Suddenly I thought, well I ate a lot of chicken! So I went to the image library on 42nd Street and gathered all these images of roosters and chickens. I was also inspired by an exhibition on dandyism I went to see when I was in Sweden last year—and that's what I really love: it's all about the big chests, sort of like roosters', and that cockiness. I’ve tried to focus on the shape of the rooster and the way it moves with its chin up, its color, the wattle and the comb. I also made these big bags inspired by images of old Korean chicken salesmen from the 1920s. They used to carry these big backpacks!
ANH: You can really see it in the silhouettes you've created. How do the fabrics tie in?
CL: When I think about a rooster I think of something very organic, so I only used natural fibers. Natural fibers have a better texture and feel more lustrous. The knits are cashmere, for example. Then, as you say, it's the silhouette. I wanted to capture that feeling when you think about roosters: the long tails, the beautiful colors, the big full chests with the skinny legs. All my pants are very skinny.
ANH: And how do you fit the shirts and tailoring?
CL: I focused a lot on menswear tailoring and outerwear during my schooling. It took me thousands of tries because I wanted my jacket to fit well on everyone. We used four different fit models. I also learned a trick from a tailoring book I got in London—if you twist the shoulders a bit it will fit better and if you pull the back in it gives the wearer better posture. The lining also has a fun twist to it. I wanted to focus on the fun part of the rooster rather than whatever we've seen before.
ANH: I love the polka-dot and striped linings. They look so English to me!
CL: I think it is actually English silk. It's the same polka-dot silk I used on the shirt. I think men really appreciate little details rather than something that looks too crazy. All of my garments have shell buttons. And when you open the bags there are little tassels on the zips. Menswear is all about the details.
ANH: What's your design background? Have you always focused on menswear?
CL: I was born in Asia and I traveled a lot when I was young because of my dad's business. I lived in Korea, China, and Japan. Then I moved to the US when I was nine, and lived in San Francisco for 12 years. I went to FIDM in San Francisco but I wanted to pursue the high-end, luxury market. So I moved to New York and I got accepted by Parsons—which was a shock! I got a full scholarship for three years. It was such a great experience; they really focus on creativity at Parsons rather than getting things done! I learned a lot as a designer.
ANH: Roosters aside, what are the things you always have in mind when you design?
CL: [Laughs] Right. My muse is James Bond—he is so hot! But seriously, it's a man who wears very nice clothes. I used a lot of color in this collection but I like muted tones too. I think my background gives me a lot of diversity. I'm fascinated by how tailoring can show off what you have and cover what you don’t like—it teaches you how to accentuate the shoulders to make your stomach look smaller and tricks like that. I like the illusions that the eye creates. I just want to make good clothes for a lot of people, that’s why I studied tailoring. I think it’s really fun.
ANH: And you won the Menswear Designer of the Year! Who was on the panel?
CL: The judges were amazing. I got to the stage and I was so tongue-tied when the judges said I'm from Ralph Lauren, I’m from PPR, I’m Duncan Quinn. Duncan Quinn [the New York-based English tailor] was actually there and he had on this amazing suit. It was so whimsical; he such a great dresser. There were a lot of creative directors. I can’t even remember what I said. It all just happened!
ANH: What's your plan now? Do you want to launch your own line?
CL: One day, when the time is right. But I don’t think it is right now! I learned so much from working with OC. For the time being I just want to get more experience working with companies, hopefully in Europe.