Jing Daily’s next profile of individuals shaping China’s booming luxury industry is maverick fashion designer Ximon Lee. This section profiles industry leaders who are contributing to the national and global fashion communities, from designers and consumers to business executives and influencers.
Ximon Lee burst onto the scene in 2014 after graduating from the menswear path at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York, where he won the University’s Menswear Designer of the Year Award.
The nominations stacked up after graduation, including the LVMH Prize and the H&M Design Award. Lee won the latter in 2015, and in doing so, completed firsts for a Chinese designer, a Parsons alumni, and the discipline of menswear.
It also resulted in a collaboration with H&M, in which his distinctive aesthetic and material experimentation was quickly visible. The designer used innovative constructions and exaggerated silhouettes to create a gender-fluid collection from bonded fabrics.
Lee, who lives in Germany, was born in far northeastern China and raised in several Chinese cities including Hong Kong where he lived the longest. The US-educated designer was quickly welcomed by China’s fashion capital, Shanghai, after his graduation. However, Lee’s choice to base in Berlin with its insular fashion industry rather than Shanghai — where he already has a hardwon reputation and community — is an indication of his single-mindedness.
With each passing season, the designer furthers his conceptual direction by exploring disparate and socially driven concepts that he translates with radical precision. Within this process, he is constantly furthering his craft and refining his aesthetic style of gender-fluid menswear and the results have already earned him slots at fashion weeks in New York, Stockholm, London, Paris, and Shanghai. And, by leveraging a variety of top sponsorships, platforms, and showrooms, he’s been radiating the aplomb of a designer who’s fully aware that his message is more important than the medium.
Despite it still being so early in his career, the designer has already made a powerful mark on his industry. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has given Lee much more to think about. From his European home, Lee spoke to Jing Daily about the joy of being reflective, a reset for the industry, and his next rabbit-hole, virtual fashion.
Where were you when you first heard about COVID-19?
I live in Berlin’s borough of Friedrichshain, in the East of the city. I’ve been here for four years now. I was here during the virus outbreak but was kept very informed of what was happening by my parents. Now Germany has eased the lockdown, but it feels very surreal, as some people have already gone back to living a very normal life.
What have you been feeling during the lockdown?
I’ve been in a self-reflective mood, and as a creative person, I’m taking care of my personal health and catching up with friends on Zoom and FaceTime and giving them a lot of time, which normally I can’t do. I’ve been less active on my social media, too. We’re always distracted by all kinds of events and social gatherings. This is a big change in my life, but at the same time, I’m making the decision to be a bit more secluded from the industry.
How has COVID-19 affected your business model or future vision?
Instead of rushing into the new collection or new products, I think it’s more productive to step back and look at what I’ve done well and effectively over the last three years of my brand. So I’m taking this chance to look through all my creative processes and archives to study and see where the next collection can go and see where I can improve.
I’m also sensitive to the fact that we, as a society, have produced so much and put so many new stimuli into the world. What could be more sustainable? This is the area I want to build on and keep updating. This six-month cycle is unhealthy. I’m not against it but it’s more about thinking of how we can release fashion collections differently.
So thinking of fashion differently, how would you define your design genre?
I graduated from a menswear path since I felt more comfortable with the material and silhouettes in menswear — womenswear is quite broad… Menswear was a more structured canvas to focus on, with more seaming details, material combinations, and juxtapositions on the body. But I’ve done this without thinking about gender, but in a way, that puts more focus on color and the story.
Nowadays, it’s more about finding yourself and where you can fit into a trend. But traditionally, fashion reflects a mindset, politics, or where society is in its history, so I’m still thinking that my way of creating fashion is very 90s — that’s how I think about the world right now. I’m very eager to express this, and every season you can see my format changes from surveillance to political statements to the preservation of a fragile environment… So in that sense, gender is not the main highlight in the collection.
Can this idea be translated when it comes to the sale and merchandising of your collections?
Well, yes, that being said, it’s very challenging, as buying is still very specific at this point. There is a women’s or men’s buyer, and there are few ways to cater to both audiences. When people go into stores, they look for the men’s or the women’s area. In China, too, there are already ideas around straight style or gay style, which is quite funny. In China, the perception is very different. Sexuality is a part of it, too.
To raise consciousness about current global and political movements, Machina A did a lot of interesting panels and invited different creatives to come together. A lot of stores, on the other hand, were more on-trend.
How are you maintaining contact with your audience or community at this time?
During February and March, I wasn’t really focused on releasing any new images — everyone had halted. But in business terms, I’ve been maintaining essential communication around bills, invoices, and customer services, but then I just took a break, as the world didn’t really need more images.
Based on that, how do you think this new normal can positively impact the fashion industry?
In the future, there will be fewer editors flying, less set design, and lower labor costs and time consumption if people can experience shows differently. It eliminates stress from independent designers with small teams, too, and it’s a good way for smaller brands to work. In the past, there was a great tradition of Paris being the fashion capital, and a lot of top brands are concentrating on this one geographical location.
This pandemic has suspended globalization temporarily and halted travel. As a risk reduction, it separates production into more cities and sales to other places — even online. It will slowly make people learn about what’s a positive outcome and get them used to new trends that might be healthier. As I’ve said, we never get a chance to reflect and think about new ways to do this differently.
As you live in Berlin, are there any hidden retail gems in the city?
There are only three stores I mention when I talk about retail in Berlin, or more specifically, menswear. My favorite has got to be Andreas Mukudis’s stores. There you have this open space, so it’s quite nice to see the spread of the display. Also, his following is quite mature, and they appreciate the craftsmanship of the finishing. The Store at Soho House is also cool — it’s quite trendy — and finally, the Voo Store. Voo probably has the widest range of products and is the most commercial of those three.
Finally, what can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’ve organized a very nice piece of writing and documented a lot of interesting details and creative processes, so I’m hoping to release this. I might put them out as part of this notion of ‘reflection’ — particularly as self-release — but I’m still also looking for the right platform for it.
In the long term, in October, I will launch a virtual collaboration with Reebok globally. When Paris was canceled, Shanghai’s digital route made me very curious and interested in presenting digitally. I didn’t want to rush this — I wanted to do it the right way. So I decided not to do Shanghai Fashion Week this season, as it was quite smart but too fast for me. Next season, I’ll be able to enjoy it and realize a fully VR experience.