New Kid On The Block: One-on-One With Newcomer, Gabriel Lee

May 23rd, 2012 by  |  Published in Features, Headline  |  1 Comment

From humble beginnings in South Korea, emerging designer Gabriel Lee is one to watch. After debuting at MBFWA in the Raffles College of Design and Commerce Showcase, Lee has sent the media into a fashion frenzy with his elegant designs and skillful artistry. Moving to Sydney after he completed high school, this fresh-faced newcomer has everything going for him. At just 24, he’s won several design competitions and awards, including the coveted Tessuti Award, which saw him travel to New York. Graduating from Raffles in 2009, not even the sky seems the limit for this talented designer. OTSOS was lucky enough to catch up with Lee, in his North Shore studio, for an exclusive sit down interview, post-Fashion Week!


Gabriel, can you tell us how you got started in Fashion Design?
I finished high school in Korea and then I decided to come to Australia because many of my relatives live here. When I was young, I came to Australia a lot for holidays and with family, so, when I finished high school, it was like automatic that “I have to go to Australia!” (laughs). My parents said I had to study in Australia, so I came here. When I was in high school and when I was a kid, I liked drawing and so I was going to do drawing, but my parents, especially my dad, were saying things like “Why are you drawing? You have to do business!”, or something like that, so I was like “Ok, well I will study then”. I hadn’t studied since high school where it was just “study, study, study”, but then I came here and realised studying wasn’t my way. My mum was a singer so she knows the arts and she supported me in everything. Then I decided to study Fashion Design and went to Raffles [College of Design and Commerce].

Did your know how to sew and design before you went to Raffles?
Pretty much design, yes, because I loved the drawing and all of those kinds of things, but sewing was not my way, I hadn’t done it before the school, and so it was a bit hard to learn. But I practiced a lot!

How did you find the Raffles Fashion Design Course?
Some people say it’s the best school in Australia, in Sydney, so that’s why I joined it and I really enjoyed it.

Since graduating in 2009, you’ve won numerous awards and competitions. Can you tell us which of them has been a highlight in your career thus far and why?
The Tessuti Awards! I went to New York because of that award! It was really good because my birthday is the 29th of September and the awards were on the 28th September, so I got a big birthday present!

You debuted at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia this year, how did that feel to see your SS 12/13 collection being paraded down the catwalk?
Very good! This is Fashion Week Australia and it is the biggest fashion week, so it felt so great. I was like, “Yes, this is what I want to do!”

Can you tell us the inspiration behind the most recent collection?
This collection is 1930s inspired. After the war, the silhouette changed to a more ‘girly’ shape, whereas in the 1920s it was influenced by the war, so there was more of a manly style. But with the onset of the 1930s, things changed and a more feminine silhouette came about; the silhouette is very high and slim and long, but that was only because of the First Class. The Middle Class and Lower Class were still wearing 1920s [style] in the 1930s. Every book I researched was only on the First Class, so, I decided to do my collection based on 1930s Middle to Lower class silhouettes, so it’s more of a manly style, but still feminine. The colours were very pastel, because my inspiration wasn’t that happy mood, but I didn’t want to use ‘serious’ colours either, just because this is serious inspiration; so like black and grey. I wanted to use pastel. But very toned down pastel; there’s still pink, but it’s not ‘pinky-pink’, it’s one tone down. I like to use pastel colours in this way.

Who do you see as the ideal Gabriel Lee woman?
I don’t really have the ideal woman because I don’t want to make them fit into a box. I want young girls and professional girls to be able to wear my garments. I don’t want to make a box for a particular ‘Gabriel Lee girl’. I want a lot of different girls to be able to wear my collections.

What sort of style and aesthetic do you hope to portray through your work?
When I was in school, I did more couture things, but I soon realised that they were the showpieces. But now, I really like to make my collections simple and then very strong structures. I like simple lines, I focus on that. But, I also add really interesting details.

Where to from here; what do you hope to do now?
I want to keep developing my brand and then I want to show at the other fashion weeks, hopefully in Korea, I haven’t yet done so in Korea. I want to continue designing and selling my garments.

How does your creative process inform your design practice?
Everything inspires me. Seriously, EVERYTHING! I really love talking with the other designers. Not fashion designers, more so with graphic designers and PR companies, because a lot of my friends work in fashion, but in different categories, like PR and visual merchandising. If I talk with them, the other people think they are just hanging around having coffee, but for me, I get my inspiration from everywhere. I have artistic friends and I do lots of research on top of my initial inspiration. So, when I get inspiration from my friends, I then do research - research is very important. I don’t want to design meaningless designs. I think design should be done in a meaningful way. Meaningless design is… I don’t know what!

Any fabrications or influences that you come back to every season?
I always want to try new things. Sometimes I keep the design silhouette or detailing, but I try to change it. I’m always researching for new fabrics and new techniques, but I do love silk and chiffon.

What can we expect for AW 12/13?
I haven’t decided yet because I’ve been so busy, but I want to try print because I’ve never done print before in a collection. Some very similar prints and then maybe integrated with leather or silk. But this is not 100% decided yet, I’m just thinking at the moment. Regarding colour palettes, I want it to be dark, and I want to use fur, but not real fur! I want to use a very good quality fake fur. And today, you can find really good imitation fur. But, if I can’t get a good quality fur, I’m not going to use it!

What’s your favourite food?
I love Thai food! When I was in Korea, I really missed the Thai food of Australia! I tried to find Thai restaurants in Korea, but no, Sydney is the best! Chat Thai in the City is my best Thai restaurant!

Where do u go out to socialise?
I love the Paddington area!

How does living in Sydney affect your designs?
Well, when I was in Korea, I wasn’t interested at all in bodysuits or swimwear, but I realised that in Australia, you HAVE to do swimwear!

If you couldn’t live in Sydney where would you live?
I went to London, and I thought it was similar to Sydney, so I’d like to try and live in London one day.

Who do you look up to in the design industry?
I don’t have favourite designers, because if I choose someone, I don’t want to ‘follow’ them and their designs. The editor of Japanese Vogue, Anna Dello Russo, is very interesting. She’s not my style and not my brand’s style, but she’s very interesting! I love her! Oh, and I also really love Alexa Chung, she’d look really good wearing my garments!

Gabriel Lee’s Spring Summer 2012/13 line will soon be available online. Check out Gabriel Lee’s website for more details.

Words by Rebecca Glaser Photos by Jessi White


  1. Interview with Gabriel Lee for On The Streets Of Sydney | FASHION. ART. BODY. SELF. says:

    May 23rd, 2012at 4:27 PM(#)

    [...] the past few months, I’ve been the Junior Features Editor for On The Streets of Sydney and here is the latest feature article by moi! I sat down one-on-one with fashion designer newcomer, Gabriel [...]

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