Yun Ji Lee is new – so new, in fact, that we are showcasing her thesis collection. A senior at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, her graphic, textured work hints at a bright future post-degree.
When did you know that this was what you wanted to do with your life? How did you get started?
I got interest about being a fashion designer when I was in middle school. I watched famous Korean designer Andre Kim on a TV program. He was famous for designing mixed versions of traditional and western clothing. And he often made a donation to poor people through his fashion shows. I got really impressed by his life, and I simply decided that I will be like him.
What effect (if any) do you think your childhood has had on the creativity you display as an adult? What are your earliest memories involving fashion?
My parents own a color company and they started the business when my mother was pregnant with me. So I think that was the point that lead me to have an interest in art. And I really liked dolls, so my room, even my bed was filled with dolls and doll houses. And I cut my clothing to make clothing for my dolls. I think that was the starting point.
What inspires you?
I don’t find design sources from afar. I usually get inspired by me. One of my recent collections, I was inspired by my father’s protection and love of me. So I started the collection with a quote “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” Also, I often get inspired by architecture because I really like geometric lines and unexpected shapes.
What is your design process?
My design process is not that organized. I repeat going back and forward. I do sketching on everything I see in front of me, like tissue, post-its, magazines, newspaper and so on. Then drape on the mannequin and print the photos of them. And sketch on the photos again. I keep designing until I get some feeling from the designs and get satisfied.
Have you ever doubted your talent/work? If so, how did you work through it?
I still worry about it, but I just keep chasing my dream because I can’t think of any other thing as a replacement. But I started to believe in me by working on my graduation collection. I have heard people saying that they really want to buy my clothing and they want to wear it. And I recently had a presentation in a big hall at school, and some strangers came to me and said that they love my clothing and they want to wear it. And that made me almost cry.
Do you design with a specific client in mind? If so, who is that person?
I think my customers aren’t stylish actually, but they really want to look cool and stylish. I designed layered looking clothing in one item because I think layering is one of the good ways make you look stylish. So my customer doesn’t need to be scared of styling and layering items. She just needs to wear one of my designs or maybe two. And she will look cool.
Is there a piece or a collection you are most proud of?
I will say my graduation collection. I think this is the collection that explains who I am. And it’s the collection that gave me amazing stress to get the result of making 6 looks. To create the collection, I got stressed for almost 1 year, my senior year, maybe even more. So, these days, I start in the morning by hugging them and I call them “my child one two three…”
Have commercialism and/or the media had any impact on your work? Is this good or bad?
I think commercialism really changed my designs. When I just started studying fashion, I just wanted create unique and crazy designs. But I realized that it can’t just be unique to sell. So, I started thinking of what people want to wear. So whenever I do designing, I judge my designs by if it will open a customer’s wallet or not.
Who/what is something or someone fabulous that you think is underrated or overlooked?
Children’s doodling. I have some sketchbooks that I doodled with my brothers when we were young. And I sometimes get inspired by the sketchbook.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
Believe in yourself and your sense. Don’t listen to others too much. If you listen to others too much, it’s not you anymore.
Yun Ji Lee
Naomi Endo using Bumble and Bumble
Maria Nguyen using MAC Cosmetics
David Choi (photo)