Project Runway Korea contestant Lee Seung-hee, now a creative director, started late but aims for top
This is the fourth in a series of articles on up-and-coming Korean designers. ― Ed.
Women’s wear brand Leyii’s founder and creative director Lee Seung-hee’s last year was hectic ― participating in eight foreign shows including Tranoi and Prt-a-Porter in Paris, Train in New York and Fashion Weeks in London and in Seoul. And her brand was only launched in 2009.
She inked deals with select shops in New York, Cairo, Paris, Milan and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia this year. For a rookie, she was dauntless enough to accept no down payment but only full payment before shipping her collections.
“Rising designers tend to give into the buyers because they are desperate. But we have our rules. It is not right to say that I would do anything in their request just because I am a small designer from Korea. They would think, ‘How low self-esteemed is she?’ Instead, I guaranteed them of the quality of the clothes, and they agreed,” Lee told The Korea Herald at her office in Sindang-dong, southern Seoul.
Leyii creative director Lee Seung-hee with one of her 2011 S/S collections. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
The 37-year-old designer, who introduced herself as a very fussy person, may have stayed at home with her now 7-year-old daughter had it not been for Project Runway Korea Season 1 two years ago. She worked for the Cheil Industries’ fashion brand Kuho for several years but quit when she became pregnant with her daughter.
She applied for the Project Runway Korea show because “I wanted a change and to prove she could still do something despite my age and my being a mother.” After the show, with regained confidence, she debuted with her brand at London Fashion Week in March 2009. She is a late bloomer but is rather grateful about it.
“Otherwise my center would have wobbled. Now that I am old enough I can get rid of the greed. I would have tried on more clothes than when I was in my 20s, right? My experiences help in maintaining the brand’s identity which is supposed to be classy and feminine,” she said.
She tries to produce something experimental each season like the aristocrat concept of the 2011 F/W collection, but focuses on keeping the colors profound and mysterious. It is difficult to name the colors but can only be described as something like, for example, a mixture of green, gray and blue.
“To find the colors, we only use the finest fabric imported from Italy. Domestically produced fabrics are of high-quality as well but there are not enough dyes here to bring out the sophisticated colors,” said Lee.
Imported fabrics are expensive, which results in the high price range. That is why the brand does not target teenagers but career women in their late 20s to 30s.
“Domestic brands like Time or Kuho targets a similar pool of clients. But while you have to be really in shape to wear Time and Kuho’s clothes put more emphasis on the avant-garde look, Leyii’s clothes make your body look great even if it isn’t,” she said.
Lee’s short-term goal is the success of the collaboration line with Hyundai Department store, called “Leyii Black Label,” which will roll out in September. She is very excited about the line as it will consist of mostly dark and casual clothes like leggings, which Lee once considered the weak point of Leyii’s original collections.
Her goal for the next few years is to open Leyii’s own shop, not a select shop, in the department store. On the international stage, she hopes to expand the market into China.
“I often go to shops myself and sell Leyii’s clothes. It is a great first-hand way to learn what the customers really want. When the sales are low, I think it is not because they don’t recognize me but because I don’t recognize them. Yes, I will continue to appear in shops,” she said.
By Park Min-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)