A graduate of Central Saint Martins’ MA Fashion Jackie Lee’s sleek and chic androgynous pieces in tailoring are on every wishlist for 2015. With a vision for “a modern woman who is concerned with looking sharp in a uniquely feminine way” her label J. JS Lee opened London Fashion Week S/S15. Vogue say of her aesthetic “Lee’s girl is a certain type: she’s fuss-free and cool because of it. She might like her muted tones and her less-is-more approach but she does know how to.” Born in Seoul, South Korea, Jackie lives and works in London. She was awarded the Harrods Design Prize in 2010.
Who or what first inspired you to become a designer?
It goes back to my childhood, my mom was a knitwear designer, she designed and produced in her boutique when she was young before she got married. Then she had to give up the designing part and be a housewife, because she had five kids. She used to knit all the clothes – knit, reknit, knit, reknit – so we all used to have to wear it. When I was young I didn’t really like it because when you’re a kid you want something from the store, you want similar things that your friends wear, you don’t want to wear handmade things, I used to ask for things from brands but she’d say “come on, we can’t afford it, clothing for five kids!” But if I look back I feel like actually, that knitwear’s gorgeous! Now I can realise whenever I see my childhood photos, “wow, it’s an amazing colour combination, amazing stitches, mom actually this is great!” So actually I learned how to create clothing because I used to help my mom. And my sister is a painter, so she’s really good at colour palette, I learned a lot from my sister as well, so naturally I thought I’m going to apply for the fashion design course at the University.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the new collection, the upcoming collection. We have the major collection which is autumn/winter in February, but before that I’m working on my first pre-fall collection. Now I’m doing the research and designing process for the pre-fall and the autumn/winter. It never stops! Time flies.
What are you most passionate about?
Apart from fashion? These days I’m really into furniture, DIY! I half think I shouldn’t do this, but I’ve been collecting lots of rubbish boxes or maybe something from a bin and bring it into my studio – which my studio manager hates – and paint them, put wheels underneath and use it as a trolley. I love to create something new from rubbish, valuable things. I’m really into it now.
Which part of creative work do you most love?
All the artists, or architects or fashion visionaries or even someone out doing a boring job, they have the whole process from nothing to the end and I’m sure most people enjoy the beginning part, the research part where we get inspired and certainly that part is my favourite part. When I start researching I can’t even sleep it’s so exciting – I need to find the next amazing source and create something from nothing, and when you make something from nothing you feel like “wow, I did something”. That feeling is so good, I really love that part of the whole journey. But once I’m done with the exciting sketches all the boring jobs are coming. I’m pretty certain all designers don’t like the production part, that is so boring!
Where is your favourite London haunt?
I’m based in east London, in Dalston, which I used to hate but now it’s super hot. Everybody moves there and all the artists and unique people open their own stores, they don’t care about money, they’re focused on their art. So my current favourites are east Hackney and Dalston. Every day there’s something new coming up. Before that I used to say Tate Modern, you can see the Tower of London which is very historical and Tate Modern, which is very modern, facing each other and that’s very interesting.
What is your guilty pleasure?
A lot! First of all I’m a heavy smoker. The second, I play games and if I get addicted then – for example, Candy Crush – I have to reach the top level otherwise I don’t stop. Before I sleep I always play an hour or two. I drink too much coffee – six or seven coffees a day – I know, it’s too much isn’t it!
Name a favourite book, song and film
On the Road – it’s an amazing book, all the lore, I love all the journey, who they met…
I’m really into the song that I used for my last collection for the catwalk, by Fujiya & Miyagi. I didn’t know the artists before but I love all their songs.
Begin Again – I don’t watch horror films or I can’t sleep, and nothing too complicated or I don’t really watch it, but these kind of dramas and soft things I love. But if I had to chose one favourite film I would have to say Harry Potter – it’s not because I’m living in London but I love that kind of child for kids movies or older animation. Not the last film because it was too dark and twisted, but one to four I loved – I’ve seen them more than 50 times. I’m always playing Harry Potter and doing designing.
What is your signature dish?
I’m a Korean so I usually cook Korean dishes for my staff, because they love Korean – I made them try it and now they love it! There’s one traditional Korean dish, spring onion pancake with soy sauce that’s amazing.
Do you think University of the Arts London has an important role to play in Britain’s cultural life?
Of course, definitely, no doubt – not only British cultural life but also worldwide I would have to say, because whoever graduates from this University, they go back to their country and they educate their people there – so many Korean designers or whoever who have trained in Central Saint Martins, they go back home and they train the same way to their staff, they bring the British culture into Korea, which is a major perk. I trained in Central Saint Martins and it still plays a huge part in my designing process, so many people say to me “your designs are not really Korean style”. All foreign designers bring their own culture into their designing but I don’t because I’m educated in London rather in Korea so I have more London cultural things. I’m sure all the students who trained in our schools, they have their signature with London style.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
There are some words from Louise Wilson, she used to say to me “don’t be f**king lazy”. I loved her, she put the rules on her door: “Don’t be lazy! Go do f**king research”, which is all correct! Seriously, that really woke me up, like wow yes that is really true. People go CSM or LCF or working for somebody to learn how to be a creative but they thing is you also need to have good skills to support your creativity. Always Louise Wilson complained to the students to say “do you think you guys are creative? Without skill you can’t support any of your creativity” and that’s not lying, you need to learn the skills to be a creative. You need to experience whatever you can, not only good things but bad things as well.
Why is South Korea so exciting right now?
Some people say that South Korea is like Latin America – they have fun, they have a party culture, and they move so fast, work so hard, and Korea is really strong in IT, the internet is amazing, they access all the information from outside into Korea so fast. People who were abroad go back to Korea and now they make new culture, a new generation of Korean fashion. Before there were not many people who got educated outside of Korea but now there are so many that get educated outside and they make their own culture there, they bring amazing culture from outside to mix with Korean own culture there which is a really good combination to be exploited. The young generation know what’s going on out there, it’s very international now and no-stop 24 hours – you can go to the club or pub 24 hours, they never close, the night culture is amazing, it never stops, the food is amazing, and living costs are not expensive.
Which are your favourite hang-outs in Seoul?
In Seoul there’s no real central area, there are so many different places to go, but for artistic people there are so many fine artists staying and doing creative jobs in the Hongdae area, it’s a University area, and there are so many artists, they sell their wares on the street, it’s like the old Brick Lane, I’d definitely recommend there. Or there’s a street called Garosu Street, there were originally all the boutiques there, like 20 or 30 years ago, but now it’s become a really fashion hot place, with lots of concept stores like Dover Street Market. The concept store is a huge trend in Korea and there are so many beautiful concept stores coming up there now.
Read more about Jackie Lee on the J. JS Lee website
We reveal the new names to know in South Korea. Read the feature on the UAL website
UAL visited South Korea this season, including appearances at the Global Leaders Forum. Read the news items on the UAL website
Subscribe to UAL Edit’s free e-zine to have features delivered to your inbox on the sign up page
See more UAL Edit interviews on the interview archive page
Search fashion courses at UAL