Currie Lee, our Ladybrille Woman of the Month February 2011, was born on Valentine’s Day and indeed everything about her essence exudes LOVE! Her label DimSum of All Things Asian (D-SATA) is borne from her love of her Asian heritage which came about after she lived and traveled throughout Asia. Lee noticed the similarities in Asian cultures; and decided to infuse that into a brand that reflects a culmination of various materials and/or techniques that she discovered during her travels throughout Asia.She infuses traditional Asian materials and techniques with Western contemporary designs to make her collections more accessible to all.
“As with Africa, Asia also has many materials and techniques that are yet to be discovered or are under-appreciated especially in the minority villages in the West,” said Lee to Ladybrille Magazine. “Asian fashion is no longer (and never was) limited to the Qipaos (Cheongsams), Hanboks, or, Kimonos that are featured in mainstream fashion media.”
Also, from what we could gather, “through each collection, (Currie) has expanded D-SATA’s concept of “sustainability” from “slow fashion”, as merely an antithesis to “fast fashion,” into “sustainable fashion,” as she conscientiously selects materials that are not only timeless in tradition and trends, but also “ethically and environmentally conscious.” Her pieces are hand-crafted using natural or recycled materials in Southeast Asian ‘cottage industries’ by women who earn a ‘living income’ (vs. minimum wage) which “provides for social growth, grants people the chance to work with dignity, and rests on the basic ethical value that all human life is equal regardless of geography, economy, race, gender, age or beliefs.”
Meet our beautiful Ladybrille WOMAN of the MONTH!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Currie what an absolute delight to talk to you! And we get to continue our discussions again. How are you?
Currie: The delight was all mine! I am fabulous; as, it is February… my absolute favorite month of the year! It is the month of my, my mom & late grandmother’s birthdays, Valentine’s Day and my wedding anniversary!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: WOW! How exciting!!First let me say when I saw your designs almost a month ago at an event in the USA, I was truly mesmerized. The design construction, the silhouettes, the color choices, the materials chosen. All of your pieces were very nice and commanded attention.
Currie: You are just too sweet! For me, details are everything! Most of my collections use traditional ethnic, natural or up-cycled materials that I, myself, personally select and hand-dye during my many trips. However, my design construction is contemporary so as to make such materials accessible to ALL women!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: You have such a rich and diverse background so why don’t I let you share it with our audience?
Currie: I was born in South Korea, raised in Canada, educated in the U.S. & China, married in Italy, and honeymooned in Greece… unable to decide where to live and still “jet setting” from country to country, I am a girl of the world! I retired from practicing law (licensed in New York) to scribble & sketch my designs on a worn & torn legal pad and while selecting materials for each of my collections during these many trips.
My passion for fashion began with me naughtily cutting-up my mother’s haute couture pieces, the most devastating of which was a vintage silk Valentino dress, to recreate “fashion week” with my “Barbie Dolls” to being “dolled-up” myself by my grandmom and mom in skirts and jackets tailored out of the fabric from their “up-cycled” vintage tweed, chenille and houndstooth suits, hence my love for “all things” vintage and black & white! Bored of accessories flaunting little more than outrageously oversized logos, I revisited my collection of timeless vintage Bottega Veneta clutches inherited from my grandmom and mom, which I had loved as being “exquisite” yet “discreet”, and have sought to embody this same sense of old-world style from bygone eras into contemporary yet “inimitable” pieces that are recognizable not by their logos but their designs and materials.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Honestly, I don’t know where these lawyers are coming from? Like the last two covers were lawyers and here you are just when we thought we were done, you turn out to be one also. (Laughs) Tell me, why did you leave the practice?
Currie: When I was practicing law, I was scribbling and sketching my designs on everything: from legal pads, memorandums to even contracts! Also, I had more fun designing fabulous suits (with matching pillbox hats and other accessories) to make me ‘look’ like a lawyer than actually being one! I launched D-SATA by CuR when a girlfriend of mine at Vogue urged me to design for not just myself, family & friends but also others! Since then, I or my designs have been featured on TV (CCTV, BTV, CNN and other local TV networks) and magazines (Tatler, Insider, International Club, Lifestyle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar Jewelry, Madame Figaro, L’Officiel, Elle, National Geographic Traveller, Travel + Leisure, Luxe Guides and other local magazines). With this little bit of press, I just HAD to “leave the practice” of law to design full-time!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What informs your sense of style? Where do you think you inherited it?
Currie: Most definitely my grandmom on my mom’s side! She was absolutely gorgeous and was always perfectly poised! My love of pearls, pillbox hats and most of all clutches was inherited from her . . .even as a little girl, she would have her private tailor custom-make me suits and dresses etc from her vintage collections that she no longer wore!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When I hangout with my Asian friends, Koreans included, one of the things I notice are the parallels with African culture. Here you are with a law degree and you say you want to go be a designer. Like really? How did your parents react? (Laughs)
Currie: There definitely is a parallel -most of my African friends were also ‘over-achievers’ too so we could totally relate to each other! It is usually either law or medicine. . . My sister is the doctor. My parents were quite upset when I ‘retired’ from practicing law (especially after Currie obtained two LL.M.s!), however, my mother now loves that I am a designer -especially as she sees her late mom in me and I am certain the fashion events she attends with me, not to mention the monthly trips and accessories I gift her from my collections before they are even available to the general public, helps.
THE BUSINESS OF FASHION, A GLOBAL TAKE
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I think you are truly uniquely positioned to tell us your predictions on the business of fashion within Asia and globally. Where is fashion headed as a business? What about the fashion tastes of consumers? Your predictions?
Currie: When I first started my brand, I was concerned as many Chinese consumers were more interested in well-known international brands, with outrageously over-sized logos, as they do tend to “status shop.” However, most everyone in China just about now totes an LV, Gucci, Chanel or even Hermes bag. . . As such, the concept of the “IT bag” in many social circles has now become obsolete, given that almost every girl at an event has the SAME bag. There are more and more women in not only Japan or South Korea, but also China that are more interested in the design or materials. . . and many luxe boutiques; such as my BFF who is launching an online site that selects the most exquisite and exclusive pieces from all over the world to meet the demand of Chinese fashionistas! D-SATA too will be designing an exclusive collection for them!.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Very interesting because I am noticing the same parallel experiences among the fashion-forward in Africa. What are your predictions for emerging fashion markets within Africa like South Africa and Nigeria?
Currie: Hmmm. . . to be honest, I am not as familiar with the fashion markets in Asia but hopefully after my trip there this summer I will be more informed as some of my favorite clients are from African countries -they not only appreciate the colors but also many of the techniques, some of which they recognize as there seems to be a parallel with some of the hand-woven textiles!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: South Korea is no joke when it comes to fashion. It’s like they are on level 20 when the rest of the world is still trying to catch up to 10. What do you think makes Korean women so fashionable?
Currie: Hmmm. . . I actually never thought of South Korean women as being fashionable until just recently. . . It may be due, in part, to our upbringing to be perfectly poised and polished at ALL times!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I’ve always wanted to know this. In the USA, it is hard to deny the many Korean business owners with a hair supply store. What’s the fascination with selling hair to Blacks and Africans, if you know?
Currie: Hmmm… I actually have never met a Korean salon or hair supply store owner. . .sorry.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) No worries. Just curious. I have met many. (Laughs) Is your eco-friendly view on fashion pragmatic to sustain a business given the kind of work that goes into each piece you design and sell?
Currie: The slow fashion market is definitely a niche market which is why I opt for designs and materials that are a bit more luxe. Most of my clientele are women who tote Hermes or Cartier bags during the week and my fun & fabulous clutches during the weekend or to events as they are “conversation pieces”- especially my collection of hand-in layed corn (leopard print), onion peel (zebra print) on Ebony wood box clutches! However, my margins are quite tight so I am the first to admit that from a strictly business sense, it is not the most pragmatic…
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What are your thoughts on mass production?
Currie: Although there are some factories that mass produce and are yet ethically or environmentally conscientious, most are not socially responsible. Irrespective as to this issue (which does need to be resolved), I prefer hand-made pieces as they are more special: the quantities produced are limited and the love that is in the hands of the person making it are interwoven into the material. I especially love hand-made ethnic materials, which are actually ART!!!, because many of these traditional materials and methods are at risk of dying out as they are now being mass produced in factories rather than passed down from generation to generation within minority villages. However, the designs I construct for such materials are more contemporary so as to make them more accessible to ALL women irrespective of where or who they are! My favorites are the hand-woven Buntals and Tinalaks of minority village women to the silks, brocades & batiks of Saris, Kimonos, & Hanboks from curators of Asian culture such as Jim Thompson and many others.
VALENTINE’S, WHAT IT TAKES TO FIND & KEEP THE “ONE”
LADYBRILLEmag.com: We had no idea but coincidentally you were born on Valentine’s day!!! Happy love and birthday in advance!
Currie: Thank you, with much Love!!!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Permit us to meddle a bit. What kind of man ends up being lucky to steal and keep the attention of a brilliant woman like you? He must be super unique!
Currie: He absolutely is- my one and only love! He is also a lawyer, although he now specializes in fashion law -perhaps due, in part, to me and our life in Beijing, but strong and silent! He played college football so is used to going after and getting what he wants, and when!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) Aha! That explains it. (Laughs) You are in China partly because your guy is there. What was it about him that caught your attention to the point where you are willing to move from the USA and leave South Korea to live in a foreign land with him?
Currie: Hmmm. . . actually, we initially moved to China more for me to do a LL.M. in Chinese Law at Peking University in Beijing but stayed so he could practice as a partner at a Chinese Law Firm! I think it was our common interest in wanting to travel to (but mostly live in) a foreign land that brought us and keep us together! We have yet to decide where to move next to!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: The jetsetter life while fanciful and fun can also be exhausting especially where work and relationships are concerned. You travel a lot. What are some of the principles you live by to help sustain your relationship?
Currie: I lived in 3 different countries during my childhood (not to mention the many trips), so a sense of security is novel to me. My husband was born and raised in the very home his parents are still in so this was definitely an attraction for me- to him, family always came first and I love that! Our principle is: (relationship first) + (work second) = sustainable relationship. He did point out that they are not mutually exclusive as to be happy at work, you must be happy at home and vice versa. . .
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Any plans to start a family? (Laughs) Hey we need expansion into baby and children wear, don’t we?
Currie: Absolutely! I would love a little girl to dress up and a little man to love her! I was raised by a nanny so my mum and I have decided when I have a baby we will do it, mostly, on our own!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What are some Valentine gifts to get for the special guys in the lives of the many brilliant women reading this Valentine?
Currie: A home-cooked meal. . . and perhaps a book of all the special things they did for you the past year?!? What do you give a guy who has everything, other than an expressing of your absolute love?
WHAT NEXT FOR THE D-SATA BRAND?
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What next for you as an individual?
Currie: Hmmm. . . I have a hubbie, a kitten (a she), a puppy (also a she)… I would love a little girl although we might need a little man for my hubbie to even the playing field!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What next for the brand?
Currie: Hmmm. . . this is our second year and. . .the first on our agenda this year is a collaboration with La Perla in March for our (and their) Spring-Summer 2011 collection! The second is to participate in the RItz-Carlton Beijing Wedding Planning event in May. . . and then. . . we will have to see!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Do you plan to have Africa as part of the mix?
Currie: Absolutely!!! My sister, mom, and hubbie will be traveling to North Africa this summer -I would love to infuse my collections with traditional African textiles, especially Shwe Shwe, Aso-oke, and wax prints!.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Nice! I love all of your pieces. Truly well made from construction to materials and the love really, that goes into that kind of work. Where can our audience purchase your pieces?
Currie: I have two locations in Beijing: a smaller boutique in Sanlitun’s Nali Patio, and, a larger studio in the 798 Art District. I also have stock lists at several locations in Beijing: Ella Home-China Central Place Mall, The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Collective Luxury (the owner was Tatler’s 2010 Most Stylish Woman and my BFF in Beijing -am SO proud of her…she is absolutely brilliant and I LIVE [and could die] for the treatments in her spa!), and, Eric’s flagship Salon- Kerry Center. We also have been a Quintessentially Preferred Supplier since 2009. For those non-Beijingers, we will be launching an online website mid-February (www.dsataboutique.com)!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I was surprised when I approached you for our feature to hear you say you’ve been following our brand. (Laughs) So you know the signature question we ask. How do you define a brilliant woman Currie?
Currie: I actually had to answer a similar interview question for a Harper’s Bazaar Jewelry Top 20 Ladies feature just last week; and, I truly believe brilliant women are similar to gemstones. They come in all colors, shapes & sizes; and, NO two are alike. However, when it comes to size being ‘the bigger, the better’, I believe this refers to a woman’s personality! A brilliant woman is, thus, irrespective of their color or shape, someone BIG i.e. big personality & CLEAR i.e. with integrity or what South Korean’s refer to as ‘clear-hearted.’
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you so much. The pleasure has been absolutely mine. And you know what, surprise! You are the first Asian, my dear, to grace Ladybrille’s cover and we are so honored!
Currie: WOW!!! I am absolutely speechless -what an honor!!! I will, as the first Asian LADYBRILLE lady, do you proud! Thank you!!!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) Thank you.
~Interview by Uduak Oduok