Chia Lee gives us the opportunity to discover a new way of interpreting fashion and culture.
“I’m from Malaysia. My passion for knitwear and textiles began when I took a hand-knitting class in college and got the opportunity to intern at DEGEN, a knitwear company. I want to create personal works that embodies cultural experiences and tell stories through my designs.”
What’s the concept of your latest collection?The Kopitiam collection started off simply as a reflection of my childhood memories of a Kopitiam. Kopitiam [“kopi”, Malay for coffee, and “tiam” Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) for shop] is a traditional coffee shop where the locals start their day. There is no menu, but the locals know what to order anyways. It serves a simple breakfast that consists of charcoal-toasted bread with Kaya jam, soft-boiled eggs and homemade coffee. At a first glance, there is nothing special about these old establishments, but I was intrigued by the simplicity of interior and the contrasting materials used within the space. Everything seems to be cluttered but yet harmoniously interwoven with each other. I hope to portray the beauty within the simplicity of everyday Malaysian life and to evoke a sense of nostalgia through the use of crafts and materials within my collection. The collection not only consists of clothing but features furniture that mimics the Kopitiam setting as I envisioned the person wearing my clothes experiencing the nostalgic atmosphere of the space.
What inspires you the most?I find inspiration in everyday life: often the simple and mundane things we take for granted. I am fascinated by cultural traditions within my heritage and wish to preserve it so that everyone can experience it. I also get inspired while knitting on the machine. is like cooking, once you master the basic skills you can create anything. You are in control of every needle and every single stitch; and every single change you make it transforms the appearance of the knit which makes it so exciting. It’s so satisfying when you eventually discover a new stitch, or new colour combinations that works.
How does the place you live in affect your design?Living in New York made me accustomed to the fast-paced and creative energy around me. It inspires me all the time, especially when you’re surrounded by artistic people. Malaysia, on the other hand is where I grew up in and essentially what shaped me culturally. It’s a multi-cultural country with people from various ethnic backgrounds. It is a melting pot, which makes it unique on its own.
What’s the future of fashion according to you?Fashion future should be a preservation of the past, especially traditions and crafts that are slowly disappearing. Machines are taking over, and it’s a shame that beautiful crafts are slowly being forgotten as the older generations have no one to pass down to. Bead weaving is a technique i used a lot throughout this collection, which was inspired by these beaded bags older ladies used to carry when i was a kid. It is a craft that my mother used to know but no longer remembers. I wish to preserve these crafts through my designs with a new approach by creating new applications and giving them a new purpose.
What’s your next project?I’m currently working on a collaboration project that will probably be released by the end of this year. It’s still work in progress, but I’m excited to see how it’s going to turn out.