You can take the boy out of Australia, but you can't take Australia out of the boy. Now in his second season on the runway in New York after two in London, Sydney-based designer Dion Lee is once more exploring his roots. "Nostalgic Australiana," he called it backstage. Having caught the attention of stores like Bergdorf's with earlier collections inspired by Bondi Beach surf culture and Sydney's famous opera house, Lee went beyond the city limits this season.
His first order of business was to look at tailored silhouettes modeled on convicts' workwear. You might recall from world history that the Brits settled Australia in the late-eighteenth century as a penal colony. The boxy cut of the chalk-stripe jacket and asymmetric skirt that Lee opened with tamped down the sex appeal that has become his most important signature (the silver cap-toed ankle boots certainly played their part). And the foldover-sleeve coat that followed a few looks later seemed to signal we were in for a different Dion Lee entirely. As the show progressed, that turned out to be only partly true, but the ease of knitted mohair turtleneck dresses split up the sides over softly pleated, full skirts was certainly new for this designer. Everyday pieces like that will broaden his reach.
Still, Lee remained at his most vital doing the body-con thing he's known for. Before long, we were in the Australian outback, and, amazingly, a crocodile hide was wedged into the back of a tailored leather jacket, while another one was placed down the front of a leather halter dress. Snakeskin was sliced into narrow strips and crisscrossed the torso like a harness. Those pieces were technical marvels, and they'll probably be prohibitively expensive, but he synthesized his ideas on softer dresses in sun-faded pastels embroidered in tarnished silver. They were gorgeous. Let's hope Lee never runs out of Australiana to riff on.