TALK TO ME: Amanda Lew Kee, part I

Story by Paul Aguirre-Livingston. Illustration by Ayalah Hutchins.

The first time I heard about Amanda Lew Kee was from a friend raving about her Mass Exodus showing as part of the Ryerson University student collections. It wasn’t until I met Amanda a few weeks later—when she rolled up to The Room at the Bay, leather-clad in her own design and with supermodel-in-the-making (and good friend) Nadine McAdam in tow—that I appreciated how far ahead of the young pack she is.

Amanda’s capsule-esque collection, shown last month at the Great Hall, further confirmed the hype. The short film/model mash-up preview was very Dracula’s love child running around in Berlin—all black, mostly leather, and heavy on the layers and texture. Her cult status just keeps growing: Amanda was chosen as one of the Toronto Star’s Best Dressed 2010, her collection is on display at Holt Renfrew this month, and she’s the subject of a two-page spread in Flare’s August issue.

What’s the best project (aside from your own label) that you’ve worked on?

“One of the best was dressing 90210’s Shenae Grimes for the MMVAs. I also worked with Fritz Helder on a viral video shoot. He first approached me to do some wardrobe and later asked me to be in the video; he said he was using me as his muse for the looks. The girls were dressed in Helmut Newton-inspired black bodices with a bondage detail spiraled down one arm and one leg, slicked back hair and my signature pastel blue lips.”

Do you have a favourite fashion memory?

“A few! Meeting Derek Blasberg at his Toronto book launch, having him tweet about my ‘gang’ (I brought some friends that dressed in my clothes), and when he emailed me on the eve of my debut to wish me luck! Most recently, I had tea with Stacey Kimel and Adrian Mainella, and they both offered inspirational advice and guidance. I rushed home to review my Spring 2011 collection and made appropriate revisions.”

Who is your favourite person (other than a designer) in the fashion world?

“Daphne Guinness! I idolize her personal style, charisma and confidence. There is something about her majestic character that fascinates me.”

In film, which character’s style do you most admire?

“I have always loved Leeloo from The Fifth Element. That movie in general just did it for me.”

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

“Personality-wise, I’ve heard that people have expected me to be very egotistical, which is far from the truth, maybe because I wear a lot of black…?”

What is the best part of your job? The worst?

“The best part of my job is seeing my designs unfold, from having the initial idea to producing it to finally seeing the piece being worn. Another plus are the industry events that I’ve been able to attend. The worst would be the work hours, which usually means little sleep.”

How many garments have you made for yourself? If you’re not wearing your own designs, who are you wearing?

“I make quite a good percentage of my own clothing—a whole closet in my studio is devoted to them. It’s hard to find clothes that I like in a store, especially since I know I can design exactly what I’m looking for. I often think, ‘This would be nice without that pocket’ or ‘The top of this dress would be nice with the bottom of that dress.’ Other than my own clothing there is no specific store that I shop at, although I love vintage shopping and the thrill of discovering great pieces.”

If you weren’t a designer, you would …

“Be nonexistent.”

Shenae Grimes in Amanda Lew Kee at the 2010 MMVAs.

Daphne Guinness, heiress and style icon.

Leeloo and co. in The Fifth Element (with costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier).

Check back tomorrow for part II with Amanda Lew Kee, in which she shares her thoughts on Gaga, ideal customers, dream internships, leaving Toronto and what’s next…

In the meantime, check out our Talk to Me conversations with Calla Haynes, Robin Givhan, Nathalie Atkinson, Sarah Nicole Prickett and Danielle Meder!

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