Fashion label Elleven takes a creative stand
Story by Nicole Schlomann / Photography by Eddie Brannan
Youthful designer Min Lee had not always planned on making a name for herself in the world of couture gowns and ready-to-wear clothing. As a child, Lee dreamed of working with textiles.
So that’s what she studied in her hometown of Seoul, South Korea, along with tapestry-making, dying, and weaving. The experience was more like approaching “fashion as art” than real fashion, says Lee. Inspired by one of her teachers, a sculptor, Lee began to see the connections between the abstract forms of her art education and the more accessible aspects of clothing design. “[With both] you have to plan first,” she said. “You have to plan on paper. But with fashion it’s more realistic because it’s related with how you produce it.” Determined to create more everyday art, Lee set out to make something that related to the “human aspect of daily life.” Working for a large Korean fashion company was her next step, and soon after, she made the move to New York.
“In Korea, you’re just born there and grow up there,” Lee says. “People don’t really confront each other. In New York [there is] real diversity, and I was inspired by everything.” The next few years brought her a coveted internship at Marc Jacobs, as well as design positions at Rogan, Tom Scott, and Maria Cornejo, where she was able to observe the inner workings of small design studios. But living in New York wasn’t always easy for Lee.
“It was tough to start a career here,” she says, “but Maria was the reason I wanted to stay in New York. She is a great person to be around and she has a great design approach.” It’s no surprise then that Lee’s designs echo Cornejo’s abstract yet wearable look. An encounter with her “hero” Kiki Smith (one of her favorite sculptors) also inspired Lee to stay in New York and accomplish her vision. “She was wearing all black but was playing with texture and was wearing all this jewelry,” says Lee. “I was having a hard time and it really inspired me. She was creating her own aura — and I wanted to design for someone who can be their own aura.”
After much motivation and help from fellow designers and friends, Lee launched her first collection for Fall 2009, and named it “E11even,” which means “one remaining” in Old English, and signifies her endless need to adapt and develop her designs, she says.
Starting with basic, often menswear-inspired pieces, Lee undoubtedly stays true to this creed by creating fluid, versatile silhouettes that evolve from collection to collection. Modern but not without feminine details, each of her looks is a “reflection of nowadays,” instead of being vintage-inspired or too futuristic. Comfort, too, is essential, says Lee. “I love menswear and suiting fabric, and fabric that flows on your body and gives you personal space when you wear it.”
As she looks forward to the Spring 2010 season, the designer is very optimistic. Although a big fan of the color black, Lee is excited to experiment with color for her upcoming collection. “I want to make softer designs,” she says. “We need it. It’s a hard time for everyone in New York and I want to make something bright.”