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Decoding fashion with Dick Lee

Kai Fong
Fashion Season News
14 May 2012

To prepare you for the biggest fashion event of the year (Zac Posen, anyone?), Yahoo! Singapore talks to “Mad Chinaman” Dick Lee -- also the chairman of this year’s Audi Fashion Festival -- who cheekily reveals the rather entertaining mysteries and idiosyncrasies of the industry.

Why are designer items so expensive?
Branding counts for 30% (and sometimes 50% or more depending on the product) of the increase. But for the most part, it’s the quality. My H&M T-shirt lasts for a few washes, while my Prada lasts for years and can still fetch a good price in my annual garage sale (and 10 times more when it becomes “vintage”). By “quality”, I refer to better fabrics, handworked details, innovative ideas and, of course, the value of owning an original.

If the heat can dampen one’s desire to dress, then it can also dampen one’s zest for life... Dick Lee

Why do catwalks show outrageous outfits that no one will actually wear (and are not seen in stores anyway)?
Runway shows are branding exercises, wherein the brand usually displays their key new ideas for the season. Their bread-and-butter items are on display in their showrooms, which is what buyers will stock up on. Runway pieces are always available to top customers and can be specially ordered by the store. Sometimes, the buyers take the risk of ordering show pieces for specific clients. As these are in very small quantities, they are normally not displayed in the stores.

Who decides what’s hot and what’s not?
All design practitioners are influenced by similar sources. The ideas stem from the avant-garde scene, the street scene and even major exhibitions (like a major arts and crafts exhibition will bring on a surge of pre-Raphaelite and art nouveau influences in fashion, interiors and graphics, etc). Trends also tend to swing from one extreme to another, short for a few seasons [and can] lead to long ones, simply because a change is desired and often necessary. World situations also affect design elements; for example, a recession brings about less flamboyant fashion.

Do you think our hot climate is a legit excuse for sloppy dressing (like tees with shorts and flip flops)?

If the heat can dampen one’s desire to dress, then it can also dampen one’s zest for life if one allows it to happen. Dressing up is to make a personal statement, to please oneself, to look good so as to feel good. Make this a habit and one will only go through life with the admiration of all. Our tropical climate should inspire a new form of dress using comfortable, weather-appropriate garments, but worn with panache and put together and accessorised interestingly.

So why are Spring/Summer collections shown in autumn?
Collections are shown a season in advance for buyers to order ahead. Once orders are collated, they go into production so as to make delivery on time for the season. Even more advanced fabric collections are shown two seasons ahead, so that designers can order their fabrics for their own collections. This is also a determining factor of trend changes.

Why are winter collections sold in Singapore?
If not, what else is there to sell, since every brand makes Fall/Winter collections? Designers now cater to the world market in a more focused way; when once there were three annual collections – with the addition of a cruise which bridges Winter and Spring – they now have added a Pre-Fall collection which appears at the end of summer after the sales periods, which seem to get earlier and earlier. This is all due to consumer demand and their short attention span, plus competitiveness. It also means shoppers have a constant supply of new products to buy.

But is there a way to know what’s a fad and what’s here to stay (so we don’t waste our money)?
Nothing is really here to stay, but in any case, [they] will come around again before long. Look at runway shows as soon as they go online, and make your own assessment of what's a prevailing trend. Of course, make sure that you are attracted by it, and go for it!

Share with us an easy tip for an immediate style upgrade.
Invest in key pieces: good, well-cut shoes, a well-tailored dark suit, sharp black trousers, a classic stylish handbag, neat hair – and get in shape!

In the meantime, can you tell us the meaning of…
A bias cut

Pattern pieces are cut on the bias, or against the straight grain of the fabric (i.e. on the diagonal). This gives the garment a softer flow and more swing (like in wide skirts).

Empire waist
The empire line is named after Napoleon's consort Empress Josephine’s neo-classic craze, which brought the waistline higher to just below the bustline.

High street
The realm of “fast fashion”, these main shopping roads house big stores of mass-produced fashion, cheap copies of the newest trends, and increasingly more important players in the world of fashion.

Business casual
Business wear with a casual slant like a sports jacket (which is a formal jacket without matching trousers, and in lighter colours), worn with casual slacks and the optional tie. Can go from office to casual dinner.

Semi-formal
Cocktail dress for women, lounge suit for men (suit but not necessarily dark, tie optional).

Formal
Dark suit, sometimes can be tuxedo; long dress.

Black tie (and is there a difference with “white tie”?)

Black tie means black suit, preferably tuxedo, with a black bowtie. White tie is more formal and refers to a black tailcoat, white waistcoat and white bowtie.

Lastly, what’s the one fashion mistake that drives you crazy?
When the dress code clearly states black tie, and you see people without jackets in short-sleeved shirts. They show totally no respect for the host/organiser, and I wonder then why do they even come in the first place? Same goes for people who attend fancy-dress parties not in costume.

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