Fashion can be a fickle business so it takes a certain talent and determination to last the distance. Lee Mathews recently celebrated 15 years of her eponymous label. The designer, who was born in Northern Ireland but raised in New Zealand and Canada before settling in Australia, started out as an art director and illustrator on magazines such as Vogue and Vogue Living. She then spent time working as a designer at a couple of other labels before going out on her own in 2000. “I was always making things and it evolved into a business,” she says. It was when Lee opened her first store that she felt she was heading in the right direction. “It was the testing ground for all of the ideas and whether it would all work or not,” she says. “It was fun to see everything hanging in one space.”
Now Lee has six stores across Australia, and has recently returned her designs to the runway as part of the 20-year celebrations of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia. “The first time we showed at fashion week in 2007 was a real moment,” she says. “All the stars aligned, as they say.” While the brand started out small it was a simple yet statement collection. And even though it was well-received, as were many other collections, maintaining the passion and momentum over so many years has not always been easy, she admits. “I have had a few ‘I just can’t do it anymore’ moments but largely, I get a kick out of making beautiful pieces and spending time working with people I like whilst doing it,” Lee says. “It’s pretty good, really.”
Which five words best describe you?
Passionate, curious, driven, disorganised, headstrong.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since?
I started at Vogue as an illustrator and art director, but was always making things. It was kind of a natural progression and I soon started making things to sell at the markets. It was hard work but fun.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
Stay calm, stick to your lane and never assume.
What’s your proudest career achievement?
Staying in business for 15 years.
What’s been your best decision?
Going slowly and asking for help. Collaborating ideas has changed my business.
Who inspires you?
So many people: architects, painters, writers, musicians, women doing great things – there is an endless list.
What are you passionate about?
My friends, my kids, making environments, making beautiful things in general.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
What dream do you still want to fulfil?
I would love to build a house in bushland. A simple, completely self-sustained house with an enormous vegetable garden.
What are you reading?
I’m reading No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald about Edward Snowden.