Few designers have caught the attention of the fashion establishment as successfully as Ximon Lee has, especially when it comes to menswear. Lucky would be a disservice; enterprising hardly skims the surface. You could label him a workaholic in the traditional sense, because the thought of leaving his calendar empty, and having no outlet with which to direct his energy, only fills him with dread. There is a due diligence, a kind of enthusiastic rigor that lends to his vision. No design is created flat. Each of his garments is draped, deconstructed and then meticulously bleached, painted or sewn to completion.
And like most workaholics, Ximon has accrued, all within less than a year of his graduating from the BFA in Fashion Design at Parsons, a number of accolades that speak to his talent. The first menswear designer to win the H&M Design Award was awarded to Ximon—in which select designs that he develops for H&M will be sold in stores later this year. Truth be told, at last month’s LVMH Prize showcase in Paris, Kanye West did say to the designer, “Killing it, bro.” But don’t think Ximon relies too heavily on outside approval. “I will still go with what I want [to design],” he told 1 Granary just days after his VFiles show in New York.
Ximon, 24, was born in Manchuria and his nomadic trajectory included Shanghai and Hong Kong, before settling in New York. If he finds inspiration from post-Soviet era homeless kids, it’s because their story mirrors his own. He references their displaced existence through a range of unisex, exaggerated garments that err towards the futuristic rather than the destitute. There, underneath the layers, Ximon conceals his own childhood musings.
A quiet demeanor betrays Ximon’s sprightly spirit–at least as reflected in his music preferences. A collector of techno house music, his familiarity of deep house and ambient music is surprising. Given his plans to also open a bar and restaurant with fusion Chinese cuisine, his ambition is equally remarkable.
Ximon subscribes to a panoptic future—and like many of his generation, with every opportunity comes creation. As the designer best explains it, “If you have a good story or a good idea to propose, it’s going to stand out.”
“I’m a workaholic. There was a day when I really didn’t have anything on my schedule. It just didn’t feel right.”
SOPHIA GONZALEZ: In your last interview with 1 Granary, you had said that fashion was fun for you. Is it still?
XIMON LEE: Yes, but there’s just more pressure. You feel stressed. And then you feel obsessed when you see someone wearing the garment. All of a sudden, I feel alive. It’s like, I created something and it worked.
Are you feeling overwhelmed with all the work ahead?
I’m a workaholic. There was a day when I really didn’t have anything on my schedule. It just didn’t feel right. I kept thinking, “Why am I in this café checking all the links on my Facebook? I’m not doing anything today. I have to do something.” I logged into my email and there was literally nothing new. See, that was not fun.
When it comes to energy, do you think it’s changing here in New York?
It’s really changing. You see it in person. To me, it was a big surprise that I got attention from my school—I was chosen as “Designer of the Year” of my graduating class. I didn’t think I would win because you could almost hang my collection in a gallery. Now, I think a lot more students feel that they can be experimental.
“In Europe, they’ll comment on the fabrications and in New York, they’re talking about “the hideous bag” and then writing, “Is it even a bag? Because it looks like a mattress.”
To your point, Calvin Klein offered you a position soon after your graduation.
I didn’t expect that I would get a job so soon. I was a men’s director assistant on the concept and development team; I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.
And within months, you quit.
The H&M Design Award results came out. Then, I made it to the finalist [round]. I had a meeting with my boss and he was very supportive. He said, “You should go. It’s your time. You never know where the journey will take you.”
That journey has led to your showing a runway collection for VFiles during New York Fashion Week and most recently, as a semi-finalist for the LVMH Prize in Paris.
It’s entertaining to read the reports. In Europe, they’ll comment on the fabrications and in New York, they’re talking about “the hideous bag” and then writing, “Is it even a bag? Because it looks like a mattress.”
The sandwich board silhouettes—what’s interesting is that they follow a natural evolution that began with your Parsons collection.
To me, The Children of Leningradsky was a starting point. I was born in a town very much inspired by Soviet architecture. All those grey buildings, the heavy snow. The kids were nomads; and I was never really settled in one place. I felt like, “What’s the difference?” Their monologue—it’s my monologue.
Is that what you’re doing? You inject yourself into the collection by incorporating words and phrases into the clothing?
They’re scattered phrases from my 7-year-old diary. I liked how the kids’ responses in the documentary are so true and authentic. If you link them altogether, it’s like I’m talking. But if you were sitting in the show, if you don’t pay attention, you wouldn’t see it. When the pleats close is when the sentence is connected. That big pleat, it says, “Hard lessons, scars and knees.”
You gravitate towards ordinary fabric and materials and subject it to a high degree of craftsmanship.
A lot of editors thought that the black material was vinyl. But they’re just trash bags that I melted and pleated. All the denim, I bleach it by hand. It took a lot of time and energy. I suffocated in my apartment because I did my graduate collection there. My bathtub is blue—my landlord is [still] chasing me about it [the tub].
“If you made a documentary about my runway shows, it would be me dragging three huge suitcases with a ton of fabric and getting stuck at US customs because they’re saying, “You’re smuggling this fabric. You really need all this fabric for yourself?”
That reminds me—what do you think of the relationship between runway and reality?
I think there’s a big disconnect. If you made a documentary about my runway shows, it would be me dragging three huge suitcases with a ton of fabric and getting stuck at US customs because they’re saying, “You’re smuggling this fabric. You really need all this fabric for yourself?” And I’m responding, “I love this fabric—I just want it.” Then, of course, the runway has all the models that are 6’3”. That part is beautiful.
Do you still worry about funding?
Winning the H&M Design Award, it solves the problem now. I have enough to produce the next two collections, but the money will go really quickly. That’s why I need to do well. That’s why I need to do better [with] production and sales.
But being able to sustain the momentum is also important.
Before this, I was purely creating things. Now I’m worrying if it’s durable, is it going to crack, can it handle wash? I need to move forward with new concepts, but yes, I also have to be careful not to go so fast.
Words by Sophia Gonzalez
Photography by Peter Stanglmayr
For more, check out XimonLee.com