Photo Courtesy Of Mi Jong Lee
WHERE ARE YOU RIGHT NOW AND HAVE YOU ALWAYS LIVED THERE?
I live and work in NYC and I have been here from 1980.
WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND RAISED?
I was born in Korea but left there when I was seven years old. My father's diplomatic career led to many different countries where I was raised. Three years in Mexico, three years in Spain when Franco was alive, three years in Costa Rica before the eco-tourism came in. I am proud of my Korean heritage but sometimes I feel more Latina. Spanish was my second language before English. I came to U.S. when I was 17 to attend Cornell University where I received a cum laude in Sociology and minor in Art. Thereafter I went back to Korea but after six months, I moved permanently to NYC to attend Parson's school of design and pursue my passion.
WHAT'S THE BEST THING ABOUT YOUR CITY OR HOMETOWN?
The energy and cultural diversity. I can live and dance to my own rhythm. I love the many languages, cuisine and art that spire around us from block to block, day to day, mood to mood. Where in the world, a Korean woman who feels Latina married to a FDNY lieutenant sits down to eat a Jewish meal with her father in law? Here and Paris, we can walk to just about everywhere!
WHAT WERE YOUR ASPIRATIONS GROWING UP?
I thought I was going into Academia. I was and still am a bit of a nerd. After living away from Korea since seven years, I couldn't acclimate to the then 1980's Korean environment as an adult woman seeking an individual voice. The other passion that I had was art and fashion design. So I landed in NYC alone at 21, back to school for fashion design and have not looked back since.
I love the symbiotic relationship of creativity with functional application that has to exist in fashion design. Fortunately, I enjoy the artistic aspect and the business aspect of fashion. Balancing this spectrum is facinating.
WHERE IN NEW YORK IS YOUR STUDIO LOCATED?
It is located at 265 west 37th street. We design and produce the entire MI JONG LEE collection in house. Each piece is cut individually and sewn by one sewer. No assembly work. Ownership of the garment starts from designer but flows right through to the presser that finishes each piece. Most member's of my team have been with me more than a decade and my head sewer over 22 years. It's quite unique and rare these days. I would love to invite you next time you are in NYC.
HOW INFLUENCED IS YOUR ART BY THE CITY?
It is where I live , work and breathe. Even when the inspiration comes from another culture or time, it get's filtered by this present moment in the city as it is also filtered by my Korean heritage. Thank you for your interets and questions,,, I hope they communicate well. I am available for any further inquiries.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND TRAINING?
Socioloy, seems alien to fashion but it is so very relevant. Parson's gave me aesthetic dreams altough most of pattern making training is self taught through 35 years of experimenting and refining with my retail customer base. It's almost a blessing that I was not so cognizant of rules. To this day, I still have appointments for custom couture work at the Madison Avenue flagship store. I love it and it keeps me connected to the women I design for.
WHAT HAS BEEN A PIVOTAL MOMENT?
In 2010, I collaborated with a photographer to design six gowns that were inspired by her images. This was exhibited at the Museum of Photography in Paris, garment to image for four months. The freedom to design and create outside of the confines of business model inspired to me to develop a new designer brand that was more personal and art aesthetic focused. It was the moment that I decided to embrace a new challenge.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I find inspiration everywhere, from an empowered woman, a place, a mood . Mostly I draw inspirations from artists and art work that moves me and energizes my own creativity. Last season, walking around the Japanese section at the Met, I came about a print from a caligraphy artist, Toko Shinoda. It inspired the mood, design and an original fabric print inspired from her work for Fall 2017. This Spring 2018, I am going back to my childhood in Mexico, drawing inspiration from Frida Kahlo, the woman.
WHAT MOMENT ARE YOU HAVING?
Clarity!A fter developing this new designer collection for two years, launching it last year, I'm so clear on what and who I want to design for. It is clarity that brings freedom to explore.
HOW DOES YOUR AESTHETIC TRANSLATE IN OTHER AREAS OF YOUR LIFE?
I love to cook. I do it the same way I design. It is what the fabric that was chosen dictates what it wants to be. My husband tells our guest to enjoy the meal since most likely it cannot be replicated exactly.
WHAT DO YOU GET UP TO WHEN YOU'RE NOT CRAFTING?
Honestly, I am a voluntary workaholic. I love what I do and it is what I do most of the time.
HOW DO YOU UNWIND?
My husband and I escape to nature as much as we can. I run around with flowers in my hair and chill by the wild seasides of Maine.