New York-based designer Demy Lee wanted to design what she most appreciated in her own closet, something she reached for just about every day: sweaters. After immigrating from Korea to the U.S. as a high school student with close to zero knowledge of the English language, she graduated with awards from Parsons School of Design and held key positions at Calvin Klein and GAP Inc. and later pulled a key role in launching Tory Burch’s debut collection. In 2007 she struck out on her own and launched Demylee, which began as collection of cashmere sweaters designed for the modern, on-the-go woman. Today, her brand has expanded to include knitwear, wovens, and accessories as well as a menswear line, LAD by Demylee. Her luxurious yet practical sweaters, constructed of the finest cashmere sourced from inner Mongolia, sell in boutiques and department stores around the world — from her home base in New York to London, Paris, Tokyo and her native city, Seoul. OxStu Fashion spoke to the designer about her collection, her career, and her specialty, cashmere:
Describe the Demylee aesthetic.
Understated, effortless, tomboy chic.
What inspires you?
I am surrounded by inspiration in my everyday life: my family, especially my cheerful daughters; the hustle and bustle of New York; the art that fills the galleries surrounding my Chelsea studio; people on the street; and the amazing architecture I see on my travels.
What sort of challenges did you face breaking into the fashion industry as a Korean-American immigrant?
Today, I don’t feel necessarily challenged as a Korean-American immigrant in the fashion industry, as Asian Americans are now widely recognized in creative industries, fashion and beyond. Of course, it is still challenging in certain ways to live in America, which is not my native country. But it’s also a privilege to live and work in New York, the most diverse city in the world, and so full of creative energy.
Before launching your own collection, you worked for Calvin Klein, GAP, and Tory Burch. What did you learn from these experiences, and what made you want to break off on your own?
I learned pretty much everything I know about the industry from these experiences. Learning from school and learning from the real world are two completely different things. I was very fortunate to work with all these brands; at each company, I learned how to apply my creativity from a different angle. I started my own because I reached a point where I wanted to explore my creative interests with complete freedom and independence.
What pieces should every woman have in her closet?
A white shirt, classic blazer, and — of course — a comfortable classic cashmere sweater that you can wear and tear.
Are there any differences between your personal style and the clothing you produce for your brand?
No. I’ll be the first to admit that I basically live in Demylee 24/7 — but I love coordinating my sweaters and knits with my favourite designers, including Dries Van Noten, Martin Margiela, CELINE, and The Row.
Your collection is centered around cashmere sweaters. What are some tips for caring for these worthy investments?
You can hand wash them or send them to dry cleaning, but my approach is to just wear and tear. They might get raggedy and stretched, but so what? I think you get the most out of a clothing item when you wear it comfortably and as often as you can.