Simple, feminine and utilitarian – those were the three words that our Her World Young Woman Achiever 2018 awardee Olivia Lee chose to describe her fashion style.
Olivia runs her own interior design studio that has proudly executed projects commissioned by brands like Hermes and Samsung. Her debut collection, Athena, had also been shown in design publications like Wallpaper, Icon, Dezeen and Salone del Mobile.Milano, a furniture fair in Italy.
Beyond home decor, her design aesthetic and work also shapes how she dresses.
“In a day, I could be running from a meeting to a factory and then to an exhibition opening in the evening. As an industrial designer, form and function are equally important to me – so I like a wardrobe with good staples, classics and neutral colours.”
And her situation is one that we, strong female professionals, can relate to as well.
While she loves the neutral colours grey and black, Olivia uses accessories to build up her minimalist approach to fashion. She is partial to an understated bangle or a nice straw hat and she believes that strong red lips will never wrong an outfit.
Find out more as we spoke to the stylish designer about the evolution of her style and how her life experiences have shaped her:
To begin, could you describe to us your personal design aesthetic?
I’ve been told that my work carries a sense of lightness, poetry and wonder. My design aesthetic is driven by the moods and ideas I’m trying to convey.
How did you develop your aesthetic?
My style has really essentialised over the years. I am in a profession rooted in well-made and well-intentioned designs. It makes me highly attuned to the world of consumer products. Over the years, this has desensitised me to trends and gimmicks. I concentrate instead on finding simple, well-made, timeless things. Just as I search for the essence of things to inform my design work, I really enjoy clothes that are archetypal and lasting in nature.
Does your job define how you dress? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
I don’t think my job defines how I dress. I define how I dress! The nature of my job may influence my decisions for the day purely on a functional level.
Who are your favourite fashion designers and why?
I think Issey Miyake is very smart in the way he challenged the conventional fashion cycle. Iris Van Herpen is really pushing the boundaries of couture and technology. I’m also loving Luke and Lucie Meier for Jil Sander – their collections are pure poetry to me.
What are your favourite fashion pieces and why?
I have a beautiful black silk taffeta evening coat covered in pintuck details that I bought for $10 in a vintage store near Prospect Park in New York. It is light enough for Singapore weather and I always get complimented for it. Another piece I love is a beautiful straw hat that I bought in Cinque Terra this year. The sun was out in full force and we were preparing for a long hike. It was actually Hunn (my fiance) who spotted it and it’s one of my favourite accessories to date. I guess you can say my favourite pieces are sentimental and tied to special experiences.
What are your go-to shops to satisfy your fashion needs?
Uniqlo and COS.
Do you plan your outfits ahead of time or do you just pick and match on the day itself?
I usually throw something together in the morning. It helps to buy separates in neutral and complementary colour schemes, I don’t have to worry too much as I build my wardrobe with the view that they should all go together.
Do you alter your makeup depending on what you’re wearing?
Not really. I wear very minimal make up and try to remember to moisturise twice a day.
What styling tips do you swear by?
To me, the look you put together should make you feel good and forget that it’s a “look”. If you have to keep fussing and adjusting your clothes, then I have news for you: the clothes are wearing you.
Your partner, Hunn Wai, is also a designer, how have you two shaped each other’s style?
Hunn has a distinct personal style of his own and a keen eye for nice things! We have a lot of fun shopping together and trading strong opinions. I think we influence each other by pointing out things that we might not have considered ourselves if shopping alone.
Has living overseas shaped your style?
Attending art school in London was the prime time for style exploration, and the city itself is great for people-watching. I also visit Milan often and I’m deeply inspired by the Milanese sense of fashion. Particularly, the elderly men and women who pull off their vibrant coloured suits, Missoni prints and Issey Miyake silhouettes. I hope that when I grow old, I will be as refined as the silver-haired Italian octogenarians there.
I think the key message I got from living overseas is: There are no rules to fashion as long as you feel good and have confidence.
What style differences do you think there are between London and Singapore?
One of your most memorable quote you gave at the WOTY gala was “the fear of not trying exceeds the fear of trying.” Would you say you apply this experimental mindset to your sense of style?
I would say that my sense of style today is quite low-key and minimal. My style will probably continue to evolve as my life adapts to new demands. At the end of the day, I think style should be about feeling good in one’s skin and letting that feeling emanate through the clothes you wear. It should never be about fear at all!