When I met Helen Lee at the VFW Opening Gala, she struck me as being small of stature, soft of voice, and sweet in her demeanour. But beneath this delicate exterior was an edgy toughness and a tremendous talent. How else do you explain what she was wearing that night--the leather jacket, Thomas Wylde skull clutch, and the black oxford heels that exuded rock star confidence? Or the beautiful qipao in coated cotton with cutouts that her model was wearing, so in line with the current bondage dressing trend?
My impressions of Helen were confirmed when I attended A Night In Shanghai Friday night and saw her collection for VFW. Drawing on a neutral palette of gray, black, and camel with the occasional pop of colour, Helen's collection fuses traditional Chinese motifs with contemporary sophistication and all-out rock star glamour.
The show featured two qipao mini dresses--the one that caught my eye at Opening Gala (which was the opening look on the runway), and a tight-fitting gold number with a dropped waist and dramatic ruffle on one shoulder. Chinese motifs surfaced in other ways, appearing as a cluster of flowers adorning the sleeves of a sleek evening jacket or on a pair of elbow-length leather gloves. One asymmetrical one-shoulder dress had a fuchsia strap fastened at the back by traditional knotted buttons.
Helen's masterful eye for detail made the clothes a delight to look at, particularly the menswear. A camel blazer for men looked like an ordinary blazer until, close up, you could see that the hem had been trimmed by a wide satin band. Another men's blazer appeared to be a plain black blazer trimmed with white piping; front-row audience members, however, would've noticed the white piping was in fact a contrasting topstitch. An ordinary button-down was made intriguing by the asymmetrically placed buttons.
Although the tone of the collection was consistent, the mix of materials, patterns, and textures was eclectic. Satin, latex-style coated cotton, regular cotton, cozy sweater knits, leather, sequins, sheer nylon, lace, fur, camouflage, beaded statement bib necklaces--these were all juxtaposed against each other to great effect in various ensembles. One of my favourite looks combined a sheer bodysuit, gray sweater shrug bedecked with black stones, and leather pants.
Enthusiastic applause greeted Helen Lee when she came out on the catwalk, perfectly embodying her own design aesthetic by wearing leather and lace together.
Helen and her husband pose for a picture together after the show.
All photos in this post by Yvonne Chew. Thanks Yvonne!