How a degree in english literature inspired a fashion line

An interview with designer Aileen Lee.

November 5, 2015

By Ashley Sparrow / Photo: Annette Cheung

Local designer Aileen Lee has found a creative way to utilize her degree in english literature: by designing clothes inspired by fictional characters of her own creation. Each season, Lee creates a fashion character study around the narrative of two imagined women. The result is her fashion line Vestige. Thursday night, to celebrate Vestige’s fall line, Much & Little will be hosting a soiree at their shop from 5 to 7 p.m. In anticipation of this event, we interviewed Lee, who shared more about the philosophy behind Vestige.

You have said that Vestige is the brainchild of literature and fashion. Explain. The Vestige collections tell stories. I have always been fascinated with the interconnections between people, and this is how I link fashion with literature. Both are vessels capable of telling others who we are, creating a bridge between individuals. I see clothing as a language of its own.

I noticed that you are credited with creating illustrations on your website. What is your history with design? I did not come from a design background. I studied english literature at UBC and obtained a master’s degree in fashion management. However, art has always been a big part of my life. My first experience with fashion design was at age four, when I made my own paper dolls. Each doll had its individual collection of changeable, elaborate outfits. In Grade 3, I won a logo design contest at my elementary school. The school still sports the same logo I created so many years ago. The sight of a blank canvas is what excites me most.

On your website you have posts in English, French and Japanese. What is your background? Born in Hong Kong, I moved to Vancouver when I was six. Languages have always fascinated me, so I was ecstatic when two good friends of mine—Ai Sasaki, a Japanese author, and Celine Mai Nguyen, a French writer—proposed to translate the Vestige story. Growing up in Canada allowed me to appreciate the diversity in different cultures.

One of your most interesting design products is the Message in a Bottle Tee. How did you come up with this concept? When I decided to start my own brand, I felt compelled to add meaning to an industry that is commonly regarded as extremely superficial. In fact, I see clothing as a form of self-expression and a medium of communication. I looked for a way to incorporate that into my designs, and the Message in a Bottle Tee came to be.

Each season, Vestige tells a fictitious story inspired by strong women we encounter. In each tale, the protagonist would write and send off an encouraging message in a bottle for the girl in the next collection to receive. This process brings two seemingly different individuals together. In a day and age where communication is undervalued, we try to promote the importance of connecting with others.

Can you name a character in literature whose style you find inspiring? Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha. I have always been charmed by Japanese culture, and the language in this arresting novel is strikingly beautiful. Although the story does not delve deep into the psychology of Japanese roots, it portrays a world where appearances are paramount and tasteful styling is key. Every process is depicted with precision, from their delicate Way of Tea to the amount of white base on their painted faces. This meticulous subtlety is also a reflection of how I approach and create art.

Your pop-up, Vestige+, featured the works of local vendors. What are your favourite local brands (clothing or otherwise)? Vancouver is full of talented groups and individuals—Foe and Dear, Woodlot, Haejin Lee ceramics, just to name a few. My partner Annie curated many of the local vendors for the pop up and we made wonderful friends in the process.

What is your dream party outfit this holiday season? I am keeping it simple and festive with our Acacia Skirt in fern green and an elegant cropped top. I will finish the outfit off with our reversible wool Dianthus coat (the waxed cotton side can shield me from our wet winters). These pieces can be found at the Much & Little boutique, just in time for the holidays.


Event open to the public.

Much & Little, 5-7 p.m.
2541 Main Street, 604-709-9034

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