Lee Mathews photographed in Sydney, Australia by Simone Silverman.
Australian designer and visionary Lee Mathews has intrigued me for years. A true design talent with a tasteful eye, she’s always forged her own aesthetic on her terms and never surrendered to trends. Her clothes resolve luxury with ease; detail with effortlessness; and style with substance.
During my recent hiatus in Sydney I was thrilled to finally meet Lee. One is instantly struck by her charming and warm persona; quietly determined and effortlessly stylish. Her generous spirit, sense of community and lifestyle vision is inspiring. All of these qualities can be found in her clothes (as well as the precious objects and home-wares she retails and collects.) Lee’s collections embody everything I think clothes should: they are ageless, often seasonless, impeccably constructed and never overthought. Her love of texture – linen, natural fibres and cotton – is a key component. Putting on a dress, for instance, feels like getting ready for an occasion, but you don’t feel overdone or fussy.
Having the chance to collaborate with Lee and my longtime friend Martyn Thompson (who introduced us) on a collaborative photo-shoot was one of the best experiences you could imagine during a time when the world felt very uneasy and decidedly drab. The photographs include my mother, Dimitra, aunt Frossa, and myself. Each of us representing a different decade in life. ( 50’s-70’s) I hope the images and the accompanying interview with Lee – her inspiring life and indelible sense of taste – convey the same optimistic spirit we all felt during this special photo shoot.
– Simone Silverman♥
SIMONE: WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO CREATE YOUR OWN BRAND?
LEE: I didn’t actually really think consciously of wanting my own anything. I was standing in a telephone box, nine months pregnant with my now 21-year-old son, and the phone had been cut off at home. This is a true story, and I was trying to call Guy, my husband, to say, I can’t live like this anymore. So I decided there and then that I was going to start a business which I did. Charlie was born a week and a half later. And I think I had my first, at home sale, about three months after that.
SIMONE: HOW MANY COLLECTIONS DO YOU CURRENTLY PRODUCE PER YEAR?
LEE: We do 5.
SIMONE:IT’S BEEN A CHALLENGING YEAR TO SAY THE LEAST, ARE YOU GOING TO STICK TO THAT AMOUNT?
LEE: Hmm… I’m not sure. It’s a bit of a work in progress. In the earlier years, when we only had the stores, it was sort of whatever you made, whenever you made it, to fill them. It was non-seasonal,all year round.
“Many customers have grown up with me,
watched me progress,
and stuck around for the past 20 years.
Now, their children have become customers.”
SIMONE: DID YOU HAVE BRICK AND MORTAR STORES FROM THE BEGINNING?
LEE: Yes. I needed a workspace. I was making everything at home, and it was overtaking the house. I found a studio space, which was an actual shopfront located in Newport, Sydney. It was really cheap, and we painted the window and turned it into a workroom. People began knocking on the door, asking, “What are you doing? Can we buy that?” Soon, there was a little rail of items people could purchase in the workroom where we were busy cutting away on the table and using the sewing machines. About six months later, it felt like a good idea to divide the space by building a wall and putting in a permanent rail. We opened the door, and it became the store and workroom.
My husband at the time, Guy, is amazing at building things, and he made these great environments out of bits of stuff all cobbled together beautifully. It was lovely.
SIMONE: IT SOUNDS LIKE IT WAS A GREAT STORE EXPERIENCE.
LEE: It felt really nice, it was fun and I enjoyed the instant feedback from the customers. And it expanded. The store was at the front of a little old arcade, and when the other tenants, an art store, and a violin maker moved out, we took the spaces. The Lee Mathews business became the arcade.
My kids used to go to school at the end of the road. Every afternoon, with the other little children in the area, they would hang out in the workroom, or be playing cricket down the hall of the arcade.
SIMONE: HOW DELIGHTFUL. IT SEEMS YOU ENJOY CREATING A COMMUNITY.
LEE: Yes I do. Once we started growing and wholesaling, it became difficult managing the office from Newport, supplying Sydney and getting things on international flights. So when the kids were old enough and started high school, I moved the business into the city center and came to this space. It’s similar but more extensive, and I don’t think we lost the flavor.
SIMONE: WHO IS THE LEE MATHEWS WOMAN? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CUSTOMER?
LEE: This is an interesting question, and we recently looked into this.
We attract customers who are looking for an alternate point of view. We have always had strong support from women involved in the arts and creative fields – working in music, architecture, etc
However, there has been a shift, and we now have many customers from the corporate sector. There has been such a change in the way women present themselves in the workplace, and I think that’s really great. This woman doesn’t want a corporate uniform, but something beautiful, and that allows her to be a bit more expressive.
SIMONE: YOU CREATE WHAT I LIKE TO CALL ‘INTELLIGENT CLOTHES’ MADE OF NATURAL TEXTILES.
THIS IS VERY FASHIONABLE NOWADAYS AND WAS YOUR DIRECTION FROM THE START.
LEE: In the early 2000s, I was very unfashionable. Which didn’t bother me. I just stuck to what I wanted to produce. We did not fit in with what was going on. No one was wearing linen or cotton.
“I love subtle details.”
SIMONE: WHO DO YOU CONSIDER A STYLISH WOMAN? WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO DRESS?
LEE: Oh, Tilda! Yes, Tilda Swinton. She has excellent style. I would love to dress Kristin Scott Thomas. I think she is impressive.
SIMONE: WHEN YOU DESIGN, WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS? YOUR COLLECTIONS ARE SO WELL CONSIDERED.
LEE: What is important to me is texture, color, transparency, and proportion. Having a store from the start and creating environments allowed me to see what could happily sit next to each other and work. Otherwise, you could just have a rack of clothes looking quite dreary.
SIMONE: YOUR CLOTHES ARE QUITE FORGIVING, IF YOU PUT ON 10 POUNDS OR SO, DUE TO PREGNANCY OR FOR ANY OTHER REASON…THEY STILL WORK.
LEE: Yes, we all need those clothes!
SIMONE: HOW SHOULD I PUT THIS? I THINK YOUR CLOTHES ARE FEMALE FRIENDLY! WHAT IS ALSO VERY IMPORTANT TO ME, AND MANY WOMEN I KNOW, IS THAT AN ITEM NEEDS TO LAST BEYOND ONE SEASON.
LEE: We have lovely moments where customers have sent us photos of an item they affectionately unpacked or still wear from as far back as 20 years ago. I love that.
SIMONE: THAT’S WHAT I CALL STAYING POWER. LONGEVITY!
Thank You Lee♥
FEW OF MY FAVORITES
Harvest Moon by Neil Young.
BOOK / NOVEL
There are many. The first one that comes to mind is the Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles.
The Great Beauty.
I recently rewatched it. What a beauty, every scene is perfect.
I do like a Peony I must say.
The colors are gorgeous.
Sweet Peas, but only on the vine.They are a bit sad when cut.
CITY / PLACE
I love Tasmania.
I feel I could just melt away into any corner of the island and disappear.
Rome is another place that took my breath away. I look forward to returning.
FOOD / MEAL / CUISINE
A soft boiled egg. I like comfort food.
It is all I ever use.
Any time I’ve tried something else my skin reacts.
I’ve never been a makeup person.
However, I do own an eyebrow gel that my daughter bought for me. That’s about it.
Georgia O Keeffe greatly inspires me.
Her clothes were amazing and the fact that she made them herself…wonderful.
Sonia Delaunay is another. I refer to her work all the time.
LM is available for purchase on www.leemathews.com.au
LEE MATHEWS PHOTOGRAPHED IN SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.
All images by The Silver Women
Many thanks to my darling mother Dimitra Silverman, my aunt Frossa Goddard for being wonderful models, and my beautiful friend Martyn Thompson who inspires us all to shine.- Simone Silverman xoxo