Pastel silk shirts, weightless wrap dresses and neutral basics that belong in every wardrobe—these are just some of the pieces that have made Gin Lee a favourite among women in Singapore. The designer’s eponymous label, GINLEE Studio, has been delivering feminine silhouettes that mix comfort and design since it launched in 2011.
The everyday woman
The label was founded not in Singapore, but Israel. When Lee, now 39, moved with her husband from Shanghai to a trendy neighbourhood in Jerusalem in 2010, she decided to take a leap of faith and start her own fashion label. She had studied womenswear design at the prestigious London’s Central Saint Martins, and was keen on channelling her creative passions into fashion.
“I have always been very passionate about arts and design,” Lee says. “And fashion seemed to me a great channel to express myself and my creativity.”
Tailored with the everyday woman in mind, the minimalist silk pieces from GINLEE Studio can take the wearer from office to club in a cinch. They are also designed to be timeless, and are able to fit into any woman’s wardrobe regardless of her age or size. Rejecting fickle trends and fast fashion, Lee’s collections use traditional fabrics like ikat (a material decorated by an Indonesian dyeing technique) but in modern, airy silhouettes.
Her unique Asian take on fashion was quickly recognised by the industry in Israel. In June 2013, she was one of 24 emerging designers selected to create a gown inspired by mythology for the exhibition, Aphrodite is Searching for a Dress. Lee took inspiration from her roots: her dress was based on the legend of Mazu, the Chinese patron of seafarers.
Despite living in Shanghai, London and Israel, Lee has always considered Singapore home. So in 2015, after enjoying success in Israel, GINLEE Studio debuted its collections at Keepers Singapore, a multi-label store dedicated to local designers and independent brands. A year later, one of the city’s oldest homegrown department store, TANGS, followed suit and stocked Lee’s label.
Singaporean ladies immediately took to Lee’s pieces, which earned praise from local newspapers and fashion glossies. GINLEE Studio releases two capsule collections each year, featuring silk dresses, tops, outerwear and bottoms that are both beautifully made and easy to wear. You can even catch Lee herself in action at her showroom at the National Design Centre, where she spends time sketching designs and draping silk on mannequins.
“We chose silk because of its natural qualities: the sheen, lightness, drape, ability to keep people warm in air-conditioning and cool in warmer temperatures,” she explains. “It also resonates well with our ‘design handwriting’, which is soft, fluid and relaxed.”
While the pieces sold in Singapore and Israel are identical, Lee believes their fashion scenes could not be more different: “Singaporeans are dressed more formally most of the time, while the Israeli fashion scene is a lot more casual. We try to strike a balance between the two.” Yet, both countries have grown to appreciate Lee’s designs.
Part of the scene
Lee sees limitless potential in the local design scene and wants to raise awareness of it. To her, this doesn’t mean embroidering a local motif – like Singapore’s iconic Merlion, a mythical creature with the body of a fish and a lion’s head – onto a dress and calling it a day. It’s about exploring GINLEE’s identity as a Singaporean brand and how the brand can make an impact as a fashion house on the local community. This starts with giving aspiring designers a bigger platform to boost their designs.
Together with her husband Tamir Niv, Lee wants to lend a hand to up-and-coming designers by focusing on education. “Every time we’re back in Singapore, we play our part and get involved, from going to the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to review student portfolios to organising talks and workshops for Singapore Design Week,” she says.
Her inspiration? Singapore-based gallery shop, Supermama. The small boutique creates and curates items from local designers and Japanese craft facilities to make omiyage (contemporary giftware) that still represents Singapore culture. This follows Lee’s philosophy that design should be about making new things, pushing boundaries and going beyond the obvious.
Even her own shopping pursuits on the island take her out of the ordinary. Lee enjoys spending time on the streets of Tiong Bahru, which has a diverse mix of old and new. As one of Singapore’s oldest residential estates, Tiong Bahru is lined with hidden gems like Strangelets, which carries interesting bits and bobs from accessories to homeware, and Curated Records, a vinyl shop with over 1,000 records to rummage through. The neighbourhood is also filled with quaint cafés like Forty Hands and Plain Vanilla Bakery, perfect for cosying up at with a fresh read from local bookstore BooksActually.
TANGS at Tang Plaza. 310 Orchard Road, Level 2, Singapore 238864. +65 6737 5500.
Mon-Sat 10.30am-9.30pm and Sun 11.00am-8.30pm.
Threadbare & Squirrel. Wheelock Place. 501 Orchard Road #02-20, Singapore 238880. +65 6235 0680.
For a full list of stockists, visit here.