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A Day In The Life Of Australian Fashion Icon, Lee Mathews

A Day In The Life

Lee Mathews is a quiet icon of Australian fashion. The Sydney-based designer has been a central figure in our local fashion industry for the last two decades, with her pieces now stocked in 55 locations around the world. She has played a key part in defining the breezy, unstructured Australian look we have a reputation for overseas, but where other celebrated Aussie labels have come and gone, Lee Mathews has stayed the distance, growing her devoted customer base, year after year.

Lee’s eponymous brand now is in it’s 20th year (!) and it takes a lot of organisation, business sense and continuous creativity from Lee to keep everything going. And she just keeps hitting new heights. Juggling an international fashion calendar in the middle of a pandemic? She’s got it covered.

From early morning meditation, to plugging in a faithful podcast on her commute, this is how one of Australia’s top fashion designers gets it done!

9th October, 2020

Lee spends the morning at her STUNNING home in Balmain. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

The mornings are usually meetings of some sort to talk about a collection, fabrics, plans, and or shoots.Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Ted the corgi walks with Lee into the office! Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

The cavernous LM HQ in Leichhardt. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

‘There are always so many questions to answer as soon as I walk through the door,’ Lee says of her typical day. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

After getting in at 9am, Lee gets to work on upcoming collections. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

THIS is where the magic happens. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

The office is filled with textures, colours and fabric of past and future collections. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Lee has a hand in everything, from original concept down to distribution! Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Lee pays a visit to the Paddington store. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Visual merchandising is never complete! Arranging pieces for display at the Paddington store with Wholesale Account Manager, Eleanor Powell. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

A sneak peek at some works-in-progress. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Sasha Gattermayr
Friday 9th October 2020

‘Make good things. It’s become a household/work mantra of sorts.’ – Lee Mathews

In case the title of this story didn’t give it away, I have a serious crush on Lee Mathews.

When I was a teenager, my Mum used to drag me across town to Armadale High Street to sit on a stool and wait outside some change rooms, while she slipped out of her chef’s clothes and into different dresses made of crimson silk or rich, chestnut cotton.

These were the early days of Lee’s brand, and her designs were unlike anything I’d seen before. The sumptuous fabric flowed in cascades, cinched at just the right part of the body and always perfectly structured. Her designs are an elegant combination of functional and feminine: the uniform of the sophisticated modern woman, with just the right decorative flourishes. I couldn’t wait until I was grown up enough to wear them.

Lee just *gets* women, and what they want to wear. Her success in a notoriously tricky industry has probably got a bit to do with her experience in fashion publishing – her first job in the industry was as an illustrator for Vogue Australia – but it has also come from keeping in touch with her roots. Despite a wide international distribution net, Lee has kept her team small and self-sufficient; a decision that has served well in 2020.

Now, in the midst of a pandemic, Lee’s small Sydney-based team manages a suite of virtual runways and showrooms, organising the production and logistics of a fashion calendar still full of new collections, despite the global halt. It’s been an unexpected challenge for Lee and her team, but a manageable one, due to the scale of the brand, and Lee’s savvy approach to business.

We recently joined Lee for a typical work day, to see how the magic happens.

First Thing

I wake up around 6:30, meditate, then get up and make a coffee. It sounds a bit counterintuitive doesn’t it?! I love the mornings best. It is the time that I am able to think most clearly about things.

Morning

I usually get to work at 9am, and most days I walk to work with my dog Ted. It’s such a beautiful walk, and always puts me in a good mood to start the day. I listen to a podcast (usually Hidden Brain or This American Life). I like listening to things that are completely unrelated to what I do; it feels educational and makes me feel less guilty about not reading as much as I used to.

There are always so many questions to answer as soon as I walk through the door. The mornings are usually meetings of some sort to talk about a collection, fabrics, plans, and or shoots.

Lunchtime

Lunch is a bit chaotic in our office. Everyone generally brings their own (especially since we have all returned to work) so the kitchen is like Grand Central Station from midday. Sometimes we do an office lunch, which is usually ordered in from somewhere local.

Afternoon

Typical afternoon tasks consist of fittings, and checking in on the production team. I’m not as energised in the afternoon, so I’m usually checking the kitchen cupboard for chocolate by 3pm and making a coffee!

Evening

I finish around 6:30 most days and get home around 7pm. Dinner is variable. I cook a lot: pasta, fish, roasted vegetable salads and sometimes takeaway (but not often). My son, Charlie, is living with me at the moment and he cooks sometimes, which is pretty great – he’s a really good cook.

To unwind, I love to have a glass of wine while I cook and put on something great to listen to. It’s really enjoyable and sometimes I wish it never ended! Cooking is my way to switch off. It’s the only thing that truly stops my mind from going in circles. It requires such attention and it’s so much more enjoyable if you just give in to it and fully absorb yourself, it makes everything taste better too!

Last Thing

I’d like to say I don’t need a lot of sleep, but suspect I need more than I get.

I go to bed at 10:30ish. Sometimes I’ll crawl into bed earlier and read, but reading in bed almost always puts me to sleep these days so I try not to do that anymore.

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Afternoons are for talking production with General Manager, Helen. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Lee’s own office is bight and filled with light! Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Never forget your roots! A sewing machine in Lee’s office. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Right now I’m listening to, watching, and reading…

Listening to The Cure,Wish, Disintegration etc.

Watching ‘The Bureau’, a French spy drama on SBS On Demand.

Reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

I get my best work done…

In the morning, early (usually) and from home. I set up the office at home so I could spend more time there this year, but it hasn’t really happened yet! It’s quiet and focused, and I really should make it more of a priority.

My productivity tool/tip is…

Never start anything new when you are tired. And I also like to have a tidy office/house, I know some people can operate in chaos, but I find it really hard.

A philosophy I live and work by is…

Make good things. It’s become a household/work mantra of sorts. It’s rather broad and is certainly subjective, but it keeps things pretty simple for me.

Something I’ve learnt the hard way is…

Taking time for yourself is really important for keeping perspective. It’s very easy to be completely absorbed by what you’re doing, but sometimes you have to look up to see the long view, in order to make good decisions. I have definitely learnt this the hard way.

Shop Lee Mathews online here!

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net