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December 9, 2011

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Designer with a vintage eye

DESIGNER Currie Lee is a jet-setter. The retired lawyer travels from country to country, scribbling and sketching her designs on a legal pad. Lee selects materials on her trips that include a trek to visit a T'boli tribe in northern Luzon, Philippines, to a shopping spree in Paris.

Born in South Korea, raised in Canada, educated in the US and China, married in Italy, Lee's boutique is in Sanlitun, Beijing. DimSum of all things Asian: D-SATA by CuR was born from her love of "all things" vintage. Her couture clutch bags infuse the tradition with the contemporary to create inimitable designs. They have been featured in fashion magazines from Harper's Bazzar to Vogue, Travel+Leisure Asia's Best of 2009 to Elle Italia's 2011 international shopping guide.

She is launching an online English e-commerce site ( to meet the demands of international customers.

Q: You were a lawyer before. What brought you into the world of fashion accessories?

A: Actually, the story of D-SATA began before I became a designer. I believe my passion for fashion began with me naughtily cutting-up my mother's couture pieces to recreate "fashion week" with my "Barbie Dolls" as models, to being "dolled-up" myself by my grandmom and mom in skirts and jackets tailored out of the fabric from their "up-cycled" vintage boucle, tweed, chenille and houndstooth Chanel suits. Hence my love for "all things" vintage and black-and-white and the quintessential belief in "waste not, want not."

Q: Can you explain your design style, inspiration and concept?

A: Bored of accessories flaunting little more than ostentatious logos, I revisited my collection of vintage clutches inherited from my grandma and mom, from which I have sought to embody an appreciation of all things "exquisite" yet "discreet." I want them recognizable not for their logo but their designs and materials. DimSum of all things Asian: D-SATA by CuR was born from my love of "all things" vintage and my many trips, from minority villages to cosmopolitan metropolises, where I fell in love with all things Asian. Through each collection, I have expanded D-SATA's concept of sustainability from slow fashion as merely an antithesis to fast fashion into sustainable fashion. I conscientiously select materials that are not only timeless in tradition and trends, but also "ethically and environmentally conscientious."

Q: Would you share with us the creation and crafting process behind the accessories you have designed?

A: From the hand-woven Buntals and Tinalaks of minority village women; silks, brocades and batiks of saris, kimonos and hanboks from curators of Asian culture such as Jim Thompson and many others; to up-cycled skins of animals consumed as "food sources," my pieces are hand-crafted using natural or up-cycled materials in Asian "cottage industries" by women who earn a "living income" (vs. minimum wage) which "provides for social growth, grants people the chance to work with dignity, and rests on the basic ethical value that all human life is equal regardless of geography, economy, race, gender, age or beliefs.

Q: Has any fashion or accessories designer profoundly impacted your work?

A: My grandma is actually the inspiration behind D-SATA and my personal sense of style! Her style was vintage (well, vintage now but not then, she was quite trendy). My style is retro-vintage. My grandma had a full-time live-in designer who tailored outfits for not only the family but also all her employees from their driver to the gardener. She also loved "haute couture" which South Korea did not yet have. My grandfather had to travel to Europe to purchase such pieces for her. She preferred clothing and accessories that were exquisite yet discreet - with no logos or logos that were not ostentatious. D-SATA will be launching a retro-vintage collection next year inspired by the iconic bags of my grandma's and mom's eras.

Q: Can you pick one or two items from your collection that are suitable for Christmas look?

A: I personally prefer metallics at Christmas rather than the conventional green and red ... My Christmas outfit is usually a LBD (little black dress) with a clutch bag. This year it will be my vintage black silk La Perla dress (special to me as it was from the last collection designed by La Perla's dress designer before he died - of course not personally for me!) with a D-SATA Nong minaudiere clutch bag.


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