March 29, 2021
Women in Design: How Grace Lillian Lee Combines Culture and Contemporary Fashion
Grace Lillian Lee is an Australian artist who draws inspiration from her diverse cultural heritage, particularly known for her use of traditional Torres Strait Island weaving techniques in her fashion and sculptural works. Having grown up in Cairns, Australia, and completing a degree in Fashion Design at RMIT University, Lee has exhibited across Australia and in the US, engaging a wide audience while celebrating her culture.
Lee’s work exemplifies the concept of fashion as wearable art, with her woven ‘body sculptures’ representing striking expressions of culture. Created through the process of ‘prawn-weaving’, a palm-leaf weaving technique common in the Torres Strait, her sculptural pieces are a meeting point between the artist, her ancestral culture, and audiences willing to learn. Lee’s creative process involves learning about her heritage while simultaneously teaching others, sharing knowledge and collaborating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities across Australia.
A huge turning point for me to explore my identity and lineage was in 2010, when I took my grandma back to the Torres Strait. She had not returned for 57 years. This made me want to explore and express myself the best way I knew how, and that was through my creative practice of fashion design.
For Lee, fashion and art is not only about learning, but also preserving culture. She believes that collaborating with remote communities can empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to become more involved with the design industry; to this end, she founded First Nations Fashion and Design in 2020. This not-for-profit organisation aims to support First Nations designers on a systemic level, creating a dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians about culture, heritage, and tradition. Lee is dedicated to supporting young First Nations designers in their crafts, hoping to ‘provide a gateway and the inspiration to travel outside of their communities’ to share their designs and cultures.
Grace Lillian Lee is a First Nations designer at the forefront of the fashion industry, using the traditions of her heritage to craft striking sculptural fashion. Casper Magazine first encountered her works at the Piinpi art exhibition in Bendigo, Australia, and we’re very keen to keep an eye out for her future work.
This article is a part of our month-long series on Women in Design – check out our previous feature on Professor Veena Sahajwalla and her sustainable solutions!