Hong Kong influencer and stylist Justine Lee works with the likes of Chanel, Jimmy Choo and FarFetch, and is soon launching a shoe design with Italian label Ilio Smeraldo. She gives us the lowdown on digital reach, power dressing and her own stylistic evolution
In conversation with influencer & Stylist Justine Lee –
How and why did you get into fashion?
Justine Lee: I’ve always loved fashion and ever since I was old enough to buy my own clothes, the shopping process was always a considered one for me – I’d pay attention to designs, colours and fits. I realised in high school that there were special programmes and schools you could go to to get into fashion, and that’s ultimately what I did. I attended Parsons School of Design and interned at brands, retailers and magazines to gain experience, which ultimately propelled me into the industry when I graduated.
You were working mostly as a stylist and fashion editor while you were also transitioning into becoming an influencer…
Jusntine Lee: To be honest, I still am quite unsure whether I can be considered as a proper influencer – it’s not something I feel like I can put on my business card! I understand how it’s a proper full-time profession for some people, but I guess my path to becoming an influential voice on social media was rather accidental. I was a freelance stylist then worked for several years as a fashion director at a magazine in Hong Kong, and it was during my time at the magazine that Instagram really took off. I was fortunate enough to be travelling to fashion weeks, attending events and exclusive brand launches – and my account gave a glimpse into that world and people were curious. I’ve always loved fashion and would photograph things I was wearing, things I liked, and I guess people wanted to see that too. Developing content for my IG and working with brands on it is something I do on a regular basis, and I guess I’m lucky I get to do a bit of everything. I style shoots, I write, I consult and I do personal shopping – every day is different!
How would you describe the evolution of your own style?
Justine Lee: In my teens and early twenties it was about exploration – I’d try different things and see what stuck. Mid- to late-twenties was about fine-tuning that. Now I’m in my thirties I have a definitive idea of what I like and how I want to put myself together. At the same time, I feel like I enjoy taking a risk every now and then with my style – I don’t second-guess myself; I’m comfortable in my own skin.
This issue has a Power theme. How does one project power in a wardrobe?
Justine Lee: I know I’ll probably sound like a broken record, but power is what you exude from the inside, and the clothes just amplify it. You can dress in a sleek power suit or the most feminine sundress – it’s the confidence in your clothes and being comfortable in your own skin that conveys the power. For me, I can tell the difference between when I’m having an “on” day or an “off” day, and that can be dependent on what I wear that day. My friends and I joke about having “A-game” outfits – those are looks that you just feel good in and when you know you’re looking your best.
What’s your own definition of power dressing and what are your go-to outfits for this?
Justine Lee: For me, it starts with a strong jacket, be it a blazer, a tweed jacket or a leather biker. I’m not sure how or when I got so into blazers, but I do remember my first “fancy” one – it was from Dior Homme in the Hedi Slimane era, and I still wear it regularly. I feel the best in a jacket-and-trouser/jean look – and there’s no doubt about it, which is likely the reason why I gravitate towards brands like Chanel and Saint Laurent. Putting on a Chanel tweed jacket makes me feel polished, no matter what I’m wearing inside or on the bottom – even if I’m in ripped-jean shorts. I also love the way Anthony Vaccarello cuts jackets and styles them at Saint Laurent: it’s strong and sexy, but there’s an unapologetic tone to it, like, “Take it or leave it.”
What’s the key to making engaging content for your audience on social media?
Keeping true to your own voice and having a sense of humour.
Is it style, connections, demographics, brand support, engagement or number of followers that gives you power on social media these days?
I’d probably say it’s a fine balance of all of the above, and it may differ from person to person. But I tend to stay focussed on things I can control – producing content that I feel is engaging, working with brands that I like and respect, and sharing things that I like.
Do you see enough support for the Asian community from fashion brands in light of recent movements such as #StopAsianHate?
While I think it’s important to amplify movements like #StopAsianHate and #BlackLivesMatter, what’s more important is that the fashion brands put their words into action. I admire brands that take a stand, but also are actively doing something to help.
You’re used to flying around the world for events and fashion weeks. As this has stopped, what do you miss about that old lifestyle – and fashion weeks in particular?
I miss experiencing fashion shows in real life – everything about them, from feeling the energy of the crowds outside the shows to seeing the show sets. I miss sitting down at a show, chatting with my neighbours (usually press from overseas) and eagerly waiting for the first exit when the lights go down and the music goes up. I miss being in the venue, being one of the very first people to see the clothes come down the runway. While brands have certainly quickly adapted to creating digital shows, there’s just no way to package that entire experience on a screen … But that said, I definitely don’t miss the packing part for fashion weeks and trips.
Which items are always in your handbag?
Just like everyone else, first things first – my iPhone, which I rarely leave home without. Other than that, my wallet, AirPods Pro, hand sanitiser (Grown Alchemist makes the best one – it doesn’t dry out your skin, though it gets a little sticky after a few uses), lip balm (I rotate between the one from Hermès, La Bouche Rouge and Augustinus Bader – all great, just depends on my mood), a pair of sunglasses, Supergoop (Re)Setting Mineral Powder with SPF, and usually a protein bar – good to have with me so I’m not tempted to get something unhealthy while I’m out.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
It’s a toss-up between flying and being able to breathe underwater, but I’m leaning towards flying. I love the idea of not being bound to land and the freedom of being able to go anywhere, especially in times like these.
Where can we find you, when you’re not doing “fashion stuff”?
Usually at home, at a friend’s place, on trails or by the beach with my dog, Rhea. Or at the gym. This past year has made me realise the importance of carving out time to be outdoors in nature and staying active – both are really important for my wellbeing.
Where are you looking forward to travelling once we can?
Depends if it’s summer or winter. I suppose Bali or somewhere tropical if it’s summer and Niseko for winter.
Where and how do you shop these days?
Shopping on screen, whether it’s a desktop, apps or via WhatsApp with store staff. I work a lot with clothes and fashion day-to-day, so I generally try to avoid shopping in stores when I have some down time. To say that I’m an avid app shopper would be a bit of an understatement – I get everything from clothes and skincare to pet food online. I like to shop in boutiques or stores when I’m travelling, but I haven’t left Hong Kong in more than a year.
What would you say makes you a powerful woman?
Confidence and independence.