It’s not the Amanda Lew Kee I know—not that I know her, really—bowing shyly at the end of her fourth runway show (well, at LG Fashion Week, her third). Where’s the neon-blue lipstick and corresponding attitude? Where are her gargantuan heels? Is she wearing leggings?
You feel me, I presume, if you were one of the thousand guests at last season’s hypeful show; it took place in a prime timeslot in the runway room, by far the larger of LGFW’s two show spaces. Lew Kee, all fierce in black, black, black, walked the whole long catwalk to massive applause. Then came the reviews: she tried too many different things; she didn’t sew enough; her fabrics were more like ugly Christmas paper. The reactions were harsh (for Toronto, a.k.a. baby-soft for New York) but not unfair; she had set the bar high, demanded attention. When she got it, she didn’t want it.
So this season, Lew Kee showed in the modest mid-day, in the studio room, the smaller of the two spaces. She didn’t make a lot of noise about it. And she hand-picked just 75 guests, sending each one macarons: a sweet, smart move for a girl who first made her name designing gothy-pretty stuff and skulking around expensive parties.
The clothes are sweeter and smarter, too. For spring, Lew Kee’s pulled a fundamental switch, replacing expensive leathers and embellishment with printed neoprene and silk chiffon. The fabrics are less expensive; the value comes from the print, which is custom: geometric, a bit Rorschach-y, inspired by Manhattan cityscapes. On the one hand, come on—Manhattan? On the other, they’re good, these bright almost-blurs of gemmy greens and blues. If only they were used in ways more sophisticated than a teensy racerback dress, the zipper exposed like it’s 2009, or a long panel seemingly glued onto a plain jersey maxi. A floaty oxford was good, and I think the tees could make her some money, though I’m less clear on the crinkled maxiskirts she showed them with; they remind me of being homeschooled.
Lew Kee’s also gone a bit sportif, pairing every look with sleek oxfords and green perspex visors—like the recent Marc by Marc Jacobs show in New York, or the Givenchy Resort show before that. (Sorry, but I hate when local designers, or their stylists, rip details right off the last big time runway show. Guys. We have the internet. We saw what you did there.) Her custom prints and signature zippy details meshed well with the more athletic influences, the boxy cheerleader pleats and scuba tops. And she did a few good looks all in tennis-white, including a pair of cleverly reversed shorts, sheer oversize pockets on the outside.
So the problem wasn’t, this time, Lew Kee’s focus. It was that she could not be bothered to sew her samples to even second-year fashion school standards. Silk chiffon seams pulled awkwardly, while zippers bulged and rippled down the backs of otherwise fluid, almost-billowy strapless maxis. These were so uniformly un-fitting that I began almost to wonder if she were doing it on purpose, in a sort of Japanese anti-aesthetic way. But while Lew Kee is talented, and possessed of good instincts, I would put that past her.