Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Gracing Stylo

THIS is one man that apparently never stops working. After the press conference was over, Ben de Lisi was seen checking out the furniture and the drapes outside the function room.

The New York-born designer has been based in London since 1982 and involved in fashion for 27 years. de Lisi has been showing at the London Fashion Week since 1995 and in recent times, Paris as well.

CEO of Lewre International, Lewre Lew (left), and designer Ben de Lisi at Stylo KL fashion event. They are looking to launch the de Lisi label in Kuala Lumpur.

So what’s furnishing got to do with the man who dressed Kate Winslet for Oscar night? Plenty, as journalists covering the Stylo KL Fashion Event discovered.

de Lisi confessed that he’s a slave to the business and that includes interior design concepts. He has done projects for residential projects and hotels, and has a line of bathroom and kitchen furnishings as well as a diffusion line of limited home furnishing with British department store Debenhams.

The world may know de Lisi for his glamorous, elegant and uncluttered clothes, especially his stunning eveningwear. And that explains why he was in Kuala Lumpur recently.

He presented his Autumn/Winter 2008/09 collection fresh from the runways of Paris and London last week at the Stylo event. His clothes were showcased together with designs by Lewré, Malaysia’s footwear success story, whom he is collaborating with for a footwear project.

It was a real treat for Malaysian fashionistas as he’s never shown his line in East Asia before. While some critics say he’s predictable, his designs are always visually pleasing and certainly wearable.

So how do you define a Ben de Lisi woman?

“She doesn’t use a private plane to travel. She’s a woman who lives life on the right side of dangerous,” commented de Lisi.

Aside from Winslet, his clientele includes Hollywood celebrities like Anjelica Houston and Rachel Weisz to European royalty.

So what brings the man to our “muddy estuary”, which doesn’t quite qualify as a fashion capital (not yet, anyway)?

“I’ve known Lewré (Lew Fong Voon, CEO of Lewré International Sdn Bhd) for about five years now and we have worked together for London Fashion Week. There is a keen sense of fashion in KL and people are well dressed. We’re looking at launching the label here. And I haven’t been to the East for such a long time,” explained de Lisi.

He expressed surprise at how polished and slick the Stylo events were. de Lisi added that even though he didn’t come with expectations, there were thoughts that it might turn out to be parochial.

He said that there are three categories of designers in London and he falls into the last group – the established. Perhaps, after being at it for so long, some of the appeal of being a designer has worn off.

When asked to rate his favourite area of work which he’s involved in currently, he cited being a designer as third, with the interior business coming in second.

“I’m not jaded but it’s just that it’s something that I’ve been doing for so long. I still love clothes. But I love doing TV, as it is up close and personal, and it’s about you helping a future designer,” said de Lisi.

And by TV he meant his role as mentor and judge in Project Catwalk, the British equivalent of Project Runway.

“I was in Rio (de Janeiro) recently for a holiday recently. I normally go to South America for inspiration. I was in a club and two Canadians approached me and asked if I was the guy from Catwalk. Imagine being on another continent and someone from Canada knowing who you are. That’s quite a thrill.”

A journalist asked de Lisi for his opinion on the Stylo shows of the previous day. He was quite fair in dishing out the good with the bad and the ugly – from the creative way of infusing local culture into the fashion to the long overdrawn walk by the models and the irritating incessant drumming.

There’s never a constant in fashion. As model/TV host Heidi Klum loves to say every week on Project Runway, it’s a case of one day you’re in, the next you’re out. With this credo in mind, kudos to de Lisi for spreading his wings.