Average read time: 5 minutes.
Amid the lush loungewear, sensuous silk, and gorgeous garments that comprise American luxury menswear brand, Lee Rickie Collection’s Instagram feed, the all too familiar silhouette of Table Mountain’s Devil’s Peak catches my eye. California-hailing Lee Rickie, owner, and designer of the brand, flashes me a dazzling smile and jumps straight into telling me about his trip to South Africa. “I feel like Cape Town gave me the vacation that I needed. It was very chilled, very slow. But you know you can still find your turn-up areas which I loved. And we did a shoot in Cape Town, and the dunes were just breathtaking. Nothing like I have ever seen before”, he describes with excitement.
“Joburg was the party, the life that I needed, it was more the city, more upbeat, faster. I’m used to that because I live in the city”, he continues before adding, “But it’s interesting because Amapiano is really big in California right now. So, when I went out, it was just like this is a dream, an unbelievable experience. And I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s time. So, I just went by myself. And of course, I met up with a lot of people out there. But it really was an amazing trip”, he recalls, completely inspired by his travels.
I comment that, between the Amapiano, the Joburg jolling and the Indlovu Fly kimono that he named after the Zulu word for elephant, I’m impressed by his complete immersion in black South African culture, something which he explains, as an African American, was really important to him.
There is very little information online about the enigmatic man behind the brand, so he encourages me to pry. I’m curious about his childhood, and he indulges me with a colourful memory. “I was the kid that always wore cowboy boots everywhere. And now that I think about it, I liked to hear that click, click, click when I was walking”, he laughs, “I was always expressing myself through some type of fashion”.
Rickie explains how denim was an anathema, how he exclusively wore dress pants throughout high school, and how seeing his mother dressing up to go out on occasion stands out vividly in his memory, her influence subsequently inspiring a sense of androgyny in his LRC designs. “That whole aesthetic of women’s wear is definitely infused into the collections but done in a way that’s not too… flamboyant. But you still get that softness mixed with the hard”, Rickie reasons. His smile momentarily fades as he confesses that his parents didn’t really know what to do with his love for expression through fashion, and how he had to learn how to push forward without their support but assures me that they finally understand the genius of his creative expression.
While Rickie completed a year-long course in Visual Merchandising, most of his education happened outside the classroom. He explains his journey, “My aunt really taught me how to sew. And then I remember all these different people, like my neighbour, feeding me different information about fashion design, which helped develop my skill for it. And so, before I started the online store, I was making everything myself until I couldn’t handle the orders anymore and I had to hire sewers”.
We talk about turning art into a business, and he shares the epiphany moment when something clicked in his mind. “At first, I was just doing fashion shows because I thought I was doing what designers should be doing… and then someone said, ‘You know, if you actually had something for us to buy, you could make this a real business’. When he said that, I realised that all I was receiving from these fashion shows were claps, and that isn’t enough to sustain a business”. Rickie subsequently launched LRC and the e-commerce store, six years ago, and hasn’t looked back nor done a fashion show since — all to focus on building the brand and the e-commerce site. “So actually, when the Pandemic started, I had designer friends who kind of dipped, but I stayed above it because I’ve been focusing on e-commerce and everybody was already buying my clothing online. So, I’m grateful for that because the business didn’t stop for me”.
In six years, Rickie has built LRC into a powerful brand and dressed stars like Mary J. Blige, P. Diddy, and Tituss Burgess. He has carefully refined his creative expression, redefined luxury menswear, and proven, time and again, that aesthetics and comfort do not have to be mutually exclusive. And, having recently launched his Vanguard LRC F/W 21/22 collection on the 21st of November 2021, I wonder how, if his collection could talk, it would introduce itself.
He laughs as he concludes, on the perfect note, “It would say, ‘Hello, I’m luxury. I’m here and I’m effortless. I’m high-end. I am a moment. I am the moment for the season. It’s all the things. And definitely a relaxed luxury collection”.
Bopha 3-piece Knit Pant set – Photographer & Creative director: @philly_mohlala, Production assistant: @boitu_motang, Model: @raykwaz
Adiwele Knit Pant Set – Photographer & Creative Director: @tonybeephoto, Models: @danielralphofficial & @kylekleiboeker
Rosebank Pant Set – Photographer & Creative Director: @tonybeephoto, Models: @danielralphofficial & @kylekleiboeker
Jozi Poncho: Photographer & Creative Director: @philly_mohlala, Model: @raykwaz
Pavarotti Sport Jacket: Photographer & Creative Director: @tonybeephoto, Models: @danielralphofficial & @kylekleiboeker