fashion / interview

Bags fit for a spy

Words and photos by Aimee Han, special thanks to Kiki for modelling.

When I meet Annie Lee at her apartment, she opens the door but it’s her daughter who greets me first. She lets out a few cheeky giggles as she makes a swiping motion with her hands mid-air. I wave back and ask “How are you?”, momentarily forgetting that she is just a toddler. I am surprised when she says, “Good!” and dances out of sight. Hair tied in a neat bun and smiling from ear to ear, Lee greets me before explaining she has to make a quick dash to a photographer’s studio. On our way out, she gives me the lowdown on how she ended up in Hong Kong. Lee grew up in Canada but went on to work in Korea, where she met her now husband, before the pair decided to settle permanently in Hong Kong. As we hail a cab, she makes it known that she is “slightly awkward”. I promise to out-awkward her so she will feel more comfortable.

Mata Hari, Lee’s bag label, began in 2009– “the name came about at a friend’s suggestion, and I instantly fell in love with it,” she says. Named after a spy of the same name, Lee was attracted to the glamourous but dangerous undertones it held. “Plus, she [Mata Hari] is a dancer, someone I could relate to. I have been dancing since I was very young and choreographing since I was 14.”

Having had no prior design experience, Lee began the label out of interest and as a way to collaborate with different people. “Certain clothes may look better on one person compared to another, but a bag will look as good on one woman as on the super model next to you; everyone has one,” she explains.”Every season there will be certain people I work with to design the bags. I love what different people and their ideas can bring to a finished product.” Some of these collaborators include fashion icon Hilary Tsui, and singer/actress Josie Ho.

Drawn in by the palettes and structures of the items in her up and coming A/W12 collection, I ask her whether Hong Kong inspires her. “Of course! I love going to Sham Shui Po. I can spend one day looking at beads and another at tassels– there’s everything!” she says. Stocked all over the world, it’s the emphasis on collaboration that sets Mata Hari apart. From bold scallop shaped clutches to functional tote bags, Lee seems to have covered all the bases with flare and unique constructs.

Asked whether she’d like to venture into fashion and other accessories, she hesitates, then a smile forms, “eventually,” she says shyly. Unsure of whether that was a hint or the first of many considerations, I ask if she has any advice when it comes to entering the design industry. “Do what you want and love, but whatever you do, work hard,” she answers with assurance.