Mickey Lee - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia



Chinese designer

Education: Graduated in commercial and industrial design from Hong Kong Polytechnic, 1973, interior design from Leeds Polytechnic, England, 1976, and advanced fashion and illustration, St. Martin's School of Art and Design, London, 1977. Career: Fashion designer for various Hong Kong garment manufacturers, 1978-83; established own design studio, mainly providing fashions and illustration for promotional projects, 1983; fashion consultant, then head of design and merchandise, Hwa Kay Thai Development Company for Puma; graphic and interior designer of Puma boutiques; director/fashion consultant of own company, Highmax International Ltd.; launched fashion and lifestyle product range for young people, Living Basic. Address: Highmax International Ltd., 13/F Zoroastrian Building, 101 Leighton Road, Hong Kong.

Publications

On LEE:

Articles

"The Puma Suede," in the New York Times, 21 February 1993.

"Doyle Swaps Sneaker Accounts," in the New York Times, 29 April 1994.

"Puma AG: Pretax Profit is Reported for Year's First Five Months," in the Wall Street Journal, 21 June 1994.

McAllister, Bob, "Can Hollywood Raise Puma's U.S. Growl?" in Footwear News, 2 December 1996.

Lefton, Terry, "Puma Nears Four-Year NBA Deal; Reborn Browns Ink McD's and BK," in Brandweek, 31 May 1999.

Carr, Debra, "To The Max: Athletic Companies are Taking Sporty Design to the Next Level," in Footwear News, 31 July 2000.

"Closing In," in Footwear News, 20 November 2000.

Feitelberg, Rosemary, "Labels Try the Training Game," in WWD, 22March 2001.

***

In 1983, Hwa Kay Thai (Hong Kong) Ltd. bought the design and merchandising licence for Puma Hong Kong from its Herzogenaurach, Germany-based parent company, Puma AG Rudolph Dassler Sport. Mickey Lee was employed as their design consultant and so began a design success story. The business has expanded geographically to encompass Thailand, Singapore, and China, and the product range has developed likewise. Lee has taken Puma from basic sportswear into a complete range of leisurewear and accessories. He created the concept of a healthy and energetic lifestyle especially, for Hong Kong young people. "Live the Puma life," is the slogan catching on with Hong Kong's younger generation.

Lee became director, in charge of the design of the products, merchandising, and even the window displays of the Puma shops, with five assistants at his beck and call. For the greater part of his time with the company, he did most of the designing, consisting of two annual fashion collections and an accessory collection, plus promotional materials. Lee spearheaded the creation of a market-orientated image very different from Puma AG's original vision. Germany now controls only the quality of the workmanship and influences technological aspects, like the composition of sports shoes.

From the original tracksuits and swimsuits, Puma's clothing range grew to include jeans and other forms of leisurewear. The clothes are medium priced and mass-market, functional, but enlivened with fashion details and up-to-date cutting. The original bags gave way to lively accessories suited to the particular demands of Hong Kong. Backpacks and weekend bags in bright colors or sensible black are much in demand in a place where people tend to go away for short trips, such as nearby Macau or China. Around 80 percent of Puma's merchandise is for men; black and white are the staple colors, with sprinklings of seasonal color trends. The image is masculine and sporty, and the womenswear aims to project a feminine but equally healthy look. Lee pays attention to international design directions but does not consciously follow trends; his strongest inspiration comes from Japan, whose young people provide style models for Hong Kong.

Puma offers a totally coordinated image—everything relates. The garments and accessories have their own color scheme, characterized by brights. The first Puma boutiques were opened in Hong Kong, and there one experiences the full impact of Lee's total design image. In addition to the clothing design and store decor, he was also responsible for the promotion and publicity materials. Television commercials and brochures have an annual theme; set in faraway locations such as Kenya, Egypt, or Moscow, they are exciting and create an impact.

Lee has complete artistic control; his varied background, in graphic, interior, and fashion design has served Puma well. He credits himself with developing the swimsuit, jeans, and accessory ranges, but this is underplaying his influence. He has increased the company's profits by creating a lively design image. It has proved just right for its target market, but is strong enough to be equally successful further afield.

Due to the ever-prevailing influences of Lee, Puma has made great strides in capturing more of the global footwear and activewear trade. Although not as popular in the U.S. as the company is abroad, Puma has been moving in the fast lane of the athleticwear market. In 1996 film producer Arnon Milchan supplied investment capital to help place Puma into the mainstream athletic footwear scene via Hollywood connections. The producer of such well known films as Free Willy, JFK, and A Time to Kill, Milchan had the power to help boost Puma's sales in America.

In 1998, with a quarter stake of Logo Athletic clothing, Puma leapt into the licensed sports clothing market. The "jumping cat" logo of Puma progressed as far as the NBA courts and the NFL, stepping in where their predecessor, Starter, had failed (Starter declared bankruptcy in 1999, providing a golden opportunity for the Lee-enhanced Puma image). In addition, Puma sponsored sports camps and clinics targeted at young male and female athletes, and signed high-profile athletes, including tennis star Serena Williams, to endorse its products.

With their NBA move, Puma began competing with its rival German brand, Adidas (owned by the brother of Puma AG's CEO Rudolf Dassler), and was instantly catapulted into the U.S. retail limelight. Puma opened two concept stores in California, the first in Santa Monica and the second in San Francisco, to great success. The company also began offering signature collections and limited editions, entrenching itself as a staple of footwear and apparel suppliers. Puma continues to be known for the quality, comfort, and durability of its products; even its up-to-date lacing systems are in keeping with the fashionable quest for the perfect all-terrain shoe. Thanks to the innovative contributions of a modest designer, Mickey Lee, Puma regained its status as not only a Western and European phenomenon but also as a global contender in the athleticwear arena.

—Hazel Clark;

updated by Sandra Schroeder

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