International Women's Day

In Living Color: J.Cricket’s Jimin Lee Translates A Life From Manila to Milan Through Fashion

Photograph by Sangmi An

J. Cricket founder and designer Jimin Lee was inspired by a childhood spent in the Philippines, and every color in between.

Jimin Lee appears in Vogue Philippines’ March 2024 issue, themed “Raising Hope” in the spirit of International Women’s Month. Visit everyday this month for daily features on inspiring women, as nominated by the people whose lives they’ve changed.

If Jimin Lee traced the trajectory of her life from Manila to Milan, she would find it dotted with color. Her earliest memory, for one, is of green; born in Korea, she moved to the Philippines at age seven, immediately immersed in this “very lush, very kind of idyllic” landscape. She smiles, “As a child, you don’t know what’s going on beyond all the greens, right?”

Growing up in Manila, her most vivid memories are of the outdoors. “There was just a lot of playing in the sun, playing in the field, and going to the beach. And so, I deem those my colorful years.”

An entrepreneur-slash-designer, Jimin has spent most of her life trekking the world over, leading multiple high-end retail concepts in New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. But, in spirit, she feels she’s never left Manila. “I have to say,” she says, “it’s that part of life when we express a lot of ourselves before experience and, you know, other things that start to distract us from who we used to be.”

She spoke to Vogue Philippines from the Milano main office of her latest venture, the brand she founded in 2017: J. Cricket, a bespoke wardrobe series made from deadstock fabric. Within the bright, open space, green is everywhere, from the cuffs of her relaxed Pepto Bismol-hued sweater to the verdant linoleum flooring that extends throughout the space.

Photograph by Alessandro Lo Piccolo

Jimin’s early years were “always infused with a lot of art.” She was always making things with her hands, she says, but kept an equal footing in art and academics. And it showed; she held the “Best in French” superlative, but also “Best Dressed.”

“I guess I always had this thing about clothing,” she recounts. Those were the fundamental years, marked by her back-and-forth trips to the local seamstress to select fabrics and have clothes made, honing her grasp on color while she was at it.

She attributes her ability to use a colorful palette as a designer to the way things were in the Philippines, describing it as a sort of “creative spirit” of the environment and its people. She keeps this “creative spirit” with her to this day; it was with her when she went on to study in New York, and when she forayed into the world of fashion business after that. “Everywhere I went, whether I was in a job or creating my own idea to create a company, there was always this idea of being able to make things.”

When Jimin arrived in China in 2003, she says there was virtually “no fashion” in Shanghai and Beijing, so she built luxury retail from the ground up. “I was always looking at new brands, going to the fairs, going to all the fashion weeks, and I did not have the courage to think that I could actually make something, and to what end,” she says. “Until I started to think about, “Wait a minute, if I were to make something, I would only want to make what I don’t see.”

For Jimin, diving headfirst into this “purpose-driven project” would lead her to a fully-fledged creative pursuit. “I would love to just go and dig into all those rolls of fabric that are lying around, you know, in the mills or with the designers,” she recounts. “I was always able to design when I saw a piece of fabric, so I said, “Let that be the way I create.”

Named after the talking cricket in Pinocchio (“Jiminy” was the nickname assigned to her by close friends and family), J. Cricket is “something that in some ways expresses my idea of what fashion and clothing could be. I really thought that it was important to create beauty but with both innovation and a sense of consciousness and responsibility behind it.”

Photograph by Arianna Angelini

Jimin connects it back to her brand’s name. “This cricket is actually the conscience of Pinocchio, right?” she says with a smile.

If Manila was the breeding ground for creativity, Milan was the “seat of creation.” It’s where she sources the leftover fabric and works with small laboratories to give her pieces an “artisanal feeling” to their finish. “I also find that this place gives me a whole, you know, access to colors and the Mediterranean spirit that comes out alive,” she says.

Working with the remnants of the fashion industry, the pieces in each wardrobe are unique by design. It only adds more to the appeal, “being able to have something that is not defined by label, but defined by you.” This is the very thought behind J. Cricket: “Just really [looking] at the clothing and the importance of the fabric, the color, the energy, the vibration—all the other intangible things that make us kind of, you know, look at clothing as a very important tool,” she expounds. “Not just self-expression, but as just a way of being.”

While Jimin’s clients come from all parts of the world to visit their showroom Muse House in Milan, this year, she plans on bringing the J. Cricket Experience to different cities around the globe: to New York, Los Angeles, and Paris, and this March, to Manila. The traveling wardrobe series is a set of 80 essential pieces, plus some additions catered to the environment they’re for; the Manila set will come with a lot of cotton, cotton voile, and poplin across Jimin’s signature as-seen-in-nature color palette. “Something for everybody,” she smiles. But as much as her designs are for the everywoman, they’re also for herself, inspired by the colors she’s seen in the places that mark her life.

“I always said that having a local infusion of creativity that we carry within us,” she says, “we find ways to express it in every new place.” For her, that latest expression is J. Cricket. “It’s very much based on the colors of me.”

By appointment only, J. Cricket will be available from March 15 to 17, 2024, exclusively at Homme et Femme at 8 Rockwell, Makati.

Vogue Philippines: March 2024 Issue

More From Vogue

Share now on:
FacebookXEmailCopy Link