July 27th, 2015

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Vibrant, emotion-packed color? We applaud. Creative use of public space? We rejoice. Here at PUBLIC you can be sure that if someone or something is making an statement with color in a clever and impactful way we take notice. Those reasons made it inevitable that our paths should cross with architect, designer and fashion maven, Monling Lee — who creates vivid, color blocking photography in and around her hometown city of Washington DC.

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We discovered Monling Lee when we came across this article “Washington DC: Discover Under The Radar Public Spaces With Fashion Maven Monling Lee“. Monling generously said yes to an interview and we jumped at the chance to pick her brain about all things color and design related.

PUBLIC: As an architectural/urban designer you are constantly called upon to come up with new ideas and solutions for creative problems. Where do you find inspiration?

Monling: As an architectural and urban designer, I am constantly looking towards the built environment and the myriad ways citizens engage with it for inspiration. Take Washington, D.C., a city where I reside, for instance. It is a city full of well-known historic monuments and French-inspired public spaces that often have an overtly formal connotation that discourages informal uses. The recent injection of a younger demographic to the District however, brings about a demand for social third spaces and a renewed energy to historic spaces that have previously been off-limits to contemporary interpretations. One extremely successful reuse of a historic space that is currently ongoing is the National Building Museum’s Great Hall during its annual summer installation. The Beach, this summer’s installation designed by New York firm Snarkitecture, prompts thousands of diverse visitors every day to engage with this revered and often intimidating space in an unexpectedly gleeful way, which has been a joy to witness.

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PUBLIC: Your website, colorindex.us is overflowing with the most vibrant, color-blocked photography. Clearly, color and fashion are important to you. What inspires your color choices?

Monling: COLORINDEX is a means to explore and catalog the intersection of two of my interests—fashion and the built environment—through a highly colorful lens. The series began as an exercise on Instagram in 2012, as an informal visual blog capturing what I wear and what I see. Color combinations were selected from various color reference guides in the beginning, from which I would then match pieces from my wardrobe and moments in the built environment. With the launch of the website in late 2014, the production process has gradually evolved to require more effort in planning and execution. The process of developing color combinations, however, has become less clinical and more intuitive. Anything can prompt the beginning of a color story, including seasons, narrative angles, a beloved piece of clothing, or a newly discovered space.

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PUBLIC: You’re a pro at creating tableaus of colors. How do you come up with your color compositions on COLORINDEX? Do you start with an inspiring setting? Or an outfit?

Monling: The beginning of a color story can be inspired by anything that I find compelling for the project: a particularly interesting moment in an urban landscape, a fun piece of clothing in a vibrant hue, or more likely, the partnering product being featured. While the starting points are usually more direct and intuitive, developing the compositions requires more careful study by going through a mental and digital catalog of colorful spaces in the city, consulting various color guides when necessary, and sketching out various looks and scenes until the desired color balance is achieved.

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PUBLIC: What’s your favorite color at the moment?

Monling: I have always had an affinity towards very bright colors, and usually would set one highly saturated color against three or four other colors of equal strength to maximize their combined visual effects. Like wearing a superhero costume, my mood can be instantly lifted when wearing an exceptionally colorful outfit. Lately though, I have come to find seasonal and foliage changes in DC streets to be great sources of inspiration, and have started to appreciate quieter colors for their subtlety and range. Colors like dusty rose, light blue, sage, or pale yellow are great neutral alternatives for they still retain very specific color personalities even when saturation levels are dialed way back.

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PUBLIC: Out of all our bikes, you selected the PUBLIC C7 in Limited Edition Peach. What drew you to that color?

Monling: PUBLIC C7 comes in many fresh and delicious colors, but selecting the Limited Edition Peach was a quick choice. I have always favored variations on the color orange, which is a brilliant hue that is also fairly gender-neutral. The Limited Edition Peach, however, has a bit of pink understone, making it just slightly more feminine and a great color for summer!

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PUBLIC: Any upcoming projects/partnerships you are excited about?

Monling: It has been really great working with and getting to know companies with compelling and compatible products such as PUBLIC. Going forward, I will continue to collaborate with both small and established apparel and accessories brands in this current editorial photography format. While I love to create visual narratives through color stories, my longer term goal is to collaborate with brands as early as the product design and development stages. After all, I am a designer by training and trade!

2 Responses to “Color Story: Interview With Monling Lee”

  1. Hmm

    Nice story and all (and beautiful bike!), but is she actually going to ride that bike or just use it as an accessory to her clothes.

    I know when I buy a bike, I just want to walk around with it and look cool.

    • Nicole Faraclas

      Hi John, the bike is hers and we hope she rides it everywhere!