Founder of the well-publicized yet still underground rotating party named Dances of Vice, Shien Lee is quite the stunning beauty with the blackest of hair styled with severe bangs, a svelte model frame and the most fabulous clothes. People flock to her ever-changing themed parties including a vintage circus and a 1950s prom, to see and be seen. We were finally able to pin her down for a photo shoot and interview, as she is now juggling motherhood and a recently launched cosmetics line named Shien Cosmetics. Collage photos courtesy of Shien Lee.
PONYBOY: What is your background?
SHIEN LEE: I was born in Taiwan and raised in Honolulu and Prague. I studied in Montreal for several years before moving to New York in 2007, and it’s been home ever since.
PONYBOY: How did you get started in New York City nightlife?
SHIEN LEE: When I arrived in New York City, I didn’t know a soul. I wanted to connect with other creative personalities and decided to throw a 1920s-themed party on the second floor of a seedy strip club in the financial district. Over one hundred people showed up that sweltering summer night in 2007 and since then I’ve met some of the most important people in my life through my events.
PONYBOY: And your Dances Of Vice parties have done quite well. How did that all come about?
SHIEN LEE: It’s been over seven years since that night, and I’m fortunate to enjoy the support of an amazing community of performers, scene makers, and revelers. I wanted to create a venue where lovers of anachronism, elegance and surrealism could meet other like minds and celebrate art, beauty, and rebellion.
PONYBOY: What are your thoughts of New York City nightlife at the moment?
SHIEN LEE: We’re all familiar with the great history of NYC nightlife, and I feel like there are still many great innovators, both existing and new, who are making waves. People who bemoan the “good old days” probably just got old because if they aren’t happy with how things are, they should contribute to the scene by supporting good events or creating their own events.
PONYBOY: What are some past parties that others have done that have influenced you into throwing events?
SHIEN LEE: As a goth girl at heart, I always loved dressing up and going through various fashion phases from wearing Victorian mourning attire to sporting a crazy deathrock style. Since age 16, I loved going to the Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig and participating in the gothic pageantry that ranged from glam Rococo to fetish. When I was 17, I attended an amazing 1920s drag event in LA called Bricktops, which left a deep impression on my young mind. It had a dark edge, and the attendees were all quite bizarre – I loved it. I loved how the atmosphere of such events had the power to unite people in a shared passion for fantasy and unusual beauty. It’s a powerful thing and that is what drives my work.
PONYBOY: Your esthetic for Dances of Vice Parties is really stupendous. Tell us more about that.
SHIEN LEE: I’m inspired by movies, music, and history. But mostly, I’m inspired by the amazing performers and artists I have the opportunity to work with. They really fuel my ideas behind the events. When I hear a band I love or see a performance that dazzles, my first thought is, “I want —no, need— to share this with other people!” I guess that’s what being a producer is about. As for aesthetics, well, “beauty elevates the soul”, as they say. We want to leave the mediocre and mundane, the harsh realities behind.
PONYBOY: You recently started a cosmetics line. Was that something you always wanted to do?
SHIEN LEE: My cosmetics line, Shien Cosmetics, was inspired by my difficulty in finding matte lipsticks that didn’t dry out my lips and would flatter my yellow skin tone. But it also came from my love of creating new worlds for people to step into and participate in. Producing the story behind the branding, the photoshoots, and lipsticks was similar to the creative process that goes into producing my events. I call the ladies who use my lipsticks “Viper Women” because I want ladies to feel powerful and sexy in my makeup.
PONYBOY: You also had a child recently.
SHIEN LEE: Yes, being a mom is amazing! My baby Damon is my new boss.
PONYBOY: How do you find the time to juggle all of these things?
SHIEN LEE: I don’t know. It really seemed like it would be impossible, but somehow you make time for the things you love. I had to sacrifice a lot, but having a child really made me rethink my priorities, and my business has been doing even better because of it. I am truly grateful.
PONYBOY: And what’s next for you?
SHIEN LEE: Oh God, I’m just trying to keep up with everything I have going on right now. I’m trying to take time to enjoy life a bit more instead of working all the time. I need to find a balance.