For creative director and producer Grace Lee, her new Mercedes GLE350 is more than a car, it's an extension of her larger-than-life persona.
It's the first cool autumn day in New York, her hometown, and as we drive in the spacious Palladium Grey SUV, sunlight flows in through the panoramic roof. Street signs and traffic lights pulse brightly and disappear as the car speeds through the city, forming a kind of visual symphony.
It's no surprise then that in her day to day hustle, music grounds her to a sense of purpose. Lee spent a large portion of her childhood traversing Korea's suburbs, farmlands, and urban centres, and constructed her sense of home through sound, observing and recording its nuances. That interest evolved into her life's passion. After moving back to New York, Lee studied at the most prestigious music schools including Juilliard and New York University's Clive Davis programme. She worked her way up the ladder at Def Jam, Warner Music Group, Interscope Records, and Downtown Music before finding herself producing for some of the most important names in the business.
While under the guidance of male mentors, Lee observed there was a need for more exposure of inspiring women in the music industry, and a framework through which female musicians could support one another. Today she is in the process of building her own company, Liaison Femme, an international collective of creative women, soon to be an agency and global festival. “I wanted to empower youth and empower women who were already pulling up their sleeves in the industry. I want to be an incubator for the artists can have equal opportunities and get the respect they deserve. I curate a lot of incoming clients from fashion to corporate brands that are looking to have women artists that can be a marriage of cross-branding.“
Her newest business partner, the spacious 2016 GLE350 4MATIC, has been guiding her through Liaison Femme's early formation for the past few months, taking her from studios to appointments, and during weekends, on road trips with friends. In a way, the speed and expansive interior of the car reflect her ambitiousness: Lee balances her wide-ranging talents and projects effortlessly, and she's only accelerating. With 302 horsepower and 273 pounds of torque,
Everything I own physically has to have a marriage to my energy. The car had to meet my own standards, from technology to aesthetics.
As we drive, she adjusts the ambient lighting in the GLE to a glowing blue. It's one of her favourite features, allowing her to completely immerse herself in a personally curated sensory experience. “The visual and emotional language of the car connected with me. How you drive on the road is how I feel you are in life. When I drive even a block or two down the street I feel like I belong to my own city. The car reflects the artistic and architectural influence of my upbringing in New York.“
It's not only the city that has a nostalgic pull for Lee, but the car itself. As we wind through the streets, she explains how her parents met thanks to her father's custom burgundy Mercedes 450SL with hand-stitched leather, which he not-so-subtly used to woo her mother. “Out of all the cars he had, he always would show up with that car to court my mom. He would wait for her in it outside her classroom.“ To this day, she associates her existence with the suave 1980's sedan.
If that car somehow brought her into the world, today, her GLE350 4MATIC sustains her existence - and in more ways than one. Still a new owner, she marvels over the Surround View System with an aerial perspective of the car transmitted to her over the multifunction display while parking, the Collision Prevention System which stops the car before it approaches danger, and equally important to Lee - the premium sound system which she keeps in constant use. Her love for the car's technical capabilities reveals the same curiosity and enthusiasm undergirding her creative practice. 'The way that I work with artists, read their energy on a project and get to know their craft is how I feel interacting with the car. Every time I get in the car and drive, I feel like I'm going on a date with this new vehicle. Who are you? Show me what you've got!''
What's in her trunk?
Lee always carries a book of Pablo Neruda poems and another of Aristotle's philosophies, a matchbox from her favourite haunt--The Bowery Hotel, her beloved guitar, and journals to sketch out her ideas.