Creatives in Confinement: Winnie Lee
Words Britta Burger Photography Winnie Lee
In this new series, ALSO talks to creative women around the world during the current COVID-19 global pandemic on how their output has changed, coping strategies for isolation and their hopes for the future.
Originally from London, Winnie Lee went from fashion designer to self-taught baker, content creator and cake artist. She currently lives in Luxembourg where she is in lockdown with her family.
How are you getting on in isolation?
I’m surviving. I don’t really have the patience for home schooling! I just jump to the creative stuff. But Luxembourg people seem to be pretty sensible, they abide to the rules. People from neighbouring countries don’t come in anymore either, you noticed that straight away, streets were pretty much empty from day one of lockdown, it’s so small here. I’m looking forward to Easter, although the parks are closed, everything is shut, but maybe we can go for a walk.
Or bake Easter cakes?
Yes, I make cakes and people come and collect them. I kind of drop the cake off for them at my front door and wave at them, quite bizarre. They stand two metres away, we have a quick chat and I realise how I’ve not been talking to anyone face to face for ages. Just to my family. We’ve been saying we need to social distance from our family after all this!
Do you feel less stressed knowing everyone is in the same situation?
We’re all home and entertain each other with silly videos, laughing about how we’re really not coping, drinking more, getting fat. It’s a good way not to take it so seriously.
How is it going creatively?
I’ve been trying to create a cake every day, now it’s more like every other day. It was very hard at the beginning, trying to think creatively, with all the chaos, with everyone in the house, the children, who are quite demanding and hungry every 20 minutes, my husband, you can’t think clearly.
Do you feel under pressure to be more creative now that there is supposedly so much time?
There’s this expectation to create even more. I spent two days scraping everything off that I’d put on a cake, I didn’t like it, didn’t like the colour, it was wrong. I kept starting over again until it was too late to post it online. It sounds weird but I need the house to be empty to be creative, and I barely have a moment to myself right now, I don’t have the luxury of time. On the other hand I don’t work in fashion anymore, the baking is more fun, more relaxed. I feel less judged, you hardly get negative reviews.
So what’s the baking community like in times of crisis?
We’ve come up with lots of international collaborations, fun things. There’s an initiative where we recycle cakes, because ingredients are not quite as plentiful at the moment. So the different cakes you see on Instagram are all the same cake, we scoop off the old decoration and re-decorate them. You can even reuse the frosting, you just keep colouring it darker, people are all coming up with recycling ideas, and we help each other. I even decorated a pineapple can the other day.
Wow, you have to send me a photo of that.
Some bakers and cake designers wouldn’t be so happy about giving away this secret! But yes, there are lots of fun, positive cakes, “stay home” ones, joyful little things. It really helps the creative process and keeps the morale up.
“I need the house to be empty to be creative, and I barely have a moment to myself right now, I don’t have the luxury of time.”
Sounds very frugal, like wartime baking.
I used to use so many eggs, so many ingredients, but I don’t anymore. I don’t want to have to go shopping too much at the moment. And I’m not a bakery, so not every cake is for customers. It makes total sense to work this way, saves money, less waste.
Have you ever thought about going back to fashion?
A lot of my friends in fashion have been laid off, the industry is getting tougher and tougher, also with Brexit. I miss the travelling, but I’m less superficial now, I just want to be comfortable. The cakes still relate to fashion, you research in the same way, it’s the same creative process, you have to know your technique, the colours, the mishmash of different things, but all on a cake. Making cakes is more pleasurable and you can eat them after.
Winnie’s frosted pineapple tin