Ten years is a lifetime and a half in the volatile world of luxury fashion, and no one has mastered the art of riding the wave like Phillip Lim with his eponymously titled 3.1 Phillip Lim collection. (For those wondering, 3.1 refers to Lim’s age, minus the decimal point, when he launched his line.) Older, wiser, and still committed to an optimistically youthful aesthetic, Lim has learned much in his decade as one of the most celebrated young designers in America. One of those lessons hangs framed on the wall of his Hamptons home: “Never Look Back.”
Skipping right over the “fabulous” and “fierce” camps of fashion that frequently dominate runway conversations, Lim’s understated aesthetic has enabled him to avoid of-the-moment trends over the years and focus on what he instinctively knows women want: Clothes that are at once effortless and elegant, feminine and frank, chic without fuss.
Lim was born in Thailand to Chinese immigrant parents; the family fled to Southern California to escape the Cambodian Civil War. A graduate of California State University at Long Beach, Lim’s early introduction to design came from his mother, who found work as a seamstress in Los Angeles after the family arrived in America. Despite his parents’ attempts to guide him toward a more secure profession, Lim was hooked on fabrics, colors, and shapes and pursued his dreams of fashion.
Setting out to create pieces that accentuate a woman’s natural beauty rather than alter it, Lim works as deftly with knits as he does with silk, always with an eye on fit. It’s an aesthetic that resonates: First Lady Michelle Obama has donned his dresses for multiple official occasions, while countless celebrities have hit the red carpet carrying one of his covetable bags. Lim’s Soleil, Pashli and ALIX bags have such diehard fans that they have dedicated entire websites to their existence. His appreciation for organic style extends beyond fashion. Lim once said that if he wasn’t a designer, he’d work as a florist or become a botanist. “I love the idea of nurturing something beautiful,” he told The New York Times in 2010. The Window spoke with Lim about the inspirations behind his collections and about his fashionable life.
The Window: You are in the midst of celebrating 10 years of 3.1 Phillip Lim. With hindsight, is there anything you would change?
Phillip Lim: The last 10 years have flown by! This may sound surprising, but there isn’t anything that I would do differently. I don’t spend too much time looking back or lamenting the past. I am more interested in the future and moving forward. Even the mistakes or the hurdles that seemed impossible at the time paved the way for us to be where we are today.
What three words best describe your design philosophy right now?
Cool, easy, and chic.
And what about the core of your brand—what is that makes it so successful?
We are always looking to break the mold and to do things outside of the box. It’s essential to have a global citizen mindset so that we can recognize what the customer needs or wants. And we focus on hiring people who are creative, fun, smart, and hardworking.
Where do you find inspiration for your collections?
This may sound quite simple, but I get inspiration from everywhere. The minute I step outside my door in Soho, I am in sensory overdrive. It might be a sound, scent, building or light that sparks an idea. I always say that—like success—inspiration is not linear.
Does music inspire you?
What I listen to changes depending on the collection. I try to get into character through music. Right now, I am listening to atmospheric music like the French band, Air.
The ALIX bag features unique hardware. What was your thinking behind the design?
This relates back to finding inspiration everywhere I look. The ‘ALIX’ group was actually inspired by items spread across my desk—office supplies! My design approach is grounded in pragmatism and function. It’s all about romancing reality.
Which pieces from your pre-spring collection do you see becoming wardrobe staples?
I love the versatility of the shirting group from Pre-Spring. A shirt or a shirt dress can transition in your wardrobe so effortlessly, depending on mood and personality. The shirt dress with the cut-out in the back was styled backward in our lookbook for a sexy peak-a-boo front. Anya Ziourova wore the dress to our show with a striped men’s shirt underneath, adding layers and her own personal style. It’s important to me that the 3.1 Phillip Lim woman makes each piece her own.
Looking forward, you call your Spring ’16 collection a “stop and smell the flowers” moment. How have you articulated this idea in the clothes?
“Stop and smell the flowers” was not meant to be too literal! Everyone asked how I wanted to celebrate the 10-year anniversary, and I realized I wanted to slow down and take in the moment. I am very proud of the global business we have built, and I didn’t want the anniversary to fly by without enjoying it. In terms of the collection, we wanted to celebrate the brand’s DNA—clothes that embody youthful elegance and that can take you from day to night, week to weekend. For the set of the Spring 2016 show, we worked with artist Maya Lin to create a sculptural installation made entirely of soil—the foundation of life. In the end, the models became the flowers.
You’re a busy guy—free time is at a premium. How do you like to spend it?
I recently discovered cooking! It always seemed so laborious and easier just to order in. But I am finding it therapeutic and creative. It’s even seeping into our company culture. My design team and I just went to a cooking class, and I am having different teams over to my home for group dinners. Cooking is like designing—it makes me happy to see people smile.
As someone who travels often, what are three essentials you pack to make yourself at home wherever you go?
A robe from home to create comfort and ease. A small pot of potpourri from Santa Maria Novella, as it makes a room feel cozy and familiar in a matter of minutes. And one of my favorite silk scarves—it keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter!
Complete the following sentences. In my own closet, the item I cannot survive without is…
A navy cashmere tuxedo.
In my refrigerator, I always have…
Almond milk and ginger.
My idea of a relaxing evening is…
Watching mindless TV for about an hour, followed by reading.
At the top of my bucket list is…
At some point, I would like to take a year sabbatical and donate my time to help people.
And lastly, one thing you might be surprised to know about me is….
I am more simple than it seems.