Phillip Lim

Five years ago, he was relatively unknown. Now everyone in fashion wants to know what’s next for Phillip Lim

At 31, fashion designer Phillip Lim was already something of a success, through his LA-based studio, Development. Prior to Development, Lim had worked as a design assistant to the acclaimed Katayone Adeli. Then, almost immediately after his debut women’s wear presentation in New York for 3.1 Phillip Lim, he was a star.

Since then, he’s won numerous awards, such as a 2007 CFDA recognition for Emerging Talent in Women’s Wear. These days, Lim’s now-ness is unquestionable. He’s the rare designer with restraint enough to let a garment be itself, real and beautiful; yet he finds the right design string to pull that turns a garment into something more than just the sum of its parts. Even more rare, Lim’s designs bridge the gap between walking down the street and the cover of Vogue. And he has expanded to men’s, children’s, accessories and sunglasses, available at more than 250 outlets in 26 countries plus a flagship in NYC.

What’s your earliest memory of wanting to make clothes or become a fashion designer?
I never equated the love of clothes with being a fashion designer. In fact, being a fashion designer was not in my universe, it was only about how clothes made me feel and the potential I saw in changing the clothes I owned. I can remember as early as 8 years old, picking out my own clothes, asking my mother to alter the clothes I had, and the passion I felt when I would have the perfect outfit.

What personal quality are you most proud of?
My passion for living life and taking chances.

Describe a professional setback or failure in terms of how it may have shaped a later success.
Prior to creating 3.1 Phillip Lim, I founded another company called Development, which was based in Los Angeles. It was the ending of my tenure there, due to creative differences with my former partners. I think if these conflicts where not present, I would have never come to NYC to start 3.1 Phillip Lim.

Which fashion designers (current or historical) do you most admire? Why?
I really admire Dries Van Noten. He has been around for over a decade. Yet, I feel as if he is just beginning, and getting better and better. It’s like a fine wine, better and more relevant with time.

Looking back to your premiere of 3.1 Phillip Lim, at what point did you realize the collection was a real success?
Shortly after the debut of my collection, I recall one day walking past the Barney’s New York flagship on Madison Avenue, standing in front and staring at the store—front windows dedicated to 3.1 Phillip Lim. It was a surreal experience.

Can you explain how you manage duel roles as a designer with the daily concerns of a business owner?
It’s a difficult balance. Most times, I feel schizophrenic from having to do the both, but I see no other option. I try to have objective views on both sides, and there are days that I hate being the other, but it all gets better with time and practice. Luckily for me, I have a partner in crime, and most of my focus now is on the creative side. But it’s impossible to separate the both because they are interdependent of each other.

Between high fashion and daily wear, how do you account for both in your designs?
My motto is this, “one for you, two for me.” It is often a difficult balance that has to be struck, to make design successful. I look at each idea and ask: What is the purpose of this? What am I trying to convey? Is it intended for everyone? Or only the few? Etc. And, from there, it is a game of adding and subtracting… One for you, two for me!

What is the difference between an artist and a designer? How are they similar?
The difference: An artist works with abstract ideas that are left to interpretation. A designer works abstract ideas into a tangible, functional medium. Artists and designers are similar in the fact that part of our jobs is to dream.

-Michael Cohen

This reading is by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Phillip Lim

1. There is extremely strong intuition shown here which is coupled with a baseline of practicality, leading to great success in life. (Their definition of success, not anyone else’s.) That combination will help them get what they really want.

2. A person of delicate sensibilities and strong passions. The exotic and strange will appeal strongly to their eyes and their heart.

3. Passionate and very loyal in love—not just romantic love, but all sorts of love. Will tend to be serially monogamous and very devoted to their dog!

4. Basically sane, with just enough quirks to make them interesting.

5. Physically vigorous with vigor increasing through their 20’s and early 30’s, becoming greatest in the middle years. This vigor will last throughout their life and however it ends, will be painless.

6. A good, strong sense of self and able to respect both themselves and others.

7. Fond of the idea of travel—much more so than the actuality of it. The idea of exploring foreign places fascinates them, but the reality and nitty-gritty of travel will not appeal.

8. Their career will be self-chosen—knows what it is from fairly early on in life and follow it for as long as it interests them.