Provocative, utilitarian and deliciously modern: that’s how I would describe fashion designer Phillip Lim’s creations. He’s the kind of artist that stays true to his own vision, despite what’s going on around him. Phillip naturally bucks the trends, toils in his own world and continues producing some of the most enticing fashion of today.
I love the way he’s mastered the clean line, with a touch of femininity mixed with subtle androgyny. Vogue Magazine calls his clothes “pretty but cool” and Lady Gaga practically worships the designer at the alter of performance, donning his creations in concert or posing for the paparazzi in one of her many lavish, custom-made, Lim outfits.
He’s also a model’s wet dream. At least, the kind of model I used to be. My glory days of giving good face started during fashion’s heroin chic phase; a look that meant you were lanky with narrow hips, pale with dark circles under your eyes. You had to be built like a boy, but waify enough to be considered a svelte woman. The most important part of that modeling trend was mastering the mad, moody, quasi-vacant, hungry expression (pictured in the blog.)
Laugh all you want, or say mean-spirited things about that time-frame in fashion, but the cold hard fact is, that look ruled the roost during the mid 90’s and I made a lot of money looking disheveled (despite being personally well-kept.) Phillip’s style is reminiscent of those raw, gorgeously gritty days, but he’s somehow managed to evolve the look, making it better, even more beautiful. The street term for his fashion is called: “Quirky Cool.” For me, it’s fresh and fierce. His style, success and business acumen is no surprise.
He was born in Thailand to Chinese parents, who fled to Cambodia and soon found themselves in the grip of a civil war. His family relocated (I’m assuming with tenacity) to Southern California, where his mother worked as a seamstress and his father a professional poker player. Phillip settled into life in the suburbs, where his mom taught him how to sew and his dad educated him on how to become a shrewd businessman.
He would go onto college and get a job at “Barney’s” in Orange County, where he would discover clothing made by Katayone Adeli, a young, independent fashion designer with a cult following. She was known for her impeccable cut and sophisticated lines, especially her body-skimming trousers (a similar version of the pant is pictured in the blog. It’s a tradition that Lim himself has carried on.)
Phillip, who had no tangible design experience, phoned the Adeli company and asked for an internship. He talked his way into a design assistant position. Things quickly progressed from there and by 2004, he went “Out on a Lim (with fashionable Phillip)” by launching his first collection. It was a splash; actually, that’s an understatement. The fashion world praised him and celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Kate Hudson became immediate fans and muses.
With that success, Phillip expanded his line by introducing clothing for men and kids and also opened his first retail store (naming it after his first collection, 3.1). He made his smartest move to date in 2013, once again going “Out on a Lim (with fashionable Phillip)” in collaboration with “Target,” to bring his high style to the everyday person. It made him a household name and a bonafide fashion rockstar in all things celebrity and in our social media-obsessed world.
Now, although it seems he would be on cruise control, Lim still travels the country, promoting his clothing and his shop and shop stores, including the one in Saks Fifth Avenue, Bal Harbour. I recently caught up with him on South Beach at the Raleigh Hotel, where Saks was hosting a party in his honor and celebrating the opening of his shop in its store.
Shireen Sandoval: What is the most interesting place you’ve gotten inspiration from?
Phillip Lim: In an elevator!
PL: Yes, I was in a very old building in the Design District (in New York City) once, some of these buildings are so beautiful, they’re like relics from the past and I looked at the veining and the brass treatments and it became part of the trim in one of my collections.
SS: How do you think social media has changed the face of fashion?
PL: That’s a hard one. I mean, it’s made everything so much more immediate. It’s interesting because when I started as a designer it was a time when you were behind-the-scenes and now with social media, you have to be out in front. It’s hard for me, but at the same time it’s very liberating.
SS: The Miami woman really only dresses for one season, maybe two, but how can she do that well?
PL: If I lived here, I would only dress for one season, too. I think just keeping your clothing light and easy. If it’s Winter just make it about color, but still keep the materials light. That way, you at least have a mood change through color only.
SS: What surprises you most about being a famous designer and a household name?
PL: To be honest, I still get really surprised when people come up to me and ask if they can take a picture. It’s something I just never get used to. I live a very normal life and when someone taps me on the shoulder and says: “Hi, Mr. Lim, can I have a picture?” (laughs) I tell them: “Yes, and call me Phillip!”
SS: Where do you see yourself in the future; Will you ever retire from fashion designing or branch-out into other forms of it?
PL: I love what I do. I am so fortunate. I mean, how many people can say they dream of something the night before and then get up and make it happen. Literally, I can make my dreams happen everyday.
And he has. Phillip continues to be a leader of the fashion pack (although I truly feel those aren’t his intentions.) He just oozes creativity and continues bettering himself one gorgeous garment at a time. He continues to go “Out on a Lim (with fashionable Phillip)” and I can’t wait to see what he designs next. That’s why he’s one of my favorite things.
Have a fashionable idea?
photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Editor: Matthew Auerbach