EXCLUSIVE: Phillip Lim on Being Ephemeral, Elegant, and Exploratory

Phillip Lim may have launched his now globally successful line at age 31 (hence 3.1 Phillip Lim as the brand name) but to hear him tell it, his start as a designer came much younger. “It all started when I was four, and very cognizant of just clothes,” the designer tells Gilt StyleFile. Coming from a seamstress mother who was a Chinese immigrant and a professional poker player father, the first generation American grew up in Southern California with expectations of fulfilling the American dream and becoming “a doctor, lawyer, maybe a businessman.” Who knew all those years ago in Orange County that Phillip Lim would indeed grow up to be such a successful entrepreneur, producing over ten collections a year for men and women, with stores scattered in cities all over the globe including NYC, Seoul, Tokyo, and yes, Los Angeles?

But it’s still only the beginning for the creative force as he enters the seventh year of his brand and plans the next phase of his business. “I am 38 now and I still feel very exploratory,” Lim says. “So I think in the next five years it’s along the same lines of exploring what we’ve done, and refining it and improving it and establishing it more.” But even as Lim defines a global brand, he continues to defy easy labeling, sliding between highly coveted pieces like his 31 Hour Bag and comic book-inspired Fall 2012 collection (more on that later). And, it turns out, it’s intentional that Lim avoids the easy monikers that press is so often willing to give young designers. “There’s a whole school of tricksters, this whole philosophy of doing things that people can’t catch and label. I like that… I’m still learning about what my tagline is.”

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One thing Lim does know is that he’s committed to expanding the line organically and only making the things that feel right to him. So, don’t hold your breath for a flurry of licensing efforts. “I love Ralph Lauren, I think he’s a genius, but my name is Phillip Lim, not Ralph Lauren. I think he’s a genius and, what he’s done — I appreciate it so much, but everyone has their own way. I will only do things I’m interested in.” Pointing to his own personal passion for it, jewelry is the next area the designer plans to conquer.

Considering that the designer’s approach to accessories is so specific, one can only wonder what Phillip Lim jewelry would look like. “We approach accessories almost like a car company would approach a car; the way Apple would approach a computer. Let’s say top there are three priorities: The aesthetic, the quality, and the function. I dislike vanity that is empty. If you are going to be beautiful, have a reason to be beautiful. If you’re going to be a bag, be a bag, and hold things and work with the person.”

In addition to grace, elegance and a sense of functionality, all of Lim’s designs have an element of wit to them. And this Fall 2012 season, he took things one step further with designs that featured comic book-like graphics splashed all over sweaters, tees and bags. To accompany the collection, he selected a female Marvel Comics artist to bring his vision and original love story (based on two real people in his life who will remain a secret to the rest of us) to life in a neo-noir comic called “Kill the Night.” With the heroine dressed exclusively in the Fall collection looks, Lim even incorporated personal details, such as his dog, Oliver, who appears in cells of the book. He explains, “It was important to capture the gracefulness of the clothes but at the same time elude to the idea of super heroines and super heroes in everyday form which is clothes, that’s your cloak, that’s your cape.” You can pre-order your copy of the comic now on 31PhillipLim.com, and you can start shopping the 3.1 Phillip Lim sale on Gilt.com starting at noon ET on September 11.

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