THE ALCHEMY OF INFLUENCE
c.2013 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — The ABC’s — American-born Chinese — pack a punch in New York fashion. Phillip Lim, who offered his first 3.1 Phillip Lim collection in 2005, was raised in California. With his business partner, Wen Zhou, the designer has built a successful business here.
He is part of American fashion’s Asian wave, which includes Thakoon Panichgul, born (as Lim was) in Thailand; Peter Som, whose father moved to the United States from a Chinese village; and Jason Wu from Taipei.
The roster also includes Derek Lam, of Chinese-American parents; Alexander Wang; and Humberto Leon, whose mother was Chinese, and Carol Lim, of Korean ancestry.
Q. Phillip Lim, do you feel Asian? And if so, what does that mean?
A. Yes, I feel very Asian and have a strong connection and respect for my cultural background and upbringing. I think I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But, ultimately, what does “feeling Asian” feel like? For me, it’s just me. It is who I am and what I know. I strongly believe that we are the sum of all parts — not exclusive to where we were born, but informed by everything around us during the journey of growing up. Each of us is absolutely unique. We all have our own ways of doing things. We just happen to be of Asian origin living in America.
Q. How did you achieve success internationally? In the way you design? Finding the right business partner in Wen Zhou? Is it your personality? Your skills?
A. I think it is the alchemy of a lot of parts, like a recipe, the right measurements of each. One simply doesn’t exist without the other. In the time that we live in, it isn’t enough to be just creative. You have to have the right infrastructure and support to have your message heard. As a designer, you have to understand what it is to be international. It’s not just about distance or location or about where you have traveled. It’s also about the experience and being exposed to the world. Ultimately, the industry is not as segmented as it may have been in the past. It is now, more than ever, a global marketplace. So your point of view has to be connected.
Q. Wen Zhou, is there an “Asian” style? Or is it just a coincidence that a lot of designers building brands in America have Asian parents or grandparents?
A. Our brand philosophy for designing is not for a specific cultural style. It’s never too literal. The collections have always aimed to evolve for our global customers, the global citizen.
Q. Has the growth of the Phillip Lim business been primarily in the United States and then across the world? Or has development in Asia been a crucial factor? If so, how many points of sale are there in Asia? And compared with Europe or other countries outside the United States?
A. The United States was our springboard to the rest of the world, and it continues to be our largest market by volume, with European business strong and growing steadily. Especially now, with the success of our accessories collection, it has given us more flexibility to build and grow.
Asia has certainly been feeding this fire of growth, but there is still tremendous potential there. The market is still very much maturing. We are aiming to work with this market in a controlled manner, not oversaturating it.