I made Phillip Lim cry.
Backstage ahead of his show on Bowery, which would be his first New York Fashion Week runway in four years, I said, “Welcome back!” and saw his eyes well up with tears. I must have looked concerned, because he grabbed my shoulder and reassured me, “No! This is a good thing!”
Describing himself as a “ball of emotions,” Lim told me these weren’t his first tears of the evening. “I literally have been crying at every turn,” he said. “But I think it shows my feelings of being so happy and proud to be back at this moment because it feels right. The collection is here!”
He motioned to the board of looks to his right, and my eyes were drawn to one toward the end, a sleeveless sweatshirt hoodie with NY written in bold black print, covered with the word Lover in white script. The model was wearing a khaki skirt with slits that revealed knee-high black leather boots, and her earrings were hoops so large, they nestled into the hood of her sweatshirt. It was the kind of look I think of when I imagine the quintessential New York uniform: so casual, it’s intimidating. The smartest dressers of the city put together looks like this every day.
“This time, the collection is set with intention of who we are today, showing in Chinatown, opening with a string of Asian models,” he continued, before pointing to their feet on the board. “Even the Chinese slippers! That is a testament to our elders who built this land, who built these grounds. And bringing the community together!”
Similar slippers can now be seen all over the Lower East Side, worn by longtime residents and Zoomers alike. It is one of those constants of this ever-changing city; in any era, you’ll always see a pair walking the streets of Orchard and Mulberry. In an attempt to design an ode to the city, Lim went looking for these kinds of unofficial New York symbols.
Lim’s models wore their transparent Chinese-inspired ballet slippers with transparent layers adorned with reflective embroidery along the legs and spine. “These transparencies are meant to express a sense of vulnerability,” he said. But he also showed workwear and plenty of khakis, because as he put it, while New Yorkers love to party, they also like to get to work.
Perhaps the most New York look of all was an all-black ensemble of high-waisted trousers and transparent opera gloves, worn with a bra top with an attached cascading set of ruffles. It’s a party on top with business at the bottom—an ode to a town that’s dedicated to both.
His return to the calendar was met with excitement, much like Ralph Lauren’s. Sitting next to me at the show was model and designer Armando Cabral, who has worked with Lim for years and now considers him a friend. As we watched guests walk in, he said, “I think we needed this!” He was referring to the city as we, with the sense of kinship most residents do.
Lim got emotional again backstage when I asked him about his connection to the city. “The brand was born in New York. New York birthed us. New York raised us. New York times taught us big lessons. This is an eternal ode to this place—New York!—the capital of a world! It’s impossible to try to contain New York in the spirit—anything could inspire the feeling of New York. Throughout the run of the show, I hope that people will identify and claim their own version of the New York uniform.”
As for what he thinks about the never-ending chatter about New York Fashion Week, Lim said, “There’s so many talks about ‘Where has New York gone? It disappeared!’ But we’re here. We were never supposed to be Paris. We’re never supposed to be London! We’re not supposed to be Milan! We’re supposed to be in New York. With grit, heart, and that roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do attitude.”
When he came out to take his bow, nearly everyone in the audience stood up to welcome Lim back with loud whistles, hoots, and foot stomps. Clearly New York is just as excited about getting dressed as it’s always been.
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