“It’s like retraining for the fashion Olympics,” Phillip Lim says, 10 days ahead of his spring-summer 2024 show—and his return to the New York Fashion Week runways.

After a four-year hiatus, Lim and his team feel like “novices again,” he tells Vanity Fair, breaking out into a giddy smile, over Zoom. “It’s a good feeling because it’s a renewed sense of this naivete that hopefully results in something that could be interesting…”

Rewind to December 2019, when the designer decided to jump off the grueling hamster wheel. In January 2020, Lim told WWD he needed a break from the runway “to think about the act of joyful creation again, not just the hustle.” Instead, Lim threw an intimate fall 2020 presentation at his Great Jones Street store and opened the doors of the traditionally exclusive industry event to the public.

Shaking his head, he admits he didn’t realize the breather would last through 12 more collections. Granted, no one expected a global pandemic, which would compel a social reckoning at home, with the Black Lives Matter marches in summer 2020 and rise in anti-Asian hate, emboldened by the racist and xenophobic rhetoric of the Trump White House.

“At that time period, the idea of ‘what’s the next hemline?’ felt like the last thing you should think about,” Lim says, taking an inward look at what he, as an independent fashion designer with a significant following, could do for the community at-large.

By Xin Wang.

“You could, A: Choose to just sit, dwell, and cry,” he continues. “Or, B: You could actually wake up and see what was happening all around you and figure out how you use creativity, and your platform, to participate. I felt like I had to choose the latter.”

Lim continued to present his collections at his flagship as he further explored the brand’s core values of community and diversity. In the ongoing quest to lessen waste and impact, Lim and brand president and CEO Wen Zhou streamlined the collections (resort 2021 featured 16 looks, down from the previous season’s 33), while exploring and growing sustainable practices, like working with closed-loop manufacturers, and increasing use of recycled fabrics.

He also threw himself into an ongoing series of projects supporting AAPI and vulnerable communities in his brand’s birthplace of New York City. Lim helped raise $7 million for the AAPI Community fund and grew his 2019 cookbook, More Than Our Bellies, into a food-focused hub, with part of the merch sales going toward fighting food insecurity.

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