By mid April, Phillip Lim had been “hunkering down” in his New York apartment for one month and had that thought: I have nothing to wear. This is a designer who has run his own business, 3.1 Phillip Lim, for 15 years; it’s fair to assume his wardrobe is well stocked. It isn’t that he was lacking great clothes; it’s just that they didn’t feel relevant to his dramatically different life. What do you wear to comfortably work from home for weeks on end, other than sweats? What about for the two-hour walks we’ve been taking to preserve our sanity? Or the myriad activities that have moved outdoors, like dining, drinking, socializing, even catching a movie?
Lim felt compelled to design a collection for this moment, not the far-off future. Fashion’s standard cycle of predicting what we’ll be in the mood for six months from now felt newly archaic. “What am I going to wear just to get through the day and be ready to move?” he says. “I didn’t want to live in sweatpants or pajamas. I needed something adaptable.”
On his coffee table, he started sketching what is now “Live Free,” a new direct-to-consumer capsule of comfortable, durable, and highly considered essentials for men and women: boxy T-shirts, relaxed blazers, split-hem trousers, weightless parkas. Lim calls it “at-leisure,” a play on athleisure, the key difference being that you wouldn’t actually exercise in these clothes. There’s a pair of leggings, but they’re for “running around,” not marathon training; they’re comfier than your vintage jeans, but sturdier and more like “real pants” than your spandex tights. “They’re wardrobe building blocks that are made for living,” he says. “This was created in the present to allow us to be in the present and feel a sense of freedom.”
With sweat-wicking fabrics and performance details like bonded seams and scuba zippers, the clothes nod to the functionality of sport, but retain the attitude and edge of ready-to-wear. “We used materials that had a real substance to them, so they wouldn’t feel flimsy and could cut a silhouette,” Lim adds. “At-leisure has to blur that line. You can’t deny the influence of athleisure right now, because it’s comfortable and highly functional—that’s what it’s made for. But my point of view is that you don’t want to live in that.”
Make no mistake: Function is central to Lim’s new line. In fact, these might be the most functional garments you buy: Lim partnered with Fuze Biotech to treat every piece with a water-based solution that fights bacteria, keeps you cool, wicks moisture, and reduces odor. Unlike chemical processes, Fuze is misted over fabrics and finished garments alike, and sinks into fibers rather than sitting on top. It also isn’t a new technology; it simply wasn’t on fashion’s radar until now, and is mainly used in medical and industrial settings. “Bringing that to ready-to-wear felt really refreshing,” Lim says. “My biggest job right now is to give my audience something that addresses their needs. Fuze adds a layer of protection, and it doesn’t compromise the quality of the fabric or craft. It just makes everything more functional and purposeful for the times we’re living in.”
Lim is among a small number of designers who have joined the conversation around high-tech, health-conscious clothes. Given the relentless spread of the pandemic—and general concerns about future viruses and diseases—you’d think more designers would be calling up Fuze or its like-minded peers. Perhaps some are struggling with the perceived disconnect between fashion’s human, tactile qualities and the coldness of Big Tech. Or they’re worried a treatment like Fuze might affect the feel or finish of a fabric. Lim says that isn’t the case; it’s invisible and lasts up to 100 washes (though Fuze also enables you to wash your clothes less frequently, an eco-friendly bonus).
Lim is eager to make “Live Free” accessible, keeping in mind that his customer may be spending less on fashion right now. Since the collection is available exclusively on his website and in his stores, the prices are nearly half of what they’d be in a retailer, starting at $30 for a face mask and topping out at $575. That coincides with a larger shift in Lim’s business model, with fewer wholesale partners and a bigger emphasis on direct-to-consumer sales. “Direct-to-consumer allows us to manage common sense,” he adds. “In the past, we delivered winter in the summer, and summer in the winter. With this collection, we aren’t beholden to the [old-fashioned] calendar.”
On that note, the first capsule launches November 10 to “lay the foundation” for additional collections to come in December and January. Mark your calendar and shop it next week on 31philliplim.com.