Photo: Filippo Fior / Gorunway.com

Phillip Lim was holding back tears before his show. It’s been four years since he put his collection on a New York runway, and his return had him feeling emotional. The pandemic was especially hard on independent brands like 3.1, but Lim persevered. He came to be one of American fashion’s most outspoken voices about the rising tide of anti-Asian violence during COVID. Fashionwise, he pivoted for a time to the kind of homewear we were all sporting during the lockdown, scaled back his ready-to-wear collections, and thought hard about what makes his brand unique. He grew up in California, but it’s 3.1’s New York bona fides that he opted to emphasize over the past couple of seasons. Awkwafina and Sherry Cola were in the front row wearing 3.1 sweatshirts that splice the brand logo with NYC landmarks.

Today’s show was a chance to double down on 3.1’s New York–iness and Lim’s Asian American identity while reacquainting the fashion crowd with what he’s good at: American sportswear with a twist. It came in the form of smart, extra-wide-leg khakis and denim jackets cut in unconventional ways; in breezy scarf dresses whose graphic patterns were inspired by NYC architectural details; and in pajama sets studded playfully with crystals. It was also there in Lim’s nod to the omnipresence of workout gear on the streets; his leggings are cropped below the knee, with a deep folded-over waistline that elevates them above the gym.

The surprise was in the abundance of full-length dresses. As a contemporary designer, eveningwear is a category that Lim has never really emphasized, but the options that came down the runway demonstrated that he has an interesting point of view on the subject. Whether in black gauze ruched through the bodice or a lush floral print that faded out north of the hem, there was nothing stuffy or uptight about his special-occasion dresses. That goes for the whole collection. Watching some of this week’s shows, it’s been hard to see the connection between what’s coming down the runway and real life, which can leave you feeling cold. Lim doesn’t have that problem. It’s good to have him back.

This article was originally published on Vogue Runway.

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