Exclusive Interview: The Boys Behind 3.1 Phillip Lim Menswear

by Graham Hamilton · April 19, 2011

The CFDA honors the cream of the crop in fashion design once a year at their annual Fashion Awards. Among the pool of fiercely talented nominees are Sammy Kim and Wayne Fitzell of 3.1 Phillip Lim for Best Menswear. The guys sat down with us to talk about dressing Darren Aronofsky, their secret project in Palm Springs and more.

What did you have for breakfast?

Wayne Fitzell: Coffee.

Sammy Kim: I had cake. (laughs)

Wayne Fitzell: …and no cigarettes.

Sammy Kim: …and tea, no coffee.

How did you get into fashion?

S: I took night classes while I was working in the science world. I took a nude art class and a fashion art class.

W: What’s a nude art class?

S: Like life drawing, the fashion teacher said, ‘oh you like this stuff’ and I said, ‘yeah I do.’

Were you going back and forth between art and fashion?

S: Yeah, I wanted to see if it was more of a hobby or like if it was a real profession that I could do, like ‘let me see if I can make a career out of it.’ Then I applied to Parsons and got in and I said, ‘oh this is the life changing sign.’ So I just did it and moved out here.

[Some of the boys' creations, 3.1 Phillip Lim menswear]

So what did you do before this? What did you major in at school and where were you working?

S: I majored in cognitive science which is the study of the brain. Then I was interning in sales at 3.1 Phillip Lim and Phillip took a chance on me and I got a job.

W: He already has.

W: (sings Twilight Zone theme song)

S: Yeah, I can read your mind.

Then the menswear launched and were put in charge of it?

S: It launched and I’ve been here ever since then, for four, almost five years.

Wayne, how did you get here?

W: It’s from all those days when I used to dress up Barbie dolls.

S: That explains the lilac t-shirts.

W: No, I studied product design because I liked making things and kind of being creative but I wasn’t very artistic.

Could you both talk about the creative process at Phillip Lim?

S: The identity of the company is what differentiates 3.1 from other companies. It's that we try to provide designer appeal at a contemporary price, that’s a big difference. Within this company the biggest difference is the size of the collection also the size of the teams, it's Wayne and I that work on the men’s, where as the women’s has a much larger staff. As far as how we begin, the creative process is very organic. Sometimes we influence the womenswear and sometimes they influence our collection, it has that organic relationship. We definitely use separate color stories, silhouettes, and inspirations but there are seeds that we share because we have the same creative director [Phillip Lim].

[Sammy Kim shows off the latest collection of 3.1 Phillip Lim in their New York showroom]

How do you start a season, you sit down with Phillip and you talk about art, sometimes a place or story?

S: Last season we started of with one image of a girl carrying this beaded backpack, it was the first image we got from Phillip. What we took from it was, not necessarily everything from the collection was beaded, that would be obvious, but that it was going to be something that was very artisanal, very crafty. Actually, what we ended up with was very minimal and sleek so it doesn’t necessarily mean our first image reflects what we end up with but that there is a long journey involved with many different concepts and inspirations which we pull from.

Did you work on the Kanye West “Runaway” video?

S: We actually worked with someone more recently. We dressed someone for the Oscars, Darren Aronofsky, who is the director for Black Swan.

W: He won a lot of best suit awards at the Oscars too.

S: Yes, he got a lot of notice from his peers and the media. Yeah, we were really excited about that because neither the womens or mens had ever dressed anyone for the Oscars with a high profile like that...

W: Someone who was so of the moment.

S: We had a great working relationship with him.

[Darren Aronofsky in 3.1 Phillip Lim tux, via]

What are you doing now, what's next?

W: We are making a video for men’s for the spring collection.

About what?

W: We can't tell you. (laughs) But I can tell tell you its in Palm Springs.

S: Oh we are forgetting the biggest thing Wayne. We have been nominated for the CFDA awards...

W: Drum roll. (drum rolls)

S: We are up for the best menswear Swarovski Award. It's based on the fall collection we just made, the one we just did in Paris, but it also includes past collections, and after this coming runway week, in June, the results come out.

In conclusion, what’s the new cool thing? What’s next?

W: Well, we can't talk about our new collection.

S: But you can see it, its all over this room, but you cant talk about it. (laughs)

W: Looking forward to the summer, sunshine, those days when you are just sweating the whole day.

S: Same here.

... and hoping for the CFDA award. Good luck guys and thanks for taking the time.

This year the CFDA Fashion Awards will take place on June 6 at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. The awards are generously underwritten by Swarovski which will mark the brands 10th anniversary of continued support for the CFDA Fashion Awards.

[Sammy Kim and Wayne Fitzell]