Derek Lam may have spent the summer in New York, but his thoughts were all about Brazil.

This story first appeared in the September 24, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The designer drew from a May visit to Rio de Janeiro for his limited-edition DesigNation collection for Kohl’s Department Stores. The fact that it rained during his springtime stay there with a development team proved to be fortuitous.

“That was a blessing in disguise. We didn’t get stuck on the beach for days looking at all the bare bodies. I went to all the museums and saw the botanical gardens. I walked around Leblon where all the stores are,” he said. “And we ate a lot.”

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Immersive as that visit was, Lam said the memory of the country had stayed with him from two prior trips he had taken on his own. So when Kohl’s approached him about doing an exclusive line inspired by an international destination, he knew just which one. “I really love the city. The people are wonderful and the setting is amazing,” said the designer.

“What I do [with my own collection] is a little more cerebral. I usually think about books, art and architecture,” he said. “Here, it was just appealing to focus on a specific destination. This was a nice departure for me.”

Lam still managed to work in some artistic references, with midcentury graphic artists like Hélio Oiticica providing inspiration for a surfwear-type print. That design was used for a fitted T-shirt dress with a dropped shoulder. Lam also reimagined the city’s sensual side as well as its dense, damp jungle. The deep-saturated color palette includes three stories — jungle green, aquamarine and a yellow, nude and orange sorbet combo. A multicolored swim dress worn with a black georgette trouser skirt is one of his favorite looks. “I imagined a woman from Rio going to the beach in the morning, meeting friends for lunch and having drinks at the end of the day — with maybe a little work in between,” he said.

Retailing from $36 to $98, the dresses, skirts, pants, capris, shorts, tank tops, swimwear and outerwear will be carried at Kohl’s and available on its Web site in April and May. Narciso Rodriguez will lead off the DesigNation initiative with a collection that makes its debut Nov. 7.

Lam said, “I really believe that as a designer, now we can do different things. Accessibility is no longer the opposite of luxury,” noting that everything is machine washable and is a selection of organic fabrics, too. The collaboration allowed Lam to try his hand at swimwear and the result was 15 styles. With Li & Fung’s Regatta handling production, Lam said he had the luxury of focusing on design.

“Our customers expect incredible merchandise at an exceptional value and we are confident that the newest DesigNation collection from Derek Lam will exceed our shoppers’ expectations,” said Kevin Mansell, Kohl’s chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Lam’s DesigNation collection isn’t his only new project: His Schwartz & Benjamin-licensed footwear line is launching for spring and he designed the Green Room for this past weekend’s Emmys. Now Lam will be focusing on fall 2013 for his own collection.

“One of the things I had wanted to do was to open up my calendar a bit, but then these wonderful projects came up…What is the expression? ‘When it rains, it pours?’” he said. “Now I have got to get down and dirty to get my fall collection done.”