Designer collaborations abound as many brands are seeking new roads to race down. But Phillip Lim’s recent one with Volvo Cars reflects his ongoing pursuit of sustainability and different avenues for creativity.
Lim spelled out some of his design insights and sustainability pursuits during a conversation with Volvo’s head of design for the U.S. Eric Beak Thursday night at the 3.1 Phillip Lim store that was moderated by InStyle’s editor in chief Laura Brown.
The trio’s discussion sprang from Lim’s collaboration with Volvo to create a weekend bag made of the sustainable material Nordico. Earlier this year Volvo said that all-new electric Volvo models will be leather-free starting with its C40 Recharge. The bag reflects Volvo’s “mission to challenge the rest of the design industry beyond the automotive industry to reconsider the materials that are being used and how they can impact the environment in a good way,” Beak said.
Lim added, “What makes everything successful is natural,” as in a natural relationship, a natural environment and the results are effortless. “You want people to naturally gravitate to something. It’s a moment that will ripple into a natural movement. When you take a question and start with using design to answer that question, we then offer it to the world for them to ask that question. Eventually, it becomes normal, like reason.”
The designer’s weekend bag, which was planted near the speakers — not so subtle product placement that they openly joked about — gave attendees a preview of what will be used in the interiors of the company’s next generation of fully electric cars. Nordico is made of textiles from such recycled materials as PET bottles, corks from the wine industry and bio-materials sourced from forests in Sweden and Finland. Despite a few of the eco-conscious weekend bags being on display in Lim’s Great Jones Street store, they aren’t available for purchase there or anywhere else. A limited number will be available through competitions, charity auctions and giveaways.
The idea is that “we can still make even more luxurious products without using routine materials that have been used for the past 100 years,” Beak said afterward.
From his viewpoint, fashion has a direct relationship with car design, in that just as clothes are carried by the wearer, a person is carried by a car. Noting how the material used in Lim’s bag will be used in Volvo interiors, he said that bag will also be brought into the living room and the home. Beak said, “Fashion is really linked to interior design as well, because it is really a material-related industry.”
“The tricky part” is that fashion trends are much faster than automotive trends, because the lead time is so much faster in fashion compared to the car industry, Beak said. The development of one car model could take up to five years, whereas fashion takes a season. “It’s really hard for the auto industry to catch up with fashion but it’s a good signal for us to read. We are always cross-referencing fashion,” Beak said.
Focusing on the human-centric element of design is paramount for him while maintaining core values like safety and sustainability
Decades ago high-profile designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin and Bill Blass collaborated with automakers offering their interior designs. As for whether Lim will have the chance to design a car for Volvo, Beak said, “If he lets me design a fashion collection. We can try out vice versa. Why not? Maybe that’s a great idea. Maybe I can invite him into our studio.”
Afterward, Lim spoke of some of his other nonfashion projects, including another sustainable collaboration with Aveda, a new digital comic book series “House of Slay” and More Than Our Bellies, a platform centering on food and bringing people together by home cooking, communal designing and working with local artisans. Lim’s fellow House of Slay-ers are Prabal Gurung, Oscar de la Renta’s Laura Kim, stylist Tina Leung and restaurateur Ezra J. Williams.
Lim is also at work on a docuseries that will focus on Asian American designers’ influence on American design. The series, which is being shopped around, will feature “an ensemble cast” that he was unable to identify at this time. Shooting will get underway next year. “It’s an important project that needs to happen because nothing is documented,” Lim said.
He explained that he has removed his fashion brand from the center of his world and has placed himself there, namely working on things that are important to him and using his platform for those purposes while expanding his creativity into other outlets that are of interest. “They all tie back to how I want to participate as a human being to help shape society. It is a different level of gratification and personal satisfaction. It changes the power dynamics of what holds you,” he said. “Fashion used to be like a keeper. Fashion gave me all these opportunities but it was also a prison. When you’re known for something, it’s hard to reinvent or expand,” said Lim, agreeing that also means being locked into a certain time schedule.
“I found a way to reinvent myself and free myself. I’m excited. There’s a lot of work ahead but it’s important work that adds to a narrative.”