The pragmatist

The pragmatist
US fashion designer Phillip Lim

UNITED KINGDOM - In a time when the grande marques of fashion like Chanel have Facebook accounts, 67-year-old British designer Paul Smith blogs, and Burberry - long lauded for its savvy approach to digital marketing - lost its CEO to Apple Inc, 40-year-old trend-maker Phillip Lim is an anomaly.

"A lot of people play the social media game," says the American-Chinese co-founder of his eponymous brand 3.1 Phillip Lim (the numbers stand for the age at which Lim and business partner Wen Zhou started the label). "But it's not about people liking and tagging you. You may have the most followers on social media but the smallest business. I don't Tweet, Instagram or have a Facebook account. I have nothing."

This refusal to succumb to the digital age is perhaps in line with the designer's elusive, introverted nature. "When I signed up to be a designer, it was about making clothes backstage," admits the articulate, rather earnest Lim, who was in Singapore to speak alongside Ms Zhou, who is the chief executive officer of the company, at the International New York Times Luxury Conference.

"A designer, by nature, is more behind the scenes. Now you have a persona, a brand, and have to be in the spotlight. Taking a bow at the end of a show still equates to anxiety and butterflies in the stomach for me."

Not that Lim has the option of staying in the shadows very often these days. The one-time business school major hosted a swank party in Beijing to fete his first boutique in China - a 27,000 sq ft flagship duplex, right after his trip here. Within the same week, he was in London to unveil a 3,200 sq ft store - with a second outlet set to open in the British capital next year.

"To come so far, being Chinese, is really a dream," said Lim during the conference to Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International New York Times, when asked how he felt about opening his first China store. "My parents are typical immigrants who did whatever it took to put food on the table. My mother was a seamstress, and the hum of a sewing machine is like a symphony to me because I would always want to be next to her, and she was always at the sewing machine."

While his family immigrated to Orange County, California, when he was just a year old, Lim has often spoken about his Asian roots during interviews, even though his designs are aimed at the global citizen.

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