PHILLIP LIM is coming home -- in style. Since launching his collection in New York three years ago, the Orange County native has become a bona fide fashion star. His chic, ladylike designs have a loyal following in the fashion world and Hollywood, and he scooped up an Emerging Talent award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America last year.
But Lim, who grew up in Westminster, says he will always be a SoCal boy at heart. And now he has a posh new store to prove it.
Opening on Friday, Lim's L.A. outpost is a major affair -- 5,000 square feet of next-generation luxury on Robertson Boulevard. It is his third store, following the first in SoHo last year and a second in Tokyo in April. The boutique will carry roughly 90% of the women's and men's collections.
"We might have more lighter colors or fabrics here," Lim said, strolling through the loft-like space. "But the customers are similar in their spirit and lifestyle." Prices for the women's fall line range from $195 for a blouse to $1,500 for a suede drop-shoulder cropped kimono jacket with hand embroidery.
The store will also stock Lim's sleek accessories, including sunglasses, belts, handbags and scarves, and his collection for girls, which shrinks runway looks to pint-sized proportions ($70 to $450).
Housed in a former auto shop, the boutique may be the swankiest padded cell ever erected. A series of undulating walls winds through the space, covered in the kind of spiky foam used in recording studios.
Dominic Leong, one of the architects, said the idea was to create different spaces using just a few curved walls. "In a lot of fashion boutiques, you walk in and consume everything all at once," he said. "This is trying to make it a more lasting experience."
Tucked into the wavy walls are bamboo-lined shelves and nooks for hanging clothes. Dressing rooms are spacious and also lined in bamboo, a fetching contrast against the store's industrial, lacquered concrete floors. Southern California sunshine filters through small, round skylights cutting through the vaulted ceiling like a sheet of cookie dough already poked through with holes.
The store's facade and barrier wall -- camouflaging a small parking lot, a true luxury on Robertson -- are lined in puffy gray concrete tablets shaped like the top of a loaf of bread (food isn't an official store motif, but it's one Lim is tickled by). Though the wall hides the storefront from the street, there are strategic holes cut into it so that passersby can catch an eyeful.
"It's like someone stole the bread!" said Lim, peering through one of the portals and laughing.
The store's covert facade and the monochromatic interiors reflect the designer's penchant for cool, understated design -- from neatly cut pencil skirts to sculptural car coats. "I didn't want a front window with mannequins in it," he said. Instead, "the front uses this idea of cleansing your palate before you go inside. The mystery is there."
Lim, 34, plans to open more stores in Japan, and perhaps another location in New York and one in the Midwest -- all part of his mission to balloon 3.1 Phillip Lim into a full-fledged lifestyle brand. Shoes and a much-expanded collection of handbags and accessories are on the way.
He is one of a battery of high-end designers to open a boutique in L.A. recently -- a list that includes Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Helmut Lang. The risk of luxury saturation, coupled with the weak U.S. economy, would have some designers putting on the brakes. But Lim isn't worried.
"Right now in our stores, the customer is pickier than ever," he said. "You have to put out an honest product, now more than ever."
Phillip Lim, 631 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 358-1988.