Fresh off her first fashion week circuit, Stephanie Hsu checked another big item off the industry-event bucket list on Monday night: The delightful actor attended the 2023 CFDA Awards as a guest of 3.1 Phillip Lim, wearing a look from its Spring 2024 runway collection (the first person to do so).
For Wen Zhou, the brand's CEO and co-founder, the choice of date was easy. "The way we approach all relationships is that we look for this authenticity and the genuine interest from both parties," she says. Hsu attended the brand's Spring 2024 runway in September, but the relationship goes back even further.
"The funny story is, I actually met Stephanie at our store," Zhou remembers.
"It's quite serendipitous," Hsu writes, over e-mail, about their chance meeting. "Through all of awards season this past year, I had heard of Phillip but hadn't worked with him yet. One day, I was in New York and popped into the Bloomingdale's in SoHo and I saw a pair of incredible boots — a sort of thick, black combat boot that was still chic with a silver zipper running through the front, a style that I had almost been envisioning in my mind's eye for quite some time. I had seen other versions of the boot, but it was never quite what I was looking for, until I came across these. They were, of course, 3.1 Phillip Lim." (The shoes in question: the brand's Alexa boots.)
"Only thing is I have tiny feet, and the department store didn't carry my size," she continues. "I knew the flagship store was close by on Great Jones, so I walked over hunting for a tiny boot. Wen happened to be throwing an event that day and was in the store with the Phillip Lim family, and while I was shopping, this woman who happened to be the head of merchandising, Katherine Kim, spotted me and said, 'I'm such a huge fan — you HAVE to meet Wen.' That was the beginning! It's been a whole lot of love since then."
"I just found her really down-to-earth, very smart, super talented," Zhou says of her first encounter with the Academy Award nominee. "Of course, we talked about how much I love 'Everything, Everywhere, All at Once,' and we hit it off... It's a very organic relationship that has developed. I love having these moments where it's so not transactional and not too meditated. I wanted to have a great time and go with someone that I admire, someone that admires the brand and someone that's doing cool things. We have a mutual respect for each other's work."
At the Spring 2024 show, Hsu was really able to get a sense not just of the community that the brand's built, but really connect with the people behind it, she explains.
"It's all about the spirit of New York," she writes. "It's hard to describe how articles of clothing can carry so much meaning, but I feel that the spirit of Phillip Lim is just imbued with this feeling of rag-tag family and swagger. I love it when I meet designers that I love, and their personhood is just as incredible as their design. Phillip is an incredible artist, just as he is a truly beautiful person. It's almost like our spirits gravitated towards each other through the expression of these clothes."
If you've followed her red-carpet journey, you know Hsu is a fan of fashion. Most recently working with stylist Alexandra Mandelkorn, she's worn a range of designers, from Christopher John Rogers to Carolina Herrera to Ulla Johnson. (In addition to the 3.1 Phillip Lim show, she attended the Kate Spade New York presentation and Carolina Herrera and Ulla Johnson runways during New York Fashion Week, plus Stella McCartney and Sacai in Paris.) Fashion is "an opportunity to play, to express myself, my artistry and my spirit in a particular moment in time," she explains. "Yes, it can be something for others to admire, but at the end of the day, it really is just for you and whatever makes you feel beautiful and free. That's something I try to continually return to and center in now that my relationship to fashion has gone from street-swag to industry."
By bringing Hsu as her date to the CFDA Awards, Zhou wanted "to share our world with her," as a fan and friend: "I'm just really excited to watch her and enjoy her talent, especially her being an AAPI woman in this field. Her artistry resonates not just with me personally, but with the brand. I'm excited to show her our world, and I'm excited that I'm able to enjoy hers."
Usually, Lim will represent the brand at these events. He couldn't attend this year, as he's in Los Angeles for a Creating Space event, so Zhou stepped in. "I haven't been to the CFDAs in forever," she says. "But especially with our brand relaunching on the New York runway, I wanted to be a part of the CFDA, to support the young talents and to reconnect with our community."
When it came to her look, Zhou stuck to her guns. "I never really think about what I'm going to wear or how I'm going to wear it," she says. "Our tuxedo suits are kind of like my uniform. I love a good power suit, in white or black. I'm so busy usually, I tend not to want to spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to wear, so I'm always going to go with something that I feel really comfortable and sexy and confident in." (She wore the brand's Oversized Pleated Pant and a blazer from Pre-Spring 2024.)
Hsu, meanwhile, opted for a beige pajama-style blouse and trouser embellished with rhinestones from the Spring 2024 collection.
"I'm very into pajama-chic right now," she writes. "It was definitely one of the standouts from the runway — it's chic, sensual, but still fun. I love the combination of different fabrics, the silk top with the sheer pants. It brings such a sense of air to it. The detailing of the jewels brings such an elevated sense of play."
Though Hsu is the first to wear the Spring 2024 collection on the red carpet, Zhou says the sheer pieces have been getting a strong response. "Everyone's kept saying that they're really classic Phillip Lim, reminding them of our strength, which is American sportswear, especially with the fabrications in silk and the sheer texture and the colors," she says. "I think that's why Philip really stands out: These [are] clothes you can imagine on yourself."
Hsu took her look to another level with a bold, runway-inspired eyeshadow moment, courtesy of makeup artist Allan Avendaño.
"It's fun to take swings with the glam fam and I want to give some flowers to my makeup artist Allan for always being down for the adventure," she writes. "He's such an incredible artist and I said to him, 'For makeup, I want to play with this paintbrush-like pastel eyeshadow that I saw at NYFW.' Funnily enough, as Allan was finding research photos, that's actually something that they did for the Phillip Lim show, so my subconscious somehow must've been aligned."
As for how the night at the American Museum of Natural History went, Hsu is pretty clear about her personal highlight: "It was an honor to be underneath the belly of the whale."
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