"Is that part of the skirt?"

"Well, it's a dress here, and the apron goes on top. So it's, like, is it one piece? Two pieces? Three pieces? The apron really abstracts the negative space and changes the silhouette."

That's a brief excerpt from a preview conversation last week with Phillip Lim, in which he explained his puzzle-piece concept: Backless, side-less, and bottomless garments all somehow came together to form a full look. It was certainly an ambitious gambit, not easy to pull off, but it made for one of the best and most refined 3.1 collections to date.

The most important thing Lim did right was to not stray from the very familiar ground of clean sportswear, and to keep the palette neutral. He also developed his idea of spatial abstraction by playing with sheers, resulting in some of the best experiments with the trend we've seen this week. The backs of leather-paillette-covered T-shirts were done in see-through organza; nude tulle shifts were embroidered with five varieties of black lace; and the trench was given a chic new spin in translucent organza, edged in black and covered in little bobbing threads.

There was definitely a greater sense of luxury, particularly in the beautiful silk menswear tailoring. (Perhaps those looks betrayed his admiration for the tailoring on last season's Paris runways. Or perhaps we're seeing the influence of Nancy Rohde, the stylist and Dries Van Noten consultant who worked on the collection and was Lim's first-ever show stylist.) Another thing Lim has going for him, of course, is that he will always offer the nicer price, and that should propel the bags and shoes that debuted here today into the retail stratosphere.