Brazil is home to the second-largest population of Japanese in the world. That culture clash appealed to Phillip Lim, and for Spring, he mined the meeting of Japanese and Brazilian traditions, or what he called "Nipo-Brasileiro sub-cultures." He followed his nose to Mixed Martial Arts, MMA, which brings together Asian martial arts traditions with something closer to street fighting. "It's born from make-do and the ghettos," Lim said backstage after his show, which he headed with a snatch of a poem called "Street Fight." Then he clarified: "I wanted this character that was street stylers—fighters with hustler swagger. You're born from nothing, and you use clothes to get somewhere."

That's perhaps a lengthier explanation for the presence of wide-legged karate pants than is necessary. And while reporters—present company included—now demand prehistories of collections from their designers, Lim sometimes gets overly caught up in his narrations. That can detract from what's genuinely great about his work, which is the askew angle he tilts his staples. What scored today were not the jackets with zip-off panels or printed canvas pants but the welcome ease of a bonded jersey parka with adjustable gussets. Items like that point to why Lim recently won the CFDA's Swarovski Award for the best emerging menswear designer.