First he traveled to Brazil, but now designer Derek Lam is coming to a Kohl’s near you.

Derek Lam fans will be thrilled to know that the latest collection for Kohl’s DesigNation program is being created by none other than Lam himself. The program, which involves a fashion designer traveling to a destination and creating a collection inspired by that place, debuted last November with Narciso Rodriguez’ Istanbul-inspired designs. In Lam’s case, he traveled to Rio de Janeiro, and his 35-piece capsule collection inspired by the sultry city will debut this month, with prices ranging from $40 to $88. And, no, it’s not just skimpy bikinis.

L to R: Diane Kruger, Ashley Madekwe, Rachel Bilson and Kirsten Dunst.
Dunst: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images; Madekwe: Valerie Macon/Getty Images
American Way: How did you choose Rio?
Derek Lam: I think people think of me as more cerebral, and Rio is a real place — not a movie or a book. There’s something sensual about it. Also, there’s that cliché that all the people there are beach bunnies with gorgeous bodies. So I wanted to do my take on that.

AW: I believe that cliché holds pretty true.
DL: It’s insane — they’re all about being in shape. I went in May, and it rained the whole time. So I didn’t get to go to the beach, which I think was a positive thing. I got to see other parts of the city; otherwise I’d have come back with bikinis. While it is beach oriented, Rio is a big, real city surrounded by this amazing jungle. So I tried to imagine how a woman would dress for all those places in one wardrobe. And the collection is my modern take on it — sensual, warm, sexy and very urban.


Travel Essentials

While he aspires to travel with as little as possible, there are a few things this New York–based fashion darling doesn’t leave home without.

“A Rhodia notepad, for sketching and jotting down ideas”

Bose headphones. I prefer using my own rather than what’s provided onboard.”

“A Kindle. I like jumping from one book to another, so obviously having a few titles in one reader is ideal compared to lugging around several books at once.”

“The iPad — to read The New York Times

“My passport and Global Entry membership”

Cotton pull-on pants to change into on long-haul flights. They’re navy blue, and all cotton, so even if I have to make a quick off-the-plane with them on, I won’t look like a total fool.”

“An extra shirt to change into before landing”



AW: Is it different designing for this price point?
DL: My collection is still a small audience, and it needs hand-holding to explain the collection via the show and retailers. Kohl’s is accessible, so [my collection for it] needs to speak on the rack. That’s why I used a lot of prints and tried to do interesting new ways of doing prints.

AW: What new ways?
DL: I did a lot of layering. I took a photo of graffiti that I found on the street and layered that over a landscape print or a cover of a menu with a rose print that I skewed. I was trying to take this kind of typical print but make it really modern.

AW: You obviously travel a lot. How do you dress for those long flights?
DL: I always bring my own pajama bottoms, and I wear the T-shirt I am in. That’s the only concession. Otherwise, I dress exactly the same as I dress in the city. I aspire to be that person who never has a carry-on. My dream is to have the iPad and my music and go.

AW: Are you ever shocked at some of the things you see while traveling?
DL: When I was in the airport in Korea, I noticed that every guy and girl was dressed in matching clothing. We had heard about this trend — I think we saw 15 different couples dressed exactly the same. So we asked two different people, one at duty-free and one in the lounge, “What’s up with this?” And they said it’s how they dress for honeymoons. I mean, they wore fisherman–striped sweaters, sweatshirts with teddy bears embroidered on them and matching hats — those baseball caps with bunny ears. That’s something you don’t see anywhere but when you travel. You can’t make that up.