NEW YORK — Richard Chai, the acclaimed women’s wear designer, is debuting a men’s line for fall. The move is a first for his almost-four-year-old label, but Chai is in fact quite seasoned in men’s wear, having been creative design director of Tse. Prior to that, he was the design director for Marc Jacobs’ men’s and women’s collections and launched the Marc by Marc Jacobs men’s line.
(Shy about his age, Chai will only say that he’s older than he looks. The Parsons grad certainly doesn’t look old enough to have held those jobs, as well as others at Donna Karan, Armani Exchange, Lanvin and Geoffrey Beene.)
“At Marc Jacobs, men’s was really my baby and such a pleasure to do. And it’s something I’ve longed to do ever since I started my women’s line. I just didn’t have the means until this year,” says Chai, alluding to the sale of a minority stake to Korean conglomerate SK Networks, which made an initial investment of $6 million.
At the time, SK announced goals of opening 10 Richard Chai shops around the world by 2008 and ramping volume up to $100 million by 2010. A New York store is slated for a fall debut, either on Madison Avenue or in the Far West Village. The second location will probably be in Seoul.
Chai’s growth strategy includes offering precollections and accessories for women, working with Baron & Baron on branding and with Robert Burke Associates on merchandising, and launching men’s wear. His brother Edward Chai co-owns the influential boutique Odin, which is another source of insight. Whereas his women’s designs are a synthesis of ideas, moods and spirits, Chai says his men’s wear reflects his own style and those of his friends.
“I played a lot with luxe fabrics and distressed them so they feel more approachable,” he says. The line is decidedly more casual than his women’s wear, but also quite technically advanced in construction—especially the knitwear, owing to the expertise he developed at Tse, the cashmere house. One cardigan, for example, goes from jersey to reverse jersey and has subtle shirring down the front.
The collection includes 36 woven items and 25 knit styles. The knits come from Italy and China; the wovens are made in New York.
Chai expects to meet with Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman, which already carry his women’s wear. Prices are designer level, with some pieces accessible to the contemporary market.
Chai says he didn’t want to shoehorn the collection into his women’s runway show, especially the first season, but he will have a men’s presentation next season.