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Emerging men’s designers raise their profile at New York Fashion Week.
A year after Richard Chai launched men’s wear, he’s geared up for the line’s first runway show.
Despite a challenging trading environment that has compelled Chai to shelve plans for store openings, his men’s business has grown “exponentially,” he said.
“This time of crisis is also invigorating, and forces you to be that much more creative and thoughtful about who you are and who you’re designing for, and mindful of your business,” Chai said.
Prior to starting his women’s label five years ago, Chai was quite seasoned in men’s wear, having been creative design director of Tse and design director for Marc Jacobs’ men’s and women’s collections, as well as having launched the Marc by Marc Jacobs men’s line.
The $6 million sale of a minority stake in Richard Chai to South Korean conglomerate SK Networks gave the designer the cash infusion to launch men’s wear last year.
For the fall collection, Chai was inspired by the portraiture of photographer August Sander.
“I looked at his photos of workers in Austria. There was a refinement and formality to the way they put themselves together, even if they were in really dirty clothes. So nothing in the collection is too precious, but it’s sophisticated. It has a tough edge, but a warmth and coziness,” Chai said.
He incorporated sharp tailoring, textured knitwear, decorative zippers, muted colors, washed plaids and boiled wools.
Next week, Richard Chai’s men’s will take over Den, the Manhattan boutique dedicated to one brand at a time. Den is a spin-off of Odin, the shop coowned by Chai’s brother.
Alvin Valley, a designer best known for women’s tailored pants, will unveil his first men’s collection on the runway, alongside his women’s wear. He took inspiration from British naval history, especially the late Lord Mountbatten, the first viceroy of India, close friend of the British royal family and a contemporary of the Mitford sisters who lent inspiration for Valley’s women’s collection.
“I thought about the wardrobe of a man who’s on a boat the whole time. He’s masculine but he took good care of himself and was dignified,” said Valley. The naval references are clear in peacoats and striped sweaters. Valley also designed a three-piece suit, an homage to Robert Redford’s Ralph Lauren costumes in “The Great Gatsby.”
“I really wanted this to be about key pieces more than a fashion look,” he said.
Jurgen Oeltjenbruns hasn’t been on the New York scene for a few years since he’s been working in Brazil as a freelance creative director for Redley, repositioning the surf label with more of a fashion bent. But now he’s back, putting on the first show for his signature line and looking to open his first store.
Oeltjenbruns has had a long and varied fashion career, starting with a tailoring apprenticeship in Germany. Years later, Gianni Versace hired him to design men’s wear, and he continued working with Donatella Versace for three-and-a-half years after Gianni Versace’s death. He started his eponymous label years ago, and finally has the resources to accelerate it.
“I’ve managed to finance what I really want to do,” he said. “I produce all the clothes and accessories the way I want to. I’m making a significant investment in this show. This is going to be the beginning of something, the next level.”
The Los Angeles-based duo of Jerrod Cornish and Keith Richardson, who founded Corpus in 2004, won the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award for men’s wear, enabling them to hold their first presentation in New York this season.
“I was shocked that we won, but I hope they saw that the brand has evolved into a fuller collection, and it’s grown up,” said Richardson. “It has preppy, street, L.A. and New York all together. It’s kind of street, kind of hip, with an edge, but mixed with classic men’s preppy. I think we bridge the gap between those two sensibilities.” That’s what Corpus has become from its roots in denim and T-shirts.
Cornish and Richardson met on a movie set. Cornish was an actor, Richardson, an assistant stylist. “We’d go vintage shopping and alter things, and gear up for clubbing,” said Cornish. “Keith worked at some brands, and, when I was ready to get out of acting, we started Corpus.”
They later created a diffusion line called By Corpus exclusively for Urban Outfitters. The original line is in stores including Barneys Co-op and Fred Segal.
“This season our collection has elements of tailoring and the Fifties. And there’s a return to classicism because people don’t want things that trend out after a season. And it’s become much darker because of what’s happening in the country,” said Cornish.