When Richard Chai became creative director of Tse in October, for instance, he found himself facing a number of unique circumstances that would require creative solutions. Because Tse produces its collection at its own factories in Asia and is nearly a vertical operation with its own cashmere production, the bulk of its fabric decisions are made seasons in advance, so yarn and color choices for the fall 2002 collection had been finalized before Chai had even settled in.
So rather than make a big runway debut for his first collection for Tse, where Chai follows in the footsteps of Narciso Rodriguez, Hussein Chalayan and Victor Alfaro, he began making quiet presentations in the company’s showroom during Fashion Week.
“There was already a collection done and into prototype stages,” Chai said. “I literally had to redesign the collection, piece by piece.”
What he’s come up with over the past five months, however, is beginning to point toward bigger things to come from Chai, who said he will make a more formal presentation in September with his spring collection, the first one fully conceived under his direction. That will be a critical point for the relatively unknown designer to make a name for himself, after spending the past three years working closely with Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan.
He will undoubtedly face comparisons to his former employers, as some editors have already dubbed him a “Mini Marc” based upon his personal, laid-back style. So, Chai is being careful that there is a distinction to what he designs for Tse.
“There are definitely things here that are beautiful and show-worthy, but if I’m going to debut something, I want it to be entirely mine,” Chai said.
For now, he’s showing a tight group of looks that include references to a number of military or nautical uniforms, with cropped flared pants, wide-leg navy-inspired trousers and a fitted, heavy felt coat with epaulets. Chai also took his hand to Tse’s staple cashmere knitwear, offering a range of sweaters that are driven toward the extremes of weight and hand. Chai shows them as layering pieces — like a lightweight, gradated, funnel-neck T-shirt under a chunky handknit polo vest or a gauzy turtleneck worn under a heavy melange polo with an oversized collar.
He described the influences on the collection as more “abstract” than a particular moment or inspiration, saying it was a melange of feelings, emotions and music he was listening to or people he saw in the street that contributed to the overall feel of the collection.
“I knew in my mind what I liked and I adapted and translated those things to make sense of what it was that I started,” Chai said. “I feel like I have to be more introspective right now because when you work for other people, it’s so much about you becoming that person. You have a responsibility to pick what’s right for that person. But now it’s funny, since I have more understanding of the process, that there are people working here that have to pick what’s right for me.”