NEW YORK — Add Richard Chai to the list of designers who are forging their own fashion path — and it’s not on the runway.
To show his fall men’s wear collection, Chai is teaming with director Ryan Pallotta of Ridley Scott Associates to create a virtual reality documentary. The musical score for the film will be written by Joe Jonas.
“I’ve historically shown [on the runway] since I started women’s wear in 2004 and men’s in 2009,” the designer told WWD. “But going through the process this time, I wanted to do something different and new.”
He said he had initially expected to show during New York Fashion Week: Men’s, but changed his mind. “I love doing shows and we showed men’s last season during the inaugural event and it was wildly successful,” he said. “But this is a different kind of storytelling.”
He said the film will be “more immersive for consumers and fans of the brand and will put them in a more inclusive context.” With the onslaught of social media and live-streaming, “anyone can be part of the show,” he said, but this takes it to the next step.
Virtual reality technology provides a 360-degree view that literally makes the viewer feel as if they’re part of the film, said Chai.
Admitting that he hasn’t quite grasped the entirety of the concept himself, Chai has the utmost respect for Pallotta and Ridley Scott Associates, who are at the “forefront” of this new technology.
The film will feature only the designer’s men’s wear and offer a “really controlled Richard Chai environment,” one that is “very different than sitting at a show.” All three men are longtime friends as well as “faces of the brand,” he said, so they are well qualified to translate his vision to film.
The film will be released around July, but teaser clips will be offered starting in February. There is also an e-commerce site that will be launched in July when the film makes its debut, he said.
“It’s new and it’s nerve-wracking,” Chai said, “but I’m throwing myself into it.”
At this point, Chai said, he isn’t sure if he will return to the runway in the future. “I’m curious to see how different this experience will be and if it’s a one-off.”
But with the seismic shifts that are starting to shape the fashion industry, Chai thinks new expressions of creativity such as this could frame the future.
“It is an interesting time,” he said, pointing to other designers who are eschewing industry runway shows, notably Rebecca Minkoff, who will have a consumer-facing event in February. Proenza Schouler said they would not release any pre-fall imagery or sanction outside photography and short-lead reviews of their collection until the collection hits stores around April. Thakoon Panichgul plans to turn into a show-now, see-now, buy-now, wear-now brand.
“I’m seeing my peers in women’s doing more buy-now, wear-now, but it’s not happening in men’s at all,” Chai said, noting that he will not stage a women’s show this season either. “I showed men’s only last season,” he said.
Chai said his collection will be shown to retailers now, during the traditional men’s market season, and select editors will also be invited in to see the line. “That keeps it more controlled,” he said.