Richard Chai introduced his contemporary Love collection four seasons ago, showing it on the runway in place of his designer line, which he has "put on the back burner." As we've seen from Chai's friend Phillip Lim, again sitting front-row, and other members of the younger guard like Alexander Wang and Vena Cava, bringing your vision to the market at a price point that doesn't go toe-to-toe with the designer establishment is a sensible strategy for survival and ultimately success. The trick, of course, is to keep some of the rarified appeal that a higher-end line affords.
At its best, today's collection seemed to strike a great balance between the two spheres. You'd be hard-pressed to identify anything down-market about a cool, mannish overcoat in a beautiful dark variegated tweed, or any of the outerwear, for that matter. As has been the case in past seasons, long and lean layers played a big role. Patch-pocketed vests were worn over coats, which in turn went over maxi skirts, either swishing, pleated satin-backed crepe numbers or straight jersey columns. One great new idea was Chai's take on the three-piece suit with a long shawl-collar vest and drawstring pants—a polished look that's secretly comfortable.
If there was a quibble, it was that some of this felt familiar. It's always a pleasure to see a designer in New York with a recognizable signature, but now that Chai's solidly established Love as his main focus, it would be interesting to see him push further into unexpected directions.