During a preview, Richard Chai was straightforward about a desire for the straightforward. "It's not about tricks for the show," he said. "I want it to be clean and crisp, accessible and believable." That read as
self-admonishment for experiments past, but hey, what would fashion be without a gamble here and there?
Inspired by a Bruce Davidson subway photograph of "a fragile-looking man" wearing a sturdy chesterfield coat, Chai's mantra was "handsome femininity." That's certainly a return to roots, as mens-for-women—or boys-for-girls, depending on your view— is a longtime fascination of his. Sure enough, the collection's biggest impact was sartorial—a great-looking navy and charcoal striped tweed, which he developed with an Italian mill. It fell prey to awkward proportions in the suit that was the first look out, but was a smart and polished winner in nearly every other iteration. Even as that crispness intentionally gave way to the abstraction of Chai's signature prints and a Lurex striped wool, the sense of believability didn't flag. Instead the designer concentrated on refinement, with details like the very flattering waist-defining suede yokes and the taffeta banding that finished skirts and dresses. And he kept his penchant for complex layers in check.
Chai's big news of late is that he's the new creative director of venerable outdoor-gear label Filson, whom he had approached in order to collaborate on men's outerwear. There was a woodsy element to the womenswear, but it was in the men's that it really took shape. For that matter, the menswear also seemed to soak up most of the melancholy of the soundtrack's "How Soon is Now?" by the Smiths. In their gawky cropped pants, rubber-soled Palladium high-tops, and city/country hybrids like a funnel-neck nylon windbreaker under a checked suit, the boys looked like young runaways trying to hitch a ride out of the provinces to spite the world. Goodness knows that oversize Filson duffel backpack, (surely destined for a men's magazine near you) is tailor-made for such a venture.