Last season, this expansion-minded New York designer debuted his contemporary line Richard Chai Love on the runway. It was a bold statement, since it meant relegating his designer collection to the showroom. But Love was, by all accounts, a hit for Spring, and today it took its second catwalk turn. "It just made sense," Chai explained to me in his studio the day before the show. "I want to nurture the [Love] business. The women's collection is already established."

Where Spring focused on individual pieces, Fall had an overarching theme: the broody-quirky harnessing of nineties grunge. There were mushroom-hued layers galore with military-inflected woolen coats, all manner of knits, silky printed button-downs, and even baby tees, worn over straight skirts to the ankle or slouched trousers. Pulled apart, this will amount to a mountain of merch, not a bad approach when you're looking to nurture a business.

Talking in the studio, Chai distanced himself from the G-word—unsurprisingly, given his time spent as a design director at Marc Jacobs. Certainly, he put his own spin on the subject with his signature arced seams and original double-take prints. (That floral everyone assumed to be Liberty is actually tiny origami cranes.) And the artful boy-meets-girl mix is one this designer has long explored.

It's a testament to Chai's skills that, as you watched the show, it was easy to forget this was a contemporary collection. When suddenly you remembered, it was a happy moment indeed.