Richard Chai is pop-up store Den’s transitory tenant until mid-April. Opening last month, the designer’s namesake collections are available for both men and women in the East Village store, co-owned by Eddy Chai and Paul Birardi who also own Odin and Pas de Deux. If you couldn’t guess by the shared last name, Richard is also Eddy’s kid brother.
“Den re-invents itself every few months as a temporary flagship boutique for emerging brands in search of a place to showcase their collection in a dedicated space,” said the elder Chai of the integral role the pop-up store plays in his and Birardi’s retail vision, which now includes five stores. “With each reinvention, Den is completely overhauled to best capture the story of the brand in its new home.”
“While the idea of guerilla stores or temporary stores came into play, we thought it would be interesting to have the inverse where the location was stationary but the space would change. There were several brands that we felt had a bigger voice and needed a place to showcase themselves,” said Chai. Past installations at Den have included Engineered Garments, Karen Walker, Robert Geller, Common Projects, Tim Hamilton, and Shipley & Halmos since the store opened in 2007.
Enter Richard Chai in February of 2009. With stints at DKNY, Marc Jacobs and TSE under his belt, Richard Chai launched his eponymous womenswear label in 2004, to rave reviews. In the years to follow, he received a slew of accolades, including the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award, selection as a finalist for the Rising Star Award by Fashion Group International, and his induction into the CFDA. This, coupled with Chai’s collection for Target’s GO International program last summer and his selection as a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Finalist in 2008, have catapulted Chai into a sartorial tour de force. If that wasn’t enough, the Korean-American designer also introduced a menswear collection for fall 2008 and is now Den’s design fixture.
“I had a little bit of this spirit where it felt a little bit preppy, but there are always these contrasts in my collections. It is something that feels quite classic, but how do you then make it feel not so literal? I was watching a scene in The Outsiders and there is this brawl and it’s all these preppy guys and these greasers and they are fighting. I just thought, that’s exactly where my collection’s spirit should be it. You know, this idea of good boy that goes bad,” said Chai of how Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film about teen angst came to the be his inspiration in creating classic pieces with an edge.
To look at his collection, which Chai notes is lighter and more whimsical than his first, means finding wearable basics that appeal to the sartorial spectrum. Whether you’re the fashion guy with a super slim waist or an investment banker who wants to look cool on the weekends, the designer insists that there isn’t just one target customer that he designs for, and somehow we believe him. Case in point: offerings range from striped jerseys and fuller, slouchy pants to a limited edition black diamond crystal emblazoned military jacket (only four were made with two already pre-sold). “Nothing is ever too precious,” said Chai, “My collection isn’t trend oriented, its just things guys want to wear.”
It is clear that Chai has accrued a penchant for detail. Holding up a $375 pair of glen plaid pants, the designer explains that he has the cotton linen bleached in order to achieve the lived in wearability that has become his design aesthetic. This is also apparent in a striped degrede jersey, which instead of just having stripes printed on the jersey, it is actually wide panels of fabric cut up and pieced together to form horizontal stripes.
Although the majority of the store is dedicated to menswear, Chai makes sure that there is a tight capsule collection from his women’s ready to wear line. He sites seaming and architecture as paramount in his design process, as well as his fascination with the work of sculptor Lee Bontecou, famed for her usage of industrial materials in her art. Among the iconic pieces from the spring line are a petal colored leather blouson jacket with an asymmetrical zipper and a black silk georgette front tie dress. Other standouts are an ivory silk fil coupé dress with seaming and rouching up the bodice, as well as a cutaway shrunken jacket with subtle piping to create pleats and a pagoda sleeve.
Den, 330 East 11th St., New York, New York 10003, 212-475-0079
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