Fashion designer Richard Chai says he wants to stay true to who he is
American fashion designer Richard Chai is probably best known for his urban cool womenswear beloved by New York downtown girls and fashionistas across the globe, but on Saturday, April 21, he was in Singapore to show his unique aesthetic in his menswear collection.
Part of this week’s Singapore Men’s Fashion Week 2012 (MFW2012), Chai brought his luxe tailoring and lumberjack chic looks of layered knits, belted parkas and soft fitted pants to the runway to great acclaim.
The Autumn Winter 2012 collection may be a bit heavy for Singapore’s sultry weather, but the classic separates worn under the coats and jackets in a mix of muted jewel-toned blues and wine reds with lots of greys in marl and windowpane checks would certainly go down well in the office.
Chai’s cohesive view of his particular style is something that permeates not only his designs for both men and women, but also his general perspective on fashion, and also his view of Asian fashion.
We were lucky enough to be able to sit down for a quick chat with the softly-spoken, gracious Korean-American, New Yorker during his trip to Singapore for MFW2012 and ask him a few questions …
HWP: What are the differences and similarities to designing menswear and womenswear?
Richard Chai: Actually the aesthetic is the same, there are some obvious things that are different like the types of clothes but the source of the ideas is the same. In fact, my womenswear inspired me to do menswear when I saw cool women wearing their boyfriends’ sweaters and shirts with other pieces of my collection. It was a kind of boy meets girl thing; the two (ranges) go hand in hand.
HWP: Your work is generally described as being very “New York” in that it consists of clothes for the urban hipster, the downtown girl. Is New York still your main inspiration?
RC: Well, I’m a New Yorker. I’m always going to be inspired by where I live, I’ve lived there a long time. But I have a wide range of other inspirations; taking classic, traditional tailoring and adding a fresh interpretation. I like things that are deceptively simple; focusing on the workmanship. And I have lots of interesting friends outside of fashion who inspire me. Yes, New York is a big part of what I do, but it’s not everything.
FASHION & ASIA
HWP: You are often mentioned in the same breath as other “Asian” American fashion designers like Alexander Wang and Prabal Gurung; how do you feel about this?
RC: While I’m glad that we are being recognised for our work as designers, it is sometimes unfortunate that were lumped in together and not considered as individuals. We are all very different.
HWP: What is your opinion on being described as an “Asian” or Asian-American designer? And does your heritage inform any part of your work?
RC: In everything I do I want to stay true to who I am. Yes, I’m Korean-American and that does show in some of my character and beliefs, but my entire social and pop cultural background is American. I don’t have any connection like that to Korean or Asian culture.
Some people might use that small connection, but if I did I would question it. It could be seen as being just a gimmick or stereotypical. I don’t want to exploit that [part of my background].
HWP: Why did you decide to show your collection at Men’s Fashion Week 2012?
RC: I had never been to Singapore before, although I have had some of my work available here through Club 21, so I see Singapore as being an important market for my brand. This is an up and coming region; important for the future I think.
HWP: Are you looking to expand your brand into Asia in general and this region in particular?
RC: I’m interested in creating selective partnerships; relationships with distributors that will support and help grow the brand. It’s an important strategic move for us.
HWP: Is your decision linked to the growth of China as an important market for international fashion? And do you think China’s economic importance is helping to change the face of Asia and Asian fashion?
RC: Obviously China, and other parts of Asia, are important economically for all fashion brands. And yes, I do think it’s helping to increase the number of Asian faces and brands getting global recognition. Even if the brands are doing this for economic reasons, I still think it’s great that there are more Asian faces around.
When I was growing up I never really had any Asian role models – there was really only Bruce Lee. I think it’s amazing that now Asian actors and actresses and models are viewed as being beautiful; as aesthetically beautiful. Once we were just seen as being exotic but now Asians are also seen as being attractive. Yes, the brands might be using more Asian models [for advertising] and that’s tied to economic reasons, but at the end of the day, whether it’s an authentic use of an Asian face or not, at least we’re being acknowledged. There’s a bigger positive message happening about Asian beauty.
Men’s Fashion Week Singapore 2012 will be held until April 22 at Marina Bay Sands, Convention Hall F. For more information about the various labels and events that will be happening, go to www.facebook.com/FideFashionWeek or fideproductions.com/mfw-events-2012 for the complete schedule. Image: Martin Tan