Consider, then, the story Chai’s architecturally minimalist clothes tell: cool, nonchalant-looking (but beautifully made) pieces aimed at cool, nonchalant-looking (but beautifully made) boys and girls. By perfecting this effortless-elegant formula – after years spent honing his craft at Geoffrey Beene, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Marc by Marc Jacobs men's and TSE – the New York-born, Jersey-bred Parsons grad has developed a loyal following among downtown fashion types who like their clothing crafted with uptown artistry.
For his efforts, Chai – who launched his line to great fanfare in 2004 – won the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation in 2005, was named a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist in 2008 and, that same year, released a capsule collection for Target. He also added menswear to the mix in 2008, introduced Richard Chai Love (a contemporary line that he dubs the “girlfriend” to his menswear range) in 2009, and collaborated with hip design firm Snarkitecture on an igloo-esque pop-up shop under New York’s High Line last fall. Earlier this year, he created a driving glove for Acura inspired by the movie, Thor.
But then, this is a guy who knew he wanted to be a designer before he was out of junior high. “I was 13 years old and taking a dull graphic design continuing education class at Parsons,” he recalled. “One day, the elevator door opened up on the wrong floor, which happened to be a fashion illustration class. There was a model posing and really loud house music blasting in the background. The energy from the room was overwhelming and it was at that moment that I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer.”
Fast forward 20-odd years and it’s clear that Chai is a man who’s made his childhood dream come true.
Chai recently took a moment from his busy schedule to sit down with The Fashion Informer’s Lauren David Peden to talk breakfast, best friends and beach houses.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Who was the last person that texted you and what did they say?
My publicist Amanda reminding me to answer these questions.
What's in current rotation on your iPod?
Dustin O'Halloran's album Lumiere.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
I was 13 when I went to my first concert and it was for Echo & the Bunnymen. It was at Pier 84 in the city which was a general admission venue. I waited in line from 9am on a Saturday for an 8pm concert.
What's your computer desktop/screensaver pattern and how often do you change it?
It's a tile of my dog, Lola. Hasn't been changed since I've had this computer.
What's the biggest/most important lesson your parents taught you?
Work hard and be honorable.
Where would you like to live other than New York?
I would only live in NYC, but wouldn't mind a beach house to visit from time to time.
Who would win in a dance competition: you or Phillip Lim?
I would. He has some moves, but I have more!
Tell me about your best friend.
He's the best!
For what will you be arrested (hypothetically speaking)?
Speeding. Ask my best friend about my driving skills.
I know you worked as a sketcher at Lanvin in Paris early in your career. What's your favorite medium for your fashion sketches?
A #2 pencil that I sharpen manually to sketch on regular copy paper.
Please look up from wherever you're answering these questions and describe what you see.
The back of my assistant’s head. His desk is in front of mine.
What makes you nervous?
Too many questions.
When are you happiest?
Walking my dog around the city really late at night when no one is around.