New York Fashion Week: Men's has been filled with some pretty incredible art thus far, but few can compare to Richard Chai. The always chic yet laid back designer has skyrocketed to prominence over the past several years: in 2008 he was a top ten finalist for the Vogue/ Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Fund, and in 2010 received the CFDA Designer of the Year Award for his achievements in menswear.
SLIDESHOW | NYFW: Men's
His work has garnered him a megastar fandom, including such stylish celebrities as Joe Jonas, Colton Haynes, and Darren Criss -- all of whom were in attendance at Chai's S/S 16 show this week. We caught up with fashion's darling designer to talk about inspiration behind his collection, as well as the swiftly changing societal attitude towards men's fashion.
Richard Chai Men's RTW Spring 2016
Out: Can you start by talking a little bit about your newest collection?
Richard Chai: Sure! This season was inspired by suburbia, and, like, the youth culture in suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs..
So, you know, there's always that way of, like, "How do I show my individuality, when everyone dresses the same? And looks the same?" So I started with looking at a lot of photos of, kind of, crews, or kids who hang out together, so like, skaters, or the punk kids -- cliques. And even within those nonconformist groups they all have their individual style, which is really quite nice. So I wanted to kind of evoke that youthful spirit, keep it really, like, individual...
I went to an all-boys Catholic high school in Wisconsin, so...
Woah. That's really, full on...
Menswear. It's changing a lot. It's becoming a lot more acceptable -- this is the first ever New York Men's Fashion Week. And I overheard you talking about how men are taking more of an interest in their own personal style. Do you want to talk about that?
Yeah, there used to be a stigma that, if someone cared about how they looked, or took care of themselves, or liked shopping, it had this very negative connotation. You weren't masculine, or you weren't manly. Now, it's embraced by everyone. I mean, you look at basketball players, your athletes that are considered the most macho men in the world, and they're walking around in crop pants or drop crotch pants, or long T-shirts, or whatever it may be. It really sets a tone of where we are. They're influencers. And you look at celebrities. You look at singers. They have so much influence over things.
So do you have a style icon?
I have great friends, obviously, in my life, that are really stylish and wonderful. But I've always loved Kurt Cobain. I'm a kid from the '90s. And so, just, like, that carefree attitude has always been something I've subscribed to.
Do you think that has anything to do with the Supreme Court decision that just passed for same-sex marriage? Gay rights are kind of, becoming a lot more talked about.
I think the world's become more open certainly. Of course things should be improved, or can be improved, but at the same time we're in a far better place than we've been before. And I just think the world is way more open, it's not strange for a straight person to have gay friends, or a straight guy to have guy friends. I just think those things are so blurred nowadays, and I hope that it blurs even more.
With fashion specifically, I think that's a great way to blur it. Do you see any trends coming up in the future with menswear specifically?
I don't ever really do things based on trends. I do things from instinct, and what feels right, and what I'm inspired by, and if it's on trend, great, and if it's not, it's not really important to me. For me it's -- what's more important are the people that I'm dressing, or that buy my clothes, or are inspired by the work that I do. That they feel something from it. And that what they wear makes them feel great, or gives them some kind of memory, or something in their life.
How has your personal style and your collections evolved?
You know, to be honest, I think that no matter how my collections change, or whatever the inspiration is going to be, there always has to be an element of something that feels casual and cool, easy, and layered. I'm always layered. There's a certain kind of security about that for me. It's comfort, casual, cool -- it's never precious, it's never uptight.
So are you designing stuff that you would wear?
Absolutely. It's idealized; I wished I was that person. The beauty of it is that people walk away from it with their own interpretation. For example, how I presented this trench coat, someone could wear it completely differently. And I might wear it differently. It's really the beauty of it all.