The best that the designer—as artist—can do is to show you her hand. The label might bare her name, the trunk show might celebrate her presence in town, but this isn’t her giving herself to you. Not really. Even for those who are ready, always, to understand that fashion is an art of transference, language replaces the imagination with profession. We call her a designer, not an artist. We see her as that.
Because the designer as artist is almost always a private happening. Alone in studios that may not be as loft-like and inspiring as our ideas of them, late in the night and early in the morning, the art is becoming—with quiet textures, expressive drapes. By the time we see it they are objects; as functional as they are beautiful, and none of us would want it any other way. But it’s good, now and again, to have a reminder that they started as ideas. They began as dreams.
The most the designer can do is take the rawest and most real elements of her work, and put them on the outside. Put them where they can be seen, and remembered.
“I’ve been meaning to do something that expresses my inner artist. Something that gets my hands dirty, literally,” says Suk Chai of this latest collection, remembering a time earlier in her career when she hand-built a collection out of ordinary materials and presented it as an exhibition. She wore the pieces on her body, and pinned and fitted them against her skin. She worked from the inside out.
You’ll see this same “purity of soul” in coppery, calligraphic brush strokes, softly frayed edging on strong textiles, and seams in white and cloud gray, pushing out to the exterior as if to make sure you know they’re there. Making sure you know a hand brought them there. Even the calculated, mathematical, expert structure that has come to be a hallmark of the S C H A I line feels more personal in this collection—juxtaposed, as it is, with these gentle, crafted details.
The private act of listening to one’s heart, of art-making and sharing, is now a part of the world. What would S C H A I’s artist statement be if these pieces were presented in a gallery? What would the small card at the bottom of the visual display read?
“Tokyo crepe, cotton shirting, Italian linen and denim. Because I realized that some things are more perfect when the world around us takes us to where it wants us to go.”
The show itself would just be called, “Soul.”
Written by Laura Cassidy
" A W A K E N I N G "
“Don’t ignore the mundane.”
When designer Suk Chai typed that caption under a black and white picture of grid-like shadows on a Garment District wall, it might have seemed like outward advice, but it was the beginning of an internal dialog. A note she wrote to herself about the texture of everyday life and the transcendent power of thoughtful decisions.
The shadows, along with similar images of found patterns and worn factory floors, put Chai in the realm of menswear: Hard lines, chalk-stripe flannel, and bankers in suits cut lean and long in silhouettes of the ‘70s.
The upcoming season—a time of wool and structure—was on her mind, and these impressions felt fitting. But then again not. The ‘70s had never been a favorite era … until it dawned on her that the decade had significance beyond the usual clichéd caricatures and motifs.
The ‘70s were, in fact, when she was born, and were therefore an important connection to her mother.
From this circuitous yet grounded path, Fall/Winter 2015 emerged. Throughout the creative process—from drawing and draping to long conversations with her fit model—Chai reflected on maternal loyalty, and the strength that day-to-day family life requires. She reflected on her history.
She sought out the architecture of 1972, and found the World Trade Towers.
She went looking for exaggerated textiles and found elegant Suri alpaca and Tuscano wool. She researched and revised ideas about color; where 40 years ago, a certain crude orange proliferated, this autumn will be colored with well-aged bourbon, mauve-toned camel, and rich, rustic blues.
Chai went looking for a way to make good on her first two seasons of growth, and she found reinterpretations of her most popular pieces—wide cropped trousers, linear coats, origami capes, and boxy, effortless tops in luxurious materials.
Chai went looking for a way to make good on her own growth, and she found her mother. In finding her mother, she found herself. A rebirth. An awakening. As a product of this rebirth, S C H A I unfolds with a new season of nuanced narratives that work diligently in every day wardrobes. Commonplace is commonplace nevermore.
Written by Laura Cassidy