"M O N S O O N"

When the hard, heavy rains come you have two choices:

You can duck and run, or you can submit and submerge; you can agree to be inundated, and experience it as a kind of cleansing—a supernatural cleansing.

The monsoon season is more than an abstract concept for Suk Chai.
Her memories of Korea are flooded with moments of cloudburst, and the ancestral memories embedded in her DNA color every modern and metaphorical experience of drought and deluge. And then of course there’s Seattle, the designer’s current homebase. It’s a city well-known for its rainfall, and this past winter offered some premium examples.

It was during one especially punishing and wet weather pattern that Suk began to imagine the Spring collection. Not only was the rain unrelenting; her schedule was, too. Immersed in the feeling of being underwater, she began to think about jackets that turned inside and out again, wide-legged and cropped pants, shirt dressing and shoulder-bearing tops— all the better to receive a life-changing shower.

After five seasons of S C H A I, traditional Asian elements are a true hallmark, and those in Monsoon feel respectfully lifted from agricultural settings, and then placed within a very right-now fashion context. Fabrications and colors are similarly fundamental; featured this season are semi-sheer stripes, Japanese plaids, burn-out textures, linens and cottons that stretch and respond, and Italian cottons in beautiful inky, water tones.

It’s tempting to evoke the old saw about springtime showers and the flowers that inevitably follow, but Monsoon is about a more fixed and obstinate outpouring. The sunny side of this particular climate though, is that it’s already passed. The clouds have parted, the storm has moved on and we’re left—together—with the creative growth.

Written by Laura Cassidy


" L  E  G  I  O  N "
These days aren’t meant for isolation. Oh, on one hand, we’ve never been better at solitude; how easily we fold into our artificial shells and seal ourselves inside. But as it gets easier and easier to do without human connection, we’re faced with the simple, enduring truth that all alone, we feel less. We create less. We are less. 
“Amid humankind’s technological advances, the world is chaotic and erratic, and more and more we long for harmony, comfort and unity,” says Suk Chai as she anticipates her fifth season with S C H A I.  The craving is a deeply felt realization as well as an acknowledgement of good fortune and excellent support. She crafted her Fall Winter 2016 collection as an homage to the team effort—to togetherness.
In the line’s rich color signatures—cut to simple shapes in sumptuous cashmeres, crepe, twill and shirting with delicate, minimal details—she sees an army of “humble visionaries” clapping hand over hand and holding tight to the same tow line. Like a family, like a formation, like a childhood pact. Pulling for one another and with one another.
Uniting them all, first and forever, is a shared emotion—but their uniform is a sensation, too:  “A sense of belonging, discipline, mission and perhaps wisdom. When we wear a uniform, we make good choices—we act on behalf of the whole.”
Imagine, for example, a cavalcade in the Kandan dress—the collection includes one in every fabrication; each with an elegant V-neck, raw-edged bell sleeves and an extra-long Karate belt. The efficiency of a shift dress, the power of purity, the evocation of that tow line.  Hand over hand over hand.
Legion: the designer’s name for the set that makes up the season’s whole, but more than that, too. The memory of a lost idyll and the belief that we can bring it back tomorrow. Past, present, future.
Mothers, daughters, mentors, partners, cast, crew, clan, community. The weaver, the wearer, the lover, the dreamer. Together we are so much more.
Written by Laura Cassidy



" S  O  U  L "

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 "

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York on Oct. 10, 1972. Photo by Michael Evans | The New York Times


“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