Richard Chai Lives in T-Shirts

Richard Chai has been busy with collaborations: He had his line for Target, a T-shirt for charity with Barneys, and now, a project with Topman. After taking a fashion-design class at Parsons at age 13, Chai was hooked. Now, with successful women’s and men’s lines, he has established a name for himself in New York. For Topman, Chai—along with Henry Holland, Phillip Lim, and more—revamped the white tee. (The shirts hit stores last week.) We caught up with Richard Chai at his Soho studio to discuss his influences for fall, his love of cotton, jersey tees, and his strong dislike of too-skinny jeans.

What’s the inspiration behind your fall ‘09 collection?
For my women’s collection, I was inspired to create a message of strength and lightness. That translated into sharp tailoring, strong shoulders, and happy, joyous prints. For the menswear, the idea of workers’ uniforms and formality inspired me. I looked at a lot of photos from August Sander. In general, though, I’m very inspired by the pulse and vibrancy of NYC.

What are some of your favorite pieces?
From women’s, I love the crinkled chiffon, galaxy-printed draped dresses and from men’s, any of the chunky cashmere zipper sweaters.

What type of person wears your clothes?
I think the men or women who wear my clothes have an appreciation for how clothes are made. They are not about trend-driven clothes. It’s about the purity of design and how that reflects in their personal, individual style.

Richard Chai for Topman White T-Shirt Project, $60 at Topshop,
478 Broadway, nr. Broome St.; 212-966-9555.
Photo: Courtesy of Topman

What was the first designer item you bought or wore?
It was a Jean Paul Gaultier vest from Charivari. I was 14.

Who were some of your favorite designers growing up? What about now?
When I was a young design student I always admired the Japanese and Belgian designers, whom I still love today, along with many others.

Who are your style icons?
Tilda Swinton and Kurt Cobain.

Which labels do you love?
My personal style is laid-back and casual. Now that I have my own menswear line, I wear a lot of my collection mixed with other designers such as Rick Owens and Comme des Garçons.

Any pieces you can’t live without?
Muji lightweight, cotton-jersey tees are a staple in my wardrobe. I also wear white Polo V-neck tees that come in a three-pack. I overdye them in different colors when they aren’t stark-white anymore. For Topman, it was a fun challenge to take an iconic item like a white tee and interpret it into something new and fresh.

Where do you shop?
I shop at Odin. It always has an incredible selection of menswear and I also get a family discount!

Is there an item you are currently coveting?
I have my eye on a dresser from BDDW.

What trends are you into for this fall?
A stronger and more confident attitude, but with a sexy undercurrent.

Any trends you wish would just disappear?
Too-skinny jeans.

What’s something everyone should have in their closet?

Finish this sentence: I never leave the house without ….
Saying good-bye to my dog.

Richard Chai Lives in T-Shirts