There seems to be a new high-low collaboration announcement every week, but while most designers go the way of capsule collections for mass fashion retailers, Richard Chai for Original Penguin has morphed into a longer relationship. After a set of ten pieces for Spring 2011 that was incorporated into Chai’s eponymous men’s runway, the pairing was back for Fall 2011 with a full collection. “Penguin is an iconic brand and it has this all-American, preppy-with-a-wink look to it,” Chai explained at the collection’s presentation at the Hotel Griffou late last week. “I wanted to work with that image, but also make it edgier.” Penguin’s creative director Ann Payne who worked with Chai on the designs chimed in: “There’s an undercurrent of speakeasies and private men’s clubs.”
The design marriage resulted in something between collegiate and grunge insider. Plaid was the pattern of choice in button-down shirts styled under classic crew neck sweaters and tied around the waist, while trousers were more tailored-in than your usual contemporary fare. Outerwear was the strong suit including a black wool melton number with toggle buttons and a wool herringbone double-breasted coat standing out. A recurring theme was texture play—popcorn knit beanies, corduroy accents, and chunky shawl collar cardigans—that mostly worked. A sole exception was one button-down shirt that was distracting with its leather collar, cotton body and wool herringbone accents.
Overall, the fashion-minded updates were nicely executed and subtle, which in the end is what the continuing collaboration is all about. “It’s a challenge to design great pieces that are accessible and a greater population can wear,” Chai said. “In my usual design world, being approachable is sometimes looked down upon. But at the end of the day, the ultimate compliment is spotting somebody wearing something you designed on the street.”
Photo: Courtesy of Original Penguin