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 Sük 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?
“Japanese crepe, Italian artisanal shirting, 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.”