Kai D., Pop-Up for Hard-Hat Voyeurs, Nails It at 75 Orchard
Tom Acitelli Dec. 7, 2009, 3:36 p.m.
75 Orchard Street
Kai D., a Soho-based men’s fashion concept launched earlier this year, has hit upon a shockingly untapped market niche: high-end utility wear. That’s right, a workingman’s aesthetic for men with $225 to drop on a shirt. Urban professional 30-somethings whose days spent in front of computer screens fail to nurture an affinity for things like welding and artisan tools; men for whom a weekend spent hammering entitles nonchalant use of the phrase, “I work with my hands”; men up until now bereft of utilitarian and rugged elegance … finally a store for you.
But what does high-end utility wear look like? Moleskin and henleys in industrial-chic hues certainly play a role, as do built-in suspenders, but the pièce de résistance is pockets, lots of pockets (handy for tools and for iPods, they come with slots for earbuds). The store’s atmosphere plays on a sepia-tinged vision of early 20th-century labor—men in hard hats perched on scaffolding and bridges, large antique tools of ambiguous intent—and capitalizes on the facility of time to transform the everyday into the remarkable. Though the label’s tag line is “Tools and clothing for artisans,” mostly the tools seem to exist to give credence to the clothes.
Founder Kai D. Fan, who came up in Structure, Liz Claiborne and Nautica, opened the line’s first shop, a pop-up at 75 Orchard Street, last month. Last week, in a deal brokered by Elliott Dweck of Besen Retail, Mr. Fan managed to extend the 375-square-foot lease for 13 months largely due to the pop-up’s success.
In an economic climate hardly conducive to new entrepreneurs and fashion start-ups, Kai D. has done all right. But then, Mr. Fan has said the line was inspired by the industrial look of the 1930s workforce. So if we spiral deeper into the economic abyss, and President Obama reinstates the WPA, maybe all those professional urban young men will indeed be well dressed after all. But right now, it’s pretty clear that Kai D.’s aesthetic is not about the men in hard hats on today’s streets and bridges. Give them another 80 years.