For reasons largely unknown, at some point in the evolution of female fashion, terribly uncomfortable bordering on painful has become the accepted standard. Shoes that are too pointy, dresses that are too tight to accommodate a fully inflated set of lungs and cosmetic rituals so intense that an outsider might think that a women moisturizing her face might in fact be punishing it for being bad.
And it was into this market that Jade Lai launched Creatures of Comfort, a boutique fashion brand that asks a unique question.
What if your high-style, high-fashion items weren’t an endurance competition to wear? What if they were just fairly comfortable out of the box?
Lai on paper may not look like someone who would end up being part of the retail renovation narrative, if for no other reason than she seems like an odd fit working in retail at all, since her training is as an architect. And although the experience is evident, particularly in the design and layout of Creatures of Comfort boutiques nestled in neighborhoods like SoHo in New York or Melrose Avenue in L.A. But you can also see it in the clothes, which Lai has a hand in designing.
“Architecture is really an all-encompassing field; it teaches you all the design theory that’s relevant in all different design disciplines. Architects have to think about what sort of materials to apply for certain space for an experience, so that could certainly tie into fashion and clothing,” Lai noted of her somewhat untraditional background in design. “I can get really inspired by architecture, textiles and nature. I like to imagine the aftermath of design, how it functions in the world.”
Cool and comfortable style does not come cheap in hip boutiques, and a quick glance at the firm’s site indicates that consumers should not arrive looking for bargains when a T-shirt is $80.
And that pricing model, combined with Creatures of Comfort’s earthy and utilitarian aesthetic, has at times led the brand to some public difficulty. Twitter, for example, has spent the last week going crazy over what can only and best be described as the brand’s attempt to launch a “Pilgrim dress” that has more or less raised the world’s collective ire.
The dress comes out of the box with a crew neck, a partial button-up top, drop shoulders, a gathered waist and three – count them, three – different color options: army green, navy blue and black. With a bonnet and perhaps some buckle shoes, a wearer could quite literally blend any place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Antebellum period and not seem out of place. Of course, those folks would have made their own fabric interpretations of joylessness, whereas in the modern era, to buy one from Creatures of Comfort will run a shopper around $450.
“When you run two stores and a clothing line,” Lai noted, “I am constantly having to make quick decisions, which sometimes are just based on my gut feeling. That seems a bit risky, if you ask me.”
And sometimes those risks pay off. Other times they amuse Twitter something fierce.
“$450 to look like I just stepped off the Mayflower? I think not,” one tweeter noted.
“That’s a dress I could go out with my girls in … and immediately start accusing the elderly in town of witchcraft,” noted another.
“Bless everyone who is pretty enough, skinny enough, and rich enough to wear this dress.”
“It’s a party dress! A Donner party dress.”
Other tweeters noted that for $450 it should at least come with the bonnet included.
And although the Pilgrim dress or its somehow more appalling fraternal twin, the sexy Pilgrim Dress (same design on top, knee-length instead of floor length) seems unlikely to become a runaway fashion hit now or pretty much ever, Creatures of Comfort has no plans to stop pushing the envelope between haute couture ideas and everday wearability.
“You know the French expression ‘jolie-laide,’ ‘so ugly she’s pretty’? To me, the Creatures of Comfort aesthetic is so un-sexy she’s sexy,” noted fashion editor Nicole Phelps in a New York Times interview.
And for Lai’s part, Creatures of Comfort would rather miss with a really innovative idea than offer shelves of clothing that all look the same.
“My closet is filled with variations of identical pieces of clothing,” Lai said. “I am attracted to understated things that are really well made and timeless.”