It’s difficult to imagine a more typically “Brooklyn” boutique than Kai D Utility. “Tools & clothing for artisans” proclaims the storefront signage, while the shop itself is full of retro-styled men’s millinery, leather luggage, beard oil, candles and, of course, clothing. This is where Williamsburg’s well‑dressed creative crowd comes to shop.
When proprietor Kai D Fan launched his own label in 2009, he’d been a consultant in the fashion industry for years. “I was creative director for Nautica and I worked for Lacoste, John Varvatos and large companies in India and Korea. I spent a lot of time in department stores, but could never find anything I wanted.” In creating Kai D, the brand, he was manufacturing clothes he wanted to wear: “Vintage-inspired but with a contemporary fit – the silhouette is based on 1920s American tailoring, with a relaxed shoulder. The fabrics are soft and natural, from Japanese and Italian mills, but everything is made here in New York City.” When he opened Kai D Utility in Williamsburg in 2013, it was an opportunity to elaborate on what that style meant. “I added product from brands I had got to know and like,” he says, all of which shared characteristics with his own label: “High-quality, timeless design and makers that I could meet.”
Among the brands at the store are luggage maker Satchel & Page – the bags are designed in Brooklyn and made in Italy – and Bleu de Chauffe, a French leather brand that Fan describes as having a “turn-of-the-century, utilitarian style”. Certainly, the oxblood Postman Éclair bag ($545) has a touch of the pioneer spirit about it. His men’s double-breasted, cotton-twill Maxwell vests ($245) and wax cotton McDougal jackets ($325) are prime examples of an aesthetic that mixes workwear elements with historical Americana. But the silhouette that has brought the store the most attention is a kimono blazer ($425), which mixes a classic Japanese shawl collar with a western jacket shape. “Certain brands have taken elements of the kimono to make contemporary jackets,” says Fan, “but I work with a slimmer sleeve volume. It is more tailored and with a rounded shoulder. At the same time, it’s relaxed.”
There is a collection of womenswear too by Sun Mun. “The womenswear uses the same fabrics; it just has a different fit,” explains Sun Mun. “Designs are not meant to last for just six months. We don’t operate according to the fashion seasons – we never have sales.” Fan also draws from his collection of vintage menswear, though none of this looks like costume; everything is versatile and dapper – particularly the outerwear in soft greys. He has his own version of the Japanese farmer coat ($545-$1,400). “They are usually handmade, and they have a unique silhouette,” he says. There are frequently full-length versions in-store, using fabrics that range from pinstripe cotton ($795) to Loro Piana wool ($1,200). Every man-about-town who wants to differentiate himself from the crowd should own one.