It was 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, and Sarah Choi had just returned home after a nice dinner with her boyfriend near her apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The fashion designer was about to crawl into bed when her phone started ringing off the hook.
“My friend was sending me all these shots of her TV screen with Beyoncé, being like ‘It’s your dress!’ ” the 31-year-old, who co-founded RHOI two years ago, tells The Post. “I zoomed in on the shots to be like, ‘Is it?’ I couldn’t really believe that it was happening.”
It was: There was Queen Bey, in her now-viral “Lemonade” video/album, wearing an iridescent slip dress from the brand’s fall 2015 collection. (The$395 item was sold out even before “Lemonade” dropped, but the designers are frantically producing more to fulfill the new sudden demand.)
“I put it on right away and kept rewinding it,” says Choi, who kept counting the times the dress appeared on the pop singer: playing tug of war on the beach, lounging among a tableau of flowers, in a dreamy black-and-white shot. “It was so exciting.”
It’s no wonder Choi was drawn to fashion: Her mother studied textiles at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the young Choi would watch her meticulously hand-painting and selling prints. “She always had [copies of] Vogue in the house,” says the Queens native. “I think I always wanted to be a designer because of her.”
After studying design at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan and graduating in 2004, Choi landed a job at Calvin Klein, where she found a kindred spirit in Douglas Reker, who was working in the textile department at the brand. The pair became fast friends, and she liked working at Calvin: Her easy, unfussy vibe meshed with the brand’s classic minimalism. But, after TK YEARS working there, Reker suggested the pair launch a line of caftans together.
“I always loved her aesthetic and personal style,” says Reker, now 38. The Brooklyn Heights resident works with Choi out of her abode. “We were interested in the same things outside of work and culturally. Plus, I came from textiles, so Sarah was the one who could bring this amazing sense of fit and drape and fluidity and proportion into the designs.”
The duo began sketching ideas, and in 2013 they quit their jobs to launch their new venture, RHOI. The first collection, which debuted in 2014, ended up being much more than caftans: It included slouchy silk tees, print culottes and light-as-air shirt dresses that skim the body. But their pieces, inspired by ’90s-era Kate Moss and Joan Didion’s California cool, recall the glamorous langour of the caftan.
“Obviously, working at Calvin Klein . . . subconsciously has had a very strong influence on us,” says Choi of RHOI’s minimalist spirit. “But we wanted to do something that was a little less formal.”
That easy glamour was what attracted one of Beyoncé’s stylists to grab the duo’s entire collection during a late 2015 visit to the House Of showroom in Chinatown, to scope out emerging labels for a top-secret new video. “When we heard, we tried to manage our expectations — like, OK, they probably won’t even use anything, and if they did it would probably be on one of the backup dancers, which would still be so exciting,” says Choi. “But we tried to not think about it.” When “Formation” dropped in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, with nary a RHOI piece in sight, the designers figured it wasn’t meant to be.
And then “Lemonade” happened. “We still kind of didn’t really believe it was the dress, and then a couple articles came out listing all the clothes in the video and calling out our slip, and we were like, ‘What’s happening?’ ” The designers’ inbox was flooded with order after order for the slip dress, which by then had already sold out.
“We actually thought it was a glitch in the system, but we called the people we sell through and they [said], ‘No, they’re all separate orders.’ ”
The designers are now scrambling to get extra slips made — they should be available later in May — and figuring out how many they can actually produce. “It’s made from this opal Japanese fabric, dragonfly satin, which is really limited,” says Choi. “So I don’t know how many more we can make!”
And while they say they’re not quite ready to show at New York Fashion Week just yet, the pair’s newfound demifame has impressed even their toughest customer: Choi’s mom.
“She used to be more critical of our designs, but now she’s like, ‘This is really cute, can I have one?’ ” says Choi.
“And she used to work at Saks, so she really knows her stuff.”