Eckhaus Latta: five years leading New York’s new wave

Designers Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta reflect on their growth, seeing strangers in their clothes, and the inevitable Zara rip offs

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Eckhaus Latta SS17 NYFW Womenswear Dazed
Eckhaus Latta SS17Photography Joshua Woods

“This is our tenth collection together,” Zoe Latta explained following Eckhaus Latta’s SS17 show in the lower east side’s Seward Park. She and co-designer Mike Eckhaus were surveying the dwindling crowd of friends, family, buyers, and press who had gathered in the intimate courtyard moments prior for a quietly awe-inspiring show, soundtracked by Dev Hynes

“Recently someone was like, ‘you’re five!’ and I thought, yes, developmentally, we’re five.” Latta laughed. It was a rather poetic decision for the duo to spend their fifth birthday in the neighbourhood where they began their operation in 2011, with a collection of arts-and-crafts-inspired separates, modeled by young artists and friends. In the years since, that casting practice has continued – past seasons have featured models like Hynes, Juliana Huxtable, India Menuez, and Ally Marzella, while this season saw a runway walk from the influential avant-garde designer Susan Cianciolo. 

“When we started, Zoe was living on Broome and Allen and I’ve been living on Mott and Worth,” Eckhaus says. “We used to have a studio on Grand, all the way on the other side of East Broadway, and now we’re on this side of East Broadway, by Jefferson. (This season) our backstage was in our studio – we walked the models around the street to get here. It’s nice to show in the actual neighbourhood you spend most of your working and social life in.”

In a sense, Eckhaus Latta have come a long way – but they haven’t gone anywhere. In the years since forming their label, they’ve influenced an entire sub-generation of New York art and fashion students, some of them former Eckhaus interns, to create their own nascent labels. All the while, their own brand has grown slowly but surely. After being stocked in stores like Opening Ceremony and Maryam Nassir Zadeh, they expanded to e-commerce, then opened their very own standalone store this summer in L.A.

“In a sense, Eckhaus Latta have come a long way – but they haven’t gone anywhere. In the years since forming their label, they’ve influenced an entire sub-generation of New York art and fashion students”

It’s perhaps fitting that this season shows their most focused and product-oriented outing to date. Opening with an oversize denim look that looked as easy as it was layered, the collection featured outstanding tarp dresses, sliced and spliced jeans, tie-up sweaters, updated wrap dresses, muscle tees, knit apron smocks, and “garbage bag” skirts and dresses made from a clingy nylon material that appeared wet when the models moved (that perception might have been influenced by the oppressive moisture in the 90-degree air). Artist Brendan Fowler collaborated on a series of garments featuring recycled fabrics and embroidered “Election Reform!” logos. The overall effect was sexily haphazard, casual yet considered: clothes with a long shelf life for the buyer, modern investment pieces that could easily be worn to work, to a party, or “to work parties!” Eckhaus exclaims. “Our favorite scene,” Latta deadpans. 

“The observation of the store influencing that idea is not commercial,” Latta says, when I ask if the experience of retail has engendered a more practical slant to their very artistic sensibility. Rather, it’s the encounters with customers and friends that are slowly helping Eckhaus and Latta chip away at their developing body of work. “We’re talking to actual people, not buyers, and hearing about what they’re into and what makes them feel good. We also have a lot more of our clothes than we ever have, so we’re wearing almost exclusively Eckhaus Latta and feeling what it is like to wear our designs. We’re realising it’s more fun to focus on making that better than for every season to introduce some new peacock of a story.”

Authenticity has been Eckhaus Latta’s stock in trade since the beginning. The bigger the duo’s imprint on New York fashion becomes, it’s something they’re learning to adjust to. “Whenever I see a stranger in the clothing, I’m like, where’d you get that?” Eckhaus says. “Because in my mind, I think I know every person who has everything we’ve ever made, which is so absurd. But it’s great that people are gravitating towards it.”

In a few short seasons, the Voguettes and upscale socialite contingents have descended on Eckhaus Latta, maybe in search of street cred, but undoubtedly in pursuit of something that can add uniqueness to their wardrobe. The attention has its drawbacks. “We have a Zara rip off that we found out about last night,” Latta says. “At first I thought, damn! We really made it. Then later I thought, oh man. That feels horrible. That shirt is $7.90 and it was my idea. It’s inevitable. But we would be completely impossible without exposure. We couldn’t exist underground. The whole point of a wholesale model is to distribute clothing. We’re not interested in hiding. But at the same time, where ideas come from and how they’re distributed is really precious to us. I don’t feel ripped off in a general fashion sense. That’s what’s fun about the store. Strange rich ladies come in and say ‘My friend told me to come here!’ And they’ll buy a look! It’s flattering as hell.”

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