On Saturday evening, Eckhaus Latta presented its AW22 collection in the halls of the former Essex Market on the Lower East Side. Models – familiar faces like Okay Kaya, Hari Nef and Paloma Elsesser – roamed its old aisles, amid abandoned stalls and old empty fridges. Editors, buyers and critics sat between wooden shelves, once stocked with fresh produce (Sunkist oranges, 2 for $1; butternut squash, 99¢/lb). It was the Brooklyn-based label’s first show in Manhattan in ten seasons and the night’s decampment, the choice of venue was anything but random. The old Essex Market, a LES mainstay for over seven decades, closed in early 2019; soon his plain brick home will be torn down, replaced by a condominium block. “We have been trying for a long time to secure this place. It is very timely, very New York Citysays Mike, hours before the curtain call. “He has this sense of history and time, something that is constantly evolving and changing. This feeling that nothing is permanent here.
Like the location of his AW22 outing, Eckhaus Latta is also an icon of the city he inhabits. Unlike the fate of the old Essex Market, however, the bi-coastal label is symbolic of a more optimistic form of democratic progress. This season, Mike and Zoe celebrate ten years at the helm of the label they created together. And for the past decade, the duo have brought American fashion into the present moment, their arty, edgy vision shifting the industry needle toward authenticity and inclusivity with pioneering genderless designs and practical of non-model casting.
Eckhaus Latta’s industry-wide influence, however, extends beyond clothing and shows. Among the moments of culture change, the label has many. Mike, for his part, points to the brand’s 2018 exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art as “an expression of our involvement in the art world, something that felt meaningful.” When it was created, Mike and Zoe, graduates of RISD’s sculpture and textile programs respectively, envisioned Eckhaus Latta less as a fashion brand and more as an art project. The duo’s Whitney show – part retail, part exhibition – was the triumphant culmination of the designers’ efforts to merge the worlds of clothing and art.
On the theme of defining moments, Zoe switches tracks, bringing to mind the label’s first ad campaign, or “the sex campaign,” as she calls it. The controversial photographs, taken by Heji Shin, showed real-life couples having sex, wearing SS17 Eckhaus Latta clothing in various states of undress. Playing on the old advertising adage “sex sells,” the campaign promoted a sex-positive message to the brand’s younger audience. Plus, though, it represented – boldly and blatantly – the label’s uncompromising sense of authenticity, of portraying “the real” in an industry where its portrayals are often rare.
“Fall/Winter 2016 felt pivotal to me in a way that I still don’t know how to put my finger on,” says Mike, referring to a show held in MoMA PS1’s geodesic performance dome. Perhaps it’s because the collection signaled a new found freedom for the fledgling former brand, having fully grown into its new profession. Or maybe the reason eludes him because Eckhaus Latta’s influence progressed like a slower burn than can be attributed to a single event. “It’s a different attitude and view of fashion,” says Zoe. “When we started, it felt like we were walking to the beat of our own drum and alone in everything we did. Now it feels more defined and natural to us, whatever language we speak.
For FW22, ten years after the label’s debut in 2012, Mike and Zoe have fully honed this common language. “There’s a certain familiarity to this collection,” says Mike. This season, the duo continues to explore, expand and develop their signature themes – deconstruction and materiality; however, the offer is not retrospective. “We didn’t want to do a #TBT collection because we’re always really excited about making clothes. But I will say looking at the collection, it feels very self-referential,” says Zoe.
Zoe’s referencing excitement can be felt in the exuberant sequined garments on offer: sexy pieces with raucous hemlines that play off the body in shimmering waves. Also, the cutouts, this season, more attractive than ever. A pair of modular cargo pants show off chunks of the inner thigh; the openings of a dress wind around the waist to reveal a curve of the hip bone; pants that unzip to the top of the back, for those who want to give a sassy look.
Addressing the singular signatures of Eckhaus Latta, the duo’s signature artisanal work weaves throughout the collection with a much more generous hand than in recent seasons. For Fall ’22, the label’s best-selling EL jeans are punctuated with colorful open-knit panels. Backstage, hours before the show, one of the last dresses in the collection, a wire mesh masterpiece, is fastened with a pair of clips. “[Our handi-work] is really important to us. And that’s something we’ve gone back and forth with over the years, especially as we’ve grown as a company,” says Mike. “This season, we both had projects that were truly labors of love.”
“When we started, we had no idea what we were doing or how to make clothes,” Mike continues, describing the label’s humble beginnings. “It’s been a really crazy learning experience and creative effort. There are many ideas that have grown and evolved over the years that remain at the heart of what we do. It’s fun to explore these ideas and now have a breadth of work that can trickle down as we move forward. Things we pick up and things we leave behind. Like the cityscape of New York, with Eckhaus Latta, some things change and some things stay exactly the same.