When I jump on a call with the designers behind Eckhaus Latta, there’s a three-hour time difference between the pair. Mike Eckhaus is perched at his desk in New York, well into his working day. Zoe Latta, on the other hand, is pulled up on the side of the road in her car – the LA morning traffic halting any plans of making it to her studio in time for this early morning interview. The pair operate their namesake label on opposite sides of the country, with an Eckhaus Latta store also situated in both cities.
“It’s funny because we were doing a lot of… not Zooms, but Google Hangouts prior to the pandemic,” says Eckhaus. “So, when things shifted, we were like ‘Oh, we’re used to working this way.’” This past February, the duo celebrated their 10th year in business with a show at Essex Market on the Lower East Side. Actress Hari Nef, artist Susan Cianciolo and supermodel Paloma Elsesser took to the catwalk, a trio of muses who are part of an extensive community of creatives who’ve not only inspired the brand but helped build it from its art school beginnings to a stateside fashion success of the 2010s.
In place of celebrating a decade in fashion with a “best of” retrospective, the pair pushed forward, polishing their crafty-yet-intelligent take on everyday staples. The collection abounds with shredded knitwear, crocheted denim and fleeting moments of Eckhaus Latta elevation, like blobs of liquid-y chainmail pieced together to make abbreviated slip dresses or tailoring fashioned to expose erogenous zones. Kinky, but subtly done.
“For us, we’re way more interested in what the next 10 years are going to be than the last 10 years were,” explains Latta. “Clothes are inherently memorialised every day, they capture a time and a place, [and are] deeply imbued with nostalgia. So us being any more nostalgic would have been hard to watch.”
Future-facing in their approach since day dot, the twosome were lauded for their casting of non- models and the gender neutrality of their clothes long before gender neutrality became buzzy in fashion. “I wear so many men’s clothes and Mike wears so many women’s clothes, we don’t really care,” says Latta. “I mean, we completely understand the complexities and necessities, within the market, for men’s and women’s clothes and that was a very naive misunderstanding when we started. But whoever feels empowered in our clothes should wear them, regardless of how they identify.”
Alongside logo tees – which come dip-dyed, with contrast stitching – denim is the brand’s bread and butter. Cut wide and often flared, Eckhaus Latta’s jeans take on painterly finishes, marrying booty-hugging proportions with the ease of an artist’s scrubs. As Eckhaus explains, the duo has spent five years fighting for the right fit in their jeans, so they look flattering on all genders. “I try to tell myself I’m going to wear other types of pants, yet I’m always wearing our jeans every day. It’s nice to have this idea of uniform.”
The pair met while both were studying at the world-renowned Rhode Island School of Design, Eckhaus practicing sculpture, Latta textile design. “When we first met each other was when we were both really eccentric dressers, so it was that thing of eyeing someone else and being like, ‘Who do you think you are?’” says Eckhaus. “Then we obviously bonded very deeply and very quickly over a mutual, but very different, obsession [for creating].”
“We were just fascinated by each other,” continues Latta. “I think immediately we became critics of one another’s work, then supporters. We would work a lot together. But we’d work on totally different things. That was kind of the competition, I just think art school does that in general. Like, who could sleep less, who could make more.”
Both are still vastly different in their approach, which makes working on opposite sides of the country a lot easier than it reads on paper. Both Eckhaus and Latta design alone, with the other serving akin to that of a creative consultant over a co-creative director. When they do work together, the twosome are admittedly hypercritical of each other’s creations, in a “very confusing way” that only Latta could be of Eckhaus, and vice versa. From then on, their respective visions for a collection become chopped and screwed under one cohesive lens. “No one’s an island but, at the same time, it’s not like we all have all of our hands in the pot at the same time because we’d get nothing done,” says Latta.
Eckhaus Latta was born on a whim in November 2011. While working their first industry jobs – Eckhaus at Marc Jacobs, Latta at Opening Ceremony, as well as creating textiles for the likes of Proenza Schouler – the designers decided to apply for the Hyères Festival as a pair. Sharing a shoebox-sized studio in Williamsburg with another artist, they created their first fully realised offering with no business plan and without any funding outside of their nine-to-five jobs.
“We didn’t get anywhere [with Hyères]. We didn’t have enough money to even get the clothing to be sent back to us at the time from the south of France. Then we were like: ‘Well, we designed this collection so we might as well have a fashion show in February’ – what was our logic?”
The daily-ness to their designs first came grounded in their lack of formal fashion training and the naivety of diving headlong into an industry they, frankly, didn’t know much about. “For our second show, we didn’t even have it planned,” says Latta. “It was 3am the night before and we were like, ‘Oh my god, our call time is in three hours.’ The show was in a performance space and we didn’t even have a performance planned, so we just made it up.”
“We made custom Red Bulls and the models were drinking them at 11am,” adds Eckhaus. “You were having 19-year-old girls that weighed 110 pounds drinking like six Red Bulls over the course of an hour being, like, so cracked out.”
There’s a zen balance in their work between handmade resourcefulness and seriously sellable apparel that speaks to a new gen fashion audience who strive for practicality when buying luxury. Whether it’s cobweb-y knits, skeletal transparent frocks or generous lashings of awkward sexiness, these pieces pack serious punch (and are shoppable at SSense, Dover Street Market and more than 30 other international stockists).
Away from the catwalk, an Eckhaus Latta moment that reverberated across the industry was the brand’s SS17 campaign, which featured couples having real sex. Lensed by Heji Shin, the full-frontal affair included friends of the brand and randoms pulled from Craigslist, who, bar their pixelated genitals, bared their most intimate selves.
“I remember flying to LA when we launched [the campaign], getting off the plane and having 20,000 [new] followers on Instagram,” says Eckhaus. “Then there was this moment where there were thousands of people leaving the Instagram a couple of months later because I think they were searching for porn. Yeah, this isn’t the content you’re going to be getting.”
There’s an authenticity to Eckhaus Latta that, despite being in business for a decade, has positioned them – from the outset – as an emerging label. (Only in 2021 did the brand first receive recognition from the CFDA Fashion Fund.) Yet with two brick and mortar locations (in NYC and LA), a flourishing e-commerce platform and global stockists, as well as an ongoing Ugg collaboration and an exhibition at the Whitney Museum under their belts, this pairing has the potential to be one of modern America’s truly great fashion brands. Designing clothes not for pseudo It Girls, but real, everyday people.
“American fashion has changed so much in the ten years that we’ve been working in it and I think there will always be this Euro supremacy for anything cultural. I think, at this point, we personally don’t really care,” says Latta.
“I feel like we’ve marched to the beat of our own drum, and we’ll continue to do that,” adds Latta. If the past 10 years are anything to go by, the next decade of Eckhaus Latta promises to be brilliant, and full of surprises.