Khaite is now one of New York’s must-see brands. Celebrities jostle for seats and, editors are eager to buy and wear it. Catherine Holstein knows her audience. “That independent, New York, strong, stealth woman – that is who I’m designing for,” she said backstage of her spring-summer 2023 show. For spring she sent out her dependable mix of sequins and silk fringe, leather and denim. Because she was looking at the 1990s films of David Lynch, Wild at Heart in particular, there was a good amount of python print. Nicolas Cage’s character wears a python jacket in the movie; Holstein stamped the pattern on leather for exaggerated bombers and pencil skirts, and silk charmeuse for a voluminous peasant dress. A little python goes a long way, admittedly. The other novelty here was bubble skirts (a trending item this week). Their horsehair reinforced waistbands sat at the crest of the hip bones below everything from a mesh bustier to a crystal embroidered shirt. The low waistlines gave those outfits a cool attitude – polished but not pretentious. Because Holstein is designing for herself and for women like her, she’s got the attitude aspect nailed, but that’s not to diminish her eye for proportion or the exacting lines of her tailoring. A strong-shouldered, elongated jacket with crystal-studded lapels was a looker. You’ll be seeing it around next autumn with a tie-neck silk blouse and jeans and those little sandals.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
Khaite‘s resort 2023 collection, as Cate Holstein went on to explain, picks up where the “sharp, stealth New York woman” aesthetic of her autumn-winter runway left off. Let’s say there’s a whole lot of badassery happening, from the leather chokers that accent nearly every look on down to the blunt-toed boots. Leather outerwear is a foundational category at Khaite. Cropped motorcycle jackets mingle with oversized bombers, including one that opens the lookbook with heavy-duty studding at the shoulders. The tailoring, in leather and otherwise, takes its proportions from menswear. “We’re predominantly a feminine brand,” Holstein said, “but in order to bring out that femininity you have to have elements of men’s, otherwise it goes in a girly direction, which we try to steer clear from.” It’s not that there aren’t girly embellishments here. Sequins are another recurring motif, as seen on a shift dress with a mock turtleneck as easy-wearing as a t-shirt and on a slip dress that grazes the ankle. The most novel pieces however involved not surface treatments, but volume play. A yoke-waisted skirt that ballooned out to the knees and a plissé shirtdress with poet sleeves were surprise hits of sweetness amidst the collection’s stealth glamour.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
Here’s the picture of what’s fashion like this New York Fashion Week: it’s either an over-the-top fantasy (Area) or a pragmatic, down-to-earth look at the re-emergence wardrobe (Proenza Schouler). Khaite is rather in the latter camp, but not entirely. Launched in 2016 as a resource for classic essentials, the ethos of the brand hasn’t changed: it’s still constructed on a foundation of cashmere sweaters, leather, denim, and tailoring. But Cate Holstein shakes up that properness lately. Last season, she dimmed the lights almost to black; for autumn-winter 2022, she channeled the glam and grit of pre-Bloomberg New York, with Kurt Cobain wailing “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” on the soundtrack. Khaite is getting edgier than it was in its early days. “It’s our most New York show,” Holstein said, “the most industrial,” and she pointed out that the freight elevator from that scene in Fatal Attraction was down the block from the show venue. Holstein built this collection with the outerwear as a priority. It started with a zip-front leather jacket, with an exaggerated collar and full sleeves. Much more leather followed: an aviator, a trench, double-breasted blazers, snap-front work shirts, and a Perfecto like Emmanuelle Seigner’s in Frantic, a movie Holstein quoted backstage. Jackets and coats sorted, the Khaite customer will need a mini for autumn. Khaite’s are shapely— – igh waisted and neatly belted, with a zip all the way down the front. Should she require a dress, she might fancy an off-the-shoulder number traced in a harlequin of Swarovski crystals, a fully fringed cocktail number that took three weeks of work to complete, or the crocheted column studded with crystals that was the collection’s showpiece. As sexy as the vibe was, Holstein achieved it without the towering spike heels we’ve seen turning up elsewhere this week. The post-pandemic stiletto comeback isn’t anywhere in sight. Holstein gets that – another notch in her favor.
Khaite’s spring-summer 2022 show was incompatible with Instagram, from the intentional lack of photographers to the (also intentional) dim, hazy lighting. This was Cate Holstein‘s intention. Set in the bowels of a Lower East Side apartment building, there were wild green vines climbing up the walls, tumbling from the rafters, and snaking across the floor, as if we’d descended into an overgrown, long-forgotten basement. It was something of a metaphor for New York’s resilience and regeneration, and echoed a collection designed for the equally resilient New York woman. Much of Holstein’s focus this season was on the touch and feel of the clothes – and not just in the materials but how a garment might alternately embrace or liberate the wearer. Gigi Hadid’s opening look was a luminous ivory satin coat lightly filled with down, “like your duvet cover, but more elevated,” said Holstein at a preview. “I think it’s still important to be gentle to ourselves,” she added. A crinkled organza bubble dress would be almost weightless on the body, while a new hand-stitched satin harness might feel satisfyingly snug over a T-shirt. A chrome sequined mini was deliberately heavy, she noted, “to ground you.” These are details that can’t be captured in two dimensions, but make all the difference IRL. “I think we’ve really established the brand’s character, so now it’s about pushing our materials and construction techniques,” said the designer. Holstein pointed out a ruched sequined dress in glittering pale gold, styled here with an oversized chocolate bomber. The effect was of a woman heading to a glitzy party – maybe her first since lockdown – and on her way out the door, she throws on her everyday jacket, not a fancy evening coat. Why fuss when you can be comfortable? Now more than ever, she’s less inclined toward prescriptive full looks and deeply curious to see how each customer puts their own unique spin on a Khaite piece.
Although it’s officially London Fashion Week, some brands from New York are showing just now. Cate Holstein‘s Khaite for autumn-winter 2021 was meant to be a love letter to long-gone, gritty New York of the 1970s – think Taxi Driver and Klute as a visual reference. The open-back dresses were clear nods to Jane Fonda’s character’s wardrobe in the latter. The collection was unveiled “phygitally”: last night, with the Manhattan skyline in the background, Holstein brought a small group of editors, buyers, and friends to Skyline Drive-In for what was likely their only “real” event of the season. Seated in intage cars, the projector rolled cheeky ’80s “advertisements” for Khaite products, a faux black-and-white movie trailer, and finally, the main event: a short film starring Paloma Elsesser, Soo Joo Park, Akon Adichol, Lulu Tenney, Tess McMillan, and several other models. The production might have stumbled on an actual plot (some of the most memorable scenes: Elsesser opening a Khaite tote full of graffiti bottles; others are stuffing cash into their thigh-high boots; a few girls smoke outside a bodega), and although it was visually satisfying, I just couldn’t find the balance between the film part and the clothes part (the hard-to-achieve golden ratio for any ‘fashion-film’). The clothes hardly related to the mood of the film, while the uncharismatic look-book made them go even more plain. According to Holstein, the clothes borrowed less from the ’70s and ’80s and more from the 1920s: lace negligees, narrow jersey columns, giant faux fur chubbies. “I’ve always loved that Café Society moment in New York, but I was thinking more about how the ’20s were a response to the 1918 flu,” Holstein told Vogue. Holstein isn’t the only designer predicting a similar shift this year. “It wasn’t just about being comfortable, but about feeling comforted,” she added. “I think we will still want to be treated gently.” This was not a literal ‘roaring ’20s collection’ – it was rather reverential to Khaite itself. Holstein doesn’t do mood boards or themes; she insists every collection is simply a reflection of what she’s craving. Maybe keeping it that way, image-wise, would work better for the collection in overall? The “cravings list” includes plush cashmere knits, boxy leather jackets, sharp tailoring, and romantic cotton dresses. Newness comes in the items she’s personally missing, like the down puffers, which were the collection’s big surprise. She bought her first puffer last year and likely saw an opportunity for a better, ultra-luxe version. Her glossy red and black coats were extra-stuffed and coated in lacquered leather; a cropped camel version came in 100% cashmere. In other words: definitely not coats for graffitiing or smashing windows, but for chic, socially-distanced walks.