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.
It’s quite incredible that Khaite, a relatively young and small brand, has such distinct signatures and a loyal clientele. I bet many, much older and famous labels dream of credentials Cate Holstein‘s brand can boast with. The pre-fall 2021 collection sums up Khaite’s biggest hits and classics, but it didn’t lack novelty. With a basic QR code, you can beam Lia Pavlova into your living room. It takes a minute to get the hang of “placing her” in the space, but then she’s walking, posing, and giving you multiple angles of Khaite’s new collection. The augmented reality experience is an evolution of the one Catherine Holstein launched for spring 2021, which included only shoes; now we’re getting the full look, and it’s surprisingly realistic. What makes this particular AR experiment successful is that most of these clothes will, in fact, look right at home in your apartment. Holstein is an intuitive and product-oriented designer who cares about how her clothes are worn and lived in, not just how they look on a catwalk or in a moody video. For the new season, she was especially focused on comfort, practicality, and ease – “nothing frivolous,” she said. Floor-sweeping hemlines felt excessive, so there were boxy peacoats and ’60s-ish miniskirts instead. The stronger, tougher feeling of spring 2021 carried through in the combat boots and patent over-the-knee styles, shown here with voluminous evening tops, cozy knit dresses, and narrow jeans. Even her signature bubble dresses felt casualized and couch-friendly, whipped up in crinkled viscose and styled on Sasha Pivovarova with a shrunken blazer, black tights, and no jewelry. Holstein said she wasn’t really thinking about the quite abstract “re-emerging” many designers are talking about lately; she prefers to design for the moment she’s living in, not for some hazy future. Still, she hopes her clients will likely be in the mood to dress up, but with items that feel comforting and sensitive to the year we just endured. You’ll notice there are exactly zero stilettos for pre-fall, and little in the way of flashy embellishments. The androgynous, hardware-free leather and suede jackets and flat knee-high boots – including a pair in burnished gold – will offer a just-right balance of excitement and ease in 2021.
While it seems that most of the designers in New York take the escapist route this season, Khaite‘s Cate Holstein chooses to embrace sober classics. “What does it mean to feel simultaneously paralyzed and galvanized?” reads a line in Khaite’s press release. “Growth is never easy,” Holstein told Vogue on a Zoom call. “We’re going through one of our collective nightmares as a society. They’ve made horror movies about this. It’s mind-blowing, but it also gives me a renewed strength. Living through it has been so challenging, but on the other side, it’s so invigorating and inspiring.” Her collections had taken on a darker, moodier tone before the pandemic; she was craving a uniform of jeans, leather jackets, and combat boots. No frills, no fuss. She said she was thinking about the New York she inhabited as a college grad in the early 2000s, when the city had an “element of menace” that has since faded. “But now, there’s a bit of that industrial feeling again,” she said. It’s a survivalist one too. New Yorkers are in the streets (there’s nowhere else to go), linking arms (metaphorically, that is) and getting through this together. How do you dress for that? “I think women are going to want to look strong.” Holstein worked with director Hanna Tveite to distill that feeling of New York into a look-book and film. They also created 100 “presentation boxes” to send editors and buyers, packed with blown-up look books, fabric swatches, and an augmented reality experience that beams Khaite’s shoes into your living room. Holstein was surprised to report that shoes were among her top sellers this summer, despite the fact that most of us hardly left home. Also surprising: Women bought Khaite evening dresses, and Holstein could hardly keep her leather moto jackets in stock. The former speaks to the “fantasy shoppers” dreaming of future events; the latter illustrates a growing interest in timeless, keep-forever investment pieces. Holstein’s word for them: “cherished.” When we can’t predict tomorrow’s headlines, there’s a comfort in buying something you can see yourself wearing and loving 10 or 20 years from now.
Cate Holstein’s Khaite had a similar turn as the boys at Proenza Schouler. Her woman is much more daring than usual this season. While many know and love the label for its soft minimalism, occasionally beautified by tulle and pearls and toughened by suede cowboy details, this time Holstein let some danger in. The effects? Some of it is convicing, some got lost in the messy styling. The designer wanted to embrace the word „sexy”: dramatic cut-out backs of the evening dresses, leather and cheeth prints went with signature tulle, vintage-looking horse-rider motif came across the silks. Models wore chunky knitted scarves or bandanas. Girls just wanna have fun.