INTERVIEW: MIKE ECKHAUS & ZOE LATTA
ECKHAUS LATTA – founded by Rhode Island School of Design grads Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta – broke into the fashion arena in 2011 with a collection that successfully captured something few fashion labels have been able to accomplish in recent years: anti-establishment, art-driven garment design. This isn’t anti-fashion per se, not the kind that surfaced in the late 80s and early 90s with labels such as Comme des Garçons and Maison Martin Margiela, but it touches on something in fashion that really hasn’t been investigated since that time, certainly not with as much sincerity as designers Mike and Zoe manage. Most young fashion labels – even less mainstream ones – adhere to prevailing trends and silhouettes in varying degrees, and while this is hardly reprehensible (in most cases), it creates an environment where fewer and fewer designers are actually pushing the limits. In our post-modern/recycled/”novelty”-obsessed creative culture, one that too frequently relies on past aesthetics as reference, Eckhaus Latta takes a gamble in the opposite direction. Their stuff really does feel “new” and different, but novelty isn’t the point for them – thank goodness. The designers are true craftsmen as well as strong thinkers and they manage to keep their attention focused on those fundamental elements of garment design that have at various points brought fashion into the realm of art: material, texture, line, shape, color. Concept is of course also part of this recipe, but their process isn’t one of simply representing an inspiration. “We never try to execute a reference,” Mike explains. “There’s always a bunch of divergent ideas that are highly reference-able, but more towards our own mental construct of things.” In this regard their designs are really more about the garments themselves and the impressions the designers feel while constructing a collection. Check out their most recent collection (SS14), streamed live from a parking lot in Berlin at the Anthology Film Archives during New York Fashion Week.
Interview by Sonia & Natasha Stagg
Photo essay by Benedict Brink
Mike Eckhaus: T-shirts just disappear. I think they’re the number one piece of clothing that disappears. You leave it at someone’s house or in a car—Zoe Latta: And you’re like, ‘Remember that T-shirt?’Sonia Stagg: I hate that.
Natasha Stagg: When friends ask to borrow a shirt and it’s that one shirt, they sleep in it, wear it home, and you never see it again.
Zoe: I’ve lost the best ones that way.
Mike: I’ve lost so much clothing like that. Then one day all of a sudden you’re walking down the street, and you think of that garment, and you’re like, ‘Where is it? I haven’t seen it for months.’
Zoe: Facebook always does that to me.
Mike: Yeah where you’re looking on Facebook and you realize you don’t own the clothes you’re wearing in the photos anymore.
Zoe: So should we talk about the collection?
Sonia: Or about yourselves.
Zoe: We did put something together to say, [to Mike] should we divulge?
Mike: There’s this song that goes, “a little bit of this, a little bit of that”.
Zoe: We realize we don’t really have any icons or people to reference in fashion. We’re like really bad electronic musicians that are really soft. We don’t really have a home in terms of an audience. We can’t really give references and then be like, ‘That’s what the collection is about.’ It’s not logical. It’s more fluid the way we come up with stuff, it’s a conversation between us, but the entire time we were describing it to Asher Penn [of Sex Magazine] that song that goes “A little bit of this”—I couldn’t get it out of my head! And it was overpowering my ability to formulate sentences. Then in terms of our business approach, our other song is “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.”
Sonia: But you guys had references for your latest collection, like the Pacific Northwest.
Mike: But we never try to execute a reference, in a sense.
Zoe: The reference doesn’t serve as a jumping off point for execution.
Mike: It’s much more the idea of a vibe. I was watching the Style.com video for some designer and he was saying, ‘Well I watched this film, about women in the military and women soldiers, and then it was like: female military collection! They’re tough and they’re aggressive and they’re shielded and they’re this and they’re that’. And how many people regurgitate things like that? I don’t know.
Zoe: Or how do people believe it?
Mike: Or why do you want to associate with that? How does it actually have any sort of relevance, to have a set of visuals like that?
Zoe: Or how does that apply to your life?
Mike: Exactly, is it like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be that tough woman’.
Zoe: But that one’s even better than most because it’s sort of founded in history. I’ll never forget watching this video, of some young designers where they were like ‘We went to Woodstock for the weekend, and then we were just thinking about what it would be like to be there in the ‘60s.’ I was just like, you made an entire body of work based on that fart? It’s upsetting because clothes are so much more than that.
Mike: Nothing that was said in the last five minutes can go to print by the way. We’re just being bitchy about fashion.
Zoe: You can figure something out.
Natasha: But what about Missoni’s Burning Man collection?
Mike: Burning Man is really important to us. We can’t really talk more about that right now.
Zoe: We do have references. We’re just embarrassed about them. It’s also like when you look at a piece in a museum, and you’re either taken by it or you hate it, and then you read the wall label, and all of a sudden your perspective of it totally changes. I hate that feeling. And in a press release—I mean of course we have references, we’re not pulling this shit out of a hat, but at the same time, when someone tells me what I’m looking at, I get a little irked, for better or for worse.
Mike: There isn’t a sense of wanting a body of work that becomes, in essence, a collection to be visually like “this is that” and “this is what they were thinking.” There’s always a bunch of divergent ideas that are highly reference-able, but more towards our own mental constructs of things. Like we’ve yet to do mood boards or things, or have visual imagery that we’re referencing, it’s more like, ‘I was thinking about what its like to be in Silicon Valley.’ A garment was manifested based on my impression of that.
Zoe: That kind of thing also happens retroactively. A reference makes itself known when the garment is complete. After our first collection, Fall/Winter 2012, two weeks after the show, we were like, ‘Oh shit, that was like Joseph Beuys at a rave. We can’t tell anyone.’
Mike: Maybe it’s easier for people to digest or understand it that way. Maybe we’re a little too angsty in that sense. Because I feel like often we taken on these very polar ideas that then somehow collide, and we see how that emanates in garments or an overall gesture. It’s just, we’re not doing the Michael Kors thing, you know where he just lists all these things like, ‘She’s going to the beach, meeting her boyfriend, she has a convertible, she’s uptown-downtown, some Park Avenue, she loves her two dogs, and one of her Yorkies is in this bag, she’s just an uptown/downtown girl!’. That way of talking, which I feel is very popular especially within some fashion education programs, to try to get students to think about clothing that way.
Zoe: I think that format of inspiration, which anyone could do, is something you’re encouraged to do in design school as a means of communicating to other designers who you work with…“Marbleized meets Blade Runner”—just these unfounded forms of language or reference that may work when you’re working with a team of designers but—
Mike: It always works with a larger idea, that doesn’t necessarily relate to the finalized object.
Zoe: I also think that within what we’re producing, like if you’re Michael Kors, he’s talking to a customer and he’s really telling the customer who they should be. But with our clothes, we really want that customer to already fucking know who they are, and want us to be a part of their lives. The “it-girl” idea is …
Mike: That idea is about to fall off I think.
Zoe: Well the idea that a brand would have their “it-girl.” And that’s their projection, and they cater all their design decisions towards this one customer. Whereas we’re so into the idea of a 75 year old woman wearing our clothes and a 14 year old. We’d much rather have these expressions translated into someone else’s self-expression, than having to define them for them.
Mike: Michael Kors is also this figure of—
Zoe: He’s everything we’re not.
Mike: And he’s also such a bizarre idea of a fashion designer as pop cultural icon, and he’s on Project Runway, but he still has all of his brands, he’s just the ultimate American fashion designer, in the most thorough sense. How he’s engaged in our culture, whether or not he’s aware of it, is fascinating.
Sonia: Can you talk about your Pacific Northwest inspiration?
Zoe: Sometimes Mike’s references are based on what he doesn’t know. I love a reference like that.
Mike: I think it’s interesting to construct something that totally does exist in reality, but to only hold on to your loose fucked-up idea of what it is, and say to yourself, ‘Well, I could easily go to a computer, and Google it, and source imagery in relation to it, but I’d rather just grip that weird thought I have of that world’, and narrated through our hands it becomes one step further removed from it being clearly anything real. So with the Pacific Northwest in this collection, I was thinking about polar fleece.
Sonia: Will you keep designing for bigger companies to pay the bills?
Zoe: Yeah, we do. We don’t publicly [design] at the moment, we just work freelance.
Sonia: So how did you guys meet?
Mike: We met at [RISD]. We both kind of knew each other from afar for a while, and I thought Zoe was a guy for a really long time because she had this Facebook picture where she had a mustache and a uni-brow. I assumed she was like, trans or something, or just a guy.
Zoe: And Mike at the time—
Mike: I was an asshole.
Zoe: And not in an intimidating way, he had neon hair, a much more pronounced lisp, he was so outrageous. I just remember him hovering above the ground, with all these layers of clothing, and to me it seemed very attention-seeking. I mean I was intrigued, but you and I were looking at each other like two cats entering a room.
Mike: Zoe was like, ‘I want to come to your house and see your closet,’ but really aggressively.
Zoe: I didn’t like you.
Mike: Anyway, we bonded and became friends.
Zoe: Part of our initial marketing strategy was—what was that proposal we wrote? Something along the lines of us donating a lot of the clothes that we made to the Salvation Army and Beacon’s Closet.
Mike: Before we were making clothes, we just had this idea to drop them off at places, and then at a certain point we thought, ‘Wait, maybe after all those hours of work we don’t want to just give them away.’
Sonia: You just wanted the collection to infiltrate New York City?
Mike: We just wanted it to sit in stores. I’m really hoping that one day I’ll find one of our pieces being resold at Tokio 7.
Sonia: That’s the ultimate compliment.
Zoe: Like that one time we flew together, and I passed out and woke up and you had just been searching Eckhaus Latta on eBay [laughing].
Sonia: Did you find it?
Mike: No. You get free eBay on Delta though.
Sonia: You’ll see it on eBay in a year I’m sure.
Zoe: Yeah, I hope so.