Fashion can be stifling, so designers are increasingly looking to other industries to get their creative fix.
For many, like Virgil Abloh with Byredo (among others) and Michael Williamson with CB2, that means collaborating with a beauty or home decor brand. Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, the founders of American label Eckhaus Latta, however, are looking to the art world, teaming with the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York’s Meatpacking District on a new exhibit.
A common tale among fashion designers, Eckhaus and Latta became increasingly tasked with tending to the business side of their brand, since its launch in 2011. To stay in touch with their creative side, they’re exploring a new retail platform, with an exclusive collection to boot.
Friday marked the opening of their first exhibition, “Eckhaus Latta: Possessed.” Running through October 8, the show explores industry-familiar themes, including desire and apparel consumption, plus features a retail experience within its four walls, allowing viewers to purchase the displayed wares. It was the brainchild of Eckhaus and Latta, as well as Christopher Lew, the museum’s associate curator, and Lauri Freedman, the head of product development. Lew approached the designers about collaborating on a project associating commerce and art installations, and they jumped at the chance.
“At the end of the day, Mike and I are usually thinking about merchandising and structuring collections, and how people will like them, and about fit and cut, and picking fabric — and we’re on Excel a lot,” said Latta, of her day-to-day at Eckhaus Latta. “It’s very much more that we’re running a business than an art collection; Eckhaus Latta’s [seasonal collections] are not art collections in any way.”
The duo — who are current finalists in the 2018 LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers — was forced to restructure company processes in the last year, in response to customer demands. One result was a New York Fashion Week show in February incorporating pre-spring styles, in addition to the usual fall.
“We started thinking about [collection] deliveries, and of the feedback from stores and customers — and also the shifts in the general fashion structure, and the fact that our customers aren’t buying their winter coats in August,” said Eckhaus. “People don’t necessarily want see-now-buy-now, but they want to shop more in-season.”
When the fashion calendar doesn’t play into the process, as in an art gallery, there’s even more freedom to play, in terms of styles featured.
“With the collection, it was important for us to have a wide scope of garments, with things that are more accessible, more about multiplicity, and other objects that are unique and have a sort of a craft to them,” said Eckhaus, pointing to the merchandise, which includes denim and sweatshirts, among other styles. “In this context, people are approaching the clothes as a viewer or a consumer, rather than as a spectator, which happens at a fashion show.”
Latta said the exhibit bears the same excitement of a runway show — though the adrenaline rush is set to last two-and-a-half months, versus 15 minutes. Part of that is getting to work with artist friends who created the installation’s functional components. Also, the experience is, in fact, temporal, in the sense that the clothes are going away as people buy them and the styles won’t be replenished.
Instead, if needed, the exhibit will be stocked with new styles, the assortment of which is to be determined, as Eckhaus and Latta said they’re unsure of what to expect in terms of actual sales.
“We’re like: Let’s propose something and ask a question, then we’ll see,” said Eckhaus, of intersecting retail and art. “This experience will allow Eckhaus Latta to unfold in another direction than it does in the regimented structure of the fashion weeks, and it’s exciting.”