“There’s been a life to this before,” says Mike Eckhaus of the deadstock fabrics he and co-designer Zoe Latta source for their up-and-coming label, Eckhaus Latta. In two short years, they’ve picked up accounts at Opening Ceremony and Maryam Nassir Zadeh, and earned plaudits from teen Insta-star Mike the Ruler. They've also drawn attention for their experimental fashion films (the latest, Guest, is above). Their Chinatown studio is stuffed with everything from a sheath dress made from military blankets to an avant-garde cape constructed from polar fleece. There’s even a fisherman-style bag — part of a collaboration with Art Basel — printed with their original poetry. Explains Latta, “We’re getting really into poetry. We’ve been writing poems in press releases.” (The two are definitely on the same wavelength: Latta said this while wearing a self-designed shirt printed with Eckhaus's naked torso.) The Cut caught up with the unconventional duo to talk art school and dressing “60-year-old gynecologists.”
Tell me a little bit about how you decided to start the line. You met in college, correct?
Mike: We went to RISD and we became really good friends there towards the end of our education. I was studying sculpture as well as textiles. We met and had this crazy bonding experience over our shared views on clothing and fashion and making things.
Zoe: But neither of us knew how to make things.
Because you were art students?
Zoe: Then we moved to New York and got design jobs and lived together and then started [the label].
Mike: It was a very feverish moment of working at other places and really enjoying working at other places but having had this education and this feeling of really wanting to do our own thing and not really feeling satisfied and fulfilled with what our day jobs were at the time. We got a studio and then Eckhaus Latta just sort of exploded out of there in a way, where we all of a sudden just started working and it was like "Oh, we’ll have a show for Fashion Week!"
Zoe: We’re also bicoastal. I actually live in L.A. This is just beginning, though. We signed a lease on our workspace there two days ago. It’s a live-work space, in my home in Hollywood.
Do you think coming from an art background has made you approach fashion differently? Has it enriched the way that you come at fashion?
Mike: Definitely, [in] the way we approach making clothing and our presentations and the videos and all these things that kind of circulate around it. I even see stuff that we were doing in undergrad that kind of, like, stayed true to ways we still decide to present stuff and play with presentation. In our early shows, a lot of them were definitely very challenging at times for both the models and the viewer, just because we wanted to create certain scenarios or installations or performances that played a lot more with the modes of presenting clothing. We understand form, we understand texture and material, but I think there are certain traditional techniques and things where —
Zoe: We’re picking it up as we go!
A big part of your design methodology involves reusing fabrics. Tell me a little bit about that whole process.
Zoe: Our conversation, beyond our fascination with and love of the fashion industry, came from a shared fascination with materials, so the sourcing is very important to us. It’s never just like, "I don’t care where this came from." We did a collaboration we did with ShowStudio in London. That was like this American dead stock polar tech over-fleece. It’s manufactured in Massachusetts; they don’t make it anymore. We bought what they had left over.
Is that something you do a lot?
Zoe: Yeah, with like 90 percent of our fabrics.
Mike: I feel like the only time we don’t use a fabric that’s deadstock is basically when it’s just like …
Zoe: Like an oxford shirt. A lot of the time we find the material and then find a way to use it. It does happen, but I’d say it’s only 2 percent of the time, with like the oxford shirting for next season: We know what we want to make out of that kind of fabric. So we then go out to find it, versus letting the material kind of dictate how we [design].
And how do you find these fabrics?
Mike: Various resources both in New York and in L.A. that we’ve been working with, some for the past couple seasons, some for the past couple years. And just places that we’d stumbled across or heard of. A lot of our method of sourcing materials is sort of this hunter-gatherer-type mentality where the element of surprise is really important.
Zoe: Where we don’t know what we’re going to find.
Mike: And it’s like, what you come across, you take that and something develops from the whole search.
I love what you did with the polar fleece because that’s a fabric that just screams “Seattle, uncool” and you made it into something completely new. This is a more high-concept question, but we’ve been talking a lot about all these conditions surrounding fast fashion and waste. You are creating high fashion from something that might otherwise be disposed of, so what’s your take on this whole issue?
Mike: For us, something that’s really important for as long as we can, is that all manufacturing is done in the States. Everything has been done in New York and a big reason for Zoe’s move to L.A. has been because there are some facilities that are based in L.A.
Zoe: Most people don’t move to their production facility but, for us, it’s really important to have a relationship with these people beyond checking conditions. It’s a really precious relationship to have someone execute your ideas and realize them with you, because we don’t usually function in conventional forms or it’s not like we’re using the same fabric so it’s just like "yeah, do that again." There’s a lot of conversation that’s really intimate and important for us to be incredibly hands-on and aware of the whole picture and where the fabric’s coming from to where it’s being produced. It’s not like we’re saying "no comment"to fast fashion, but it’s obvious that our practice is very much so in response to not partaking in that. We do two seasons a year, and it makes sense to do four, but we’re not at the level where we can do that, much less 18 deliveries a month or so. We don’t care to belittle our design process to that market level of replication yet.
How did you initially get the word out about the brand?
Zoe: We had a show a month after we started and from there it’s just been a really organic process.
Mike: [For our] show, we sent out the invites ourselves.
Zoe: We’re not very good at it [laughs].
Do you have anything like the ShowStudio collaboration coming up in terms of projects?
Zoe: We just did uniforms for Tom Krell, a.k.a. the musician How to Dress Well. He’s performing in Berlin, so we did uniforms for his orchestra and dancers.
What are your plans coming up for next Fashion Week? Are you going to present or show?
Mike: We’re figuring that out right now, but we will be showing in September.
Zoe: It’ll be really good. [Laughs.] Spring is too fledgling to say, because the way we work is a kind of ping-pong, back and forth, that then starts to realize itself.
Mike: I often see collections as markers in time, and it’s not like this is it and then we strip it all away and we’re gonna start from the ashes again. We’re able to reflect back on and see like, Oh, there was this idea we did X number of years ago, but it was never fully realized, it’s still exciting, and let’s see how it moves forward.
You’ve been working on fashion videos with Alexa Karolinski. What kind of response are you getting?
Mike: The response has been really good. It’s really nice, I think, just to play with that medium, and also because we never approach it in the sense that — yes, they are advertisements, but they never felt like, "Make sure that look is seen." It’s more like fun creating these alternate realities and these worlds to re-contextualize the clothes in, rather than them being about highlighting product.
Do you have a sense of who your customer is?
Zoe: We’re aware of 14-year-old girls that have the clothes and 60-year-old gynecologists now; we’re aware of a very diverse group of people, but definitely they’re people who have some kind of relationship or respect for the arts. Like, they might be a 70-year-old party planner, or— but it’s different.
Mike: Or a 20-year-old art student or a 30-year-old gallerist’s assistant. I think it’s someone who has a strong sense of self and they’re not looking to be dictated to. This is just something that enhances them and makes them feel good, but they’re not trying to be branded by us.
This interview has been edited and condensed.