Photograph by Taylor Herman.

Eckhaus Latta, Alex Wang, and Opening Ceremony: What Does It Mean to Be Cool?

How Eckhaus Latta, Alex Wang, and Opening Ceremony use friends, far-flung Brooklyn locations, or good dance moves to connect with young people.

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Sep 11 2017, 7:15pm

Photograph by Taylor Herman.

Eckhaus Latta is the line to watch, follow, and collect. The collection that Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta showed Saturday, in a lovely industrial Bushwick space owned by a friend, was a mixture of simple clothing—a suit, knits, funky denim, and swaths of mesh—that felt energetic but gentle.

The energy comes in part from the designers' casting, a mix of models and friends which this season included, for example, Latta's boyfriend's mother; the singer Kelela; skateboarder Alex Olson; and the artist Maia Ruth Lee, whose very pregnant belly was exposed by an unsnapped, soft knit dress in calm mauve. "It's nice to have that range of different bodies, genders, races, ages," said Eckhaus after the show, and "to show the clothing in a manner that's not: 'This is it. This is it.' [To show] that it's real, and it's how you're walking down the street, it's who you're engaging with."

He pointed in particular to one section in which the super-tall runway model Maryse Kye, the model-muse-polymath-of-awesome Paloma Elsesser, and gallerist Lucy Chadwick each walked in a variation of a white knit dress. That encapsulates what's made the line an increasingly essential part of the city's fashion landscape since its 2011 launch: the clothing feels real and personal to the body it's on, whether that body is on a runway or on the street. It's sensual without having to cede your personality or physicality to some larger fantasy, which high fashion too often requires.

Designers have always used models on the runway and in campaigns to demonstrate their ideal, but Eckhaus Latta feels less "these are our girls" and more "this is a universe of great people doing nice stuff." Said Latta, "We just see people wearing clothes in a cool way that excites us, and we ask."

The duo is often described as "cool," but their work is far deeper than that. Perhaps they will take over the universe—Cathy Horyn boldly said the show reminded of the early Helmut Lang shows, and the designers mentioned they'd just met with Tommy Hilfiger. Their work has gotten only more and more compelling because its appeal is that it's artful and intelligent without feeling exclusionary—which in the fashion industry, "coolness" so often is.

Funnily enough, another designer often described as cool was showing later that evening directly across the tiny, far-flung Bushwick street: Alexander Wang, whose model-off-duty athleisure defined cool in a post-2008 financial crisis world. The consensus seems that the clothing he showed Saturday night was fun, but the "WANGFEST" idea seems to have people scratching their heads. It wasn't quite Fyre Festival, but many have been griping about the logistics of having to tromp out to Bushwick (of all places!), of being penned behind barricades intended to democratize the viewing experience, of the sheer spectacle of it all. (Latta and Eckhaus giggled it off, having found out just a day or so before that the much larger brand's show would be their neighbor: "There's like a blow-up castle!" Eckhaus said, delighted.)

The geographic proximity makes for an interesting study in how New York designers seek youth appeal. Wang also collaborated this season with Procell, the tiny Lower East Side vintage store where Janet Jackson t-shirts hang next to Fendi logo-print jeans and ultra-rare X-girl jumpsuits (mostly under $200), and which is a significant destination and source of inspiration for many editors and designers and smart/art people. "Procell, the store, likes to represent what is cool or at least be able to represent what's going on on the streets and in youth culture, and Alex is very tapped into that," owner Brian Procell told Dazed of the collaboration. The shirts are available exclusively at Wang's Soho store, and are priced from $300-$2,000 (presumably, they're rarer than Procell's usual stock).

Anyways, there's nothing less cool than discussing what's cool, so let's move onto Opening Ceremony, another big brand with downtown credentials. O.C. likes to toy with the presentation format—they've done a play and a ballet, and on Sunday, they did a Spike Jonze-directed dance story starring Mia Wasikowska and Lakeith Stanfield. It's kind of like a nineteenth century British novel: everyone goes out to the country house and decides to write a play to amuse themselves. In some ways, remembering that you're there to look at clothing can be a distraction—"I had a dream that my boyfriend and I were breaking up and these five guys in like, black Opening Ceremony sweatsuits showed up and did this weird dance with me" sounds like something you might overhear from an overworked art gallery assistant. But when the clothing speaks for and sells itself, isn't it cooler to just dance?