Is fashion an art form? It's an eternal debate in the press, and one which often divides us. Prada and Kawakubo's no's are firm. Warhol called Yves Saint Laurent "the greatest French artist of our time." Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta have never been ones for definitive answers, but their clothing is making it increasingly difficult to tell. Presently, pieces the duo created in collaboration with painter Annabeth Marks for last season's Eckhaus Latta show are on view at MoMA PS1, including in the recurring survey Greater New York. The storied art institution's Long Island City outpost also hosted the pair's outstanding fall/winter 16 show last night.
"We'd been working with the curatorial team for the show. They do these Sunday Sessions and they wanted us to work on something performative," Latta explained. "We thought, 'we could go halfway and do a performance, or we could go all the way and do our show here.'" That full-on offering was staged inside a large, inflatable dome in the art museum's concrete courtyard.
Fittingly, Eckhaus and Latta's design approach seems just as much like painting as it does pattern making. The pair's influences aren't concrete or tangible, but steeped in an emotional and intuitive language that's constantly being examined, questioned, and perhaps most importantly, refined. "Our last collection was 39 looks. It's amazing that we now have the capacity to produce that quantity, but it was too much — like having a lot of kids and needing to tend to all of them," Latta explained. "We've learned from that. This season was about challenging ourselves to refine it."
In that bumper spring/summer 16 season, the pair introduced interesting elements of movement that were present in last night's offering, too. Spring used draping to create an image of garments spilling or shifting around the body, but this time, action was implied through through buttons, fasteners, and the assemblage of deconstructed shapes. "A lot of it crosses over," Zoe explained. "There are different challenges, but I think the weight and heaviness of fall/winter — the way we can play with more intense materials — excites us more."
Because they put such special focus on sourcing sustainable and unique deadstock fabrics, the pieces have a special and singular quality. Color was a particularly strong point this season, but like fabrication, "it's always been really intuitive and depends on what we find," Latta explained. Whether the rich gold displayed in Juliana Huxtable's sculptural crushed velvet bib top, India Menuez's slumped sage overcoat, or actress Camilla Deterre's gorgeous blush suit, this season's hues were sublime. "That pink suit was made from this one bulk of fabric we found in LA. We didn't even swatch it, we both just went, picked it up and walked out of the fabric store. Little things just came out of that."
It's also worth noting that many of the people modeling the duo's designs are themselves artists (though Wilhelmina-signed babe Barbie Ferreira did take her turn last night). Huxtable and Menuez were joined by Michael Bailey Gates, Torey Thornton, Alexandra Marzella, and Susan Cianciolo among others. The age, ethnicity, and gender-inclusive casting isn't just one of the week's most exciting, it demonstrates perhaps the most central component of the brand's ethos. Eckhaus and Latta have never approached seasons with a specific concept, let alone "girl" in mind -- they're thinking about and designing for lots of different creative people around them. Like encountering a piece of art, our responses are as much guided by our own emotions as theirs.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Mitchell Sams