Eckhaus Latta Is Leveling Up But Staying Weird

Custom Nikes, alien clothes, and a live score by Dev Hynes.

In the quiet but chaotic hour before Eckhaus Latta's Fall/Winter '15 runway show earlier today, handlers and assistants clad in black scampered around Artists Space in Soho—testing the bespoke tequila cocktail, supervising soundcheck, ferrying the models from one end of the space to the other. The facilitators in black outnumbered Mike Eckhaus, Zoe Latta, and their rag-tag group of luminously beautiful artists-as-models and model-models by roughly two-to-one. The show, titled "My Own Private I Don't Know," felt like a blue chip, big deal, real Fashion Week production.

Historically, Eckhaus Latta's fashion week presentations have always felt fringe, even a little rebellious. Just last September, their Spring presentation featured worn, dad-sized puffy sneakers glued on top of baby-sized puffy sneakers (an early iteration of #HeelConcept); a model painted entirely green; and an interpretive dance. Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta seem to relish straddling the line between performance art and design, and the fear that seems to stoke in entrenched fashion circles; mainstream profiles of the design collective often seem to ask, are these RISD kids just fucking with us?

This time around, the models still wore sneakers, but they were sleek, brand-new Nikes, a first glimpse at the brand's new partnership with Nike iD (the athletic giant was also a runway sponsor). A team of hair stylists dispatched by Sassoon milled about the backstage ("I'm not even sure what I should be doing," one of them confessed), and guests sipped on a custom cocktail made with Alacaran tequila (another sponsor). But even if they're now flush in sponsorships, Eckhaus Latta's show wasn't a glossy Lincoln Center affair: models strode the runway in unassuming high-waisted stonewashed black denim and velvet snuggies, while the live soundtrack, written and helmed by Dev Hynes, was punctuated by the sound of one of the handlers carving a hole in the gallery wall with a sledgehammer.

The clothes themselves were more accessible than seasons past, but there was something artful and alien even about the more wearable pieces: something melancholy in the slouch of a purplish satin gown, something funny and careless about a flannel shirt paired with printed velvet joggers. As the models strode around the space, Samantha Urbani, Bea 1991, Eva Tolkin, and Ava Raiin sang into wireless mics over the sound of Hynes' keyboard, their vocals floating upwards, like in a church. Feeling the comfort, they sang over and over, of… a new set of surroundings.

It felt like an apt-enough metaphor for the design collective, who are navigating the tricky business of leveraging the buzz surrounding their nascent label into commercial success, but they're still themselves. Before the show began, I overheard a photographer, an obvious fashion week veteran in a tackle vest, talking to one of the wispy handlers dressed in black.

"Is this it? The whole set up? There are no more lights? This is all I have to work with?" He asked, gesturing towards the windows.

"Yes," the handler told him, "It will be a very natural, daytime show."

All Images: Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images.

Eckhaus Latta Is Leveling Up But Staying Weird