Catherine Holstein’s first Khaite store is opening at 165 Mercer Street later this week after a year in the making, and 10 more are planned for the next five years. Next month, her first child is due. It’s a time of beginnings for the Khaite designer, and after her intimate show in the boutique last night she was talking about a new chapter. “We always talk about strength and stealth, but this is about power. That’s all we kept saying: ‘sharp power,’” she said. “I don’t want to call it grown-up, because that sounds kind of naff, but it’s a departure.”
Stripped-down tailoring is one of New York’s emerging themes—serious, even austere clothes for cautionary times. The frills and embellishments of last season’s Khaite show were missing here. There was no silk fringe or diamanté trim, no snakeskin prints and definitely no polka dots. “There’s that famous Diana Vreeland quote, ‘always take one thing off before you leave the house,’ I always try to think about that,” Holstein said. “Maybe it got lost along the way in some of the other collections, but for this one we were talking about taking things away and being comfortable with that, and that’s also empowerment as well.”
It wasn’t as peeled back as that might sound. The show started with a prodigious brushed natural shearling coat with black leather trim that nearly scraped the store’s poured concrete floor, and there was much more shearling, even for trousers, which will take a very strong woman to pull off. But overall the collection was a study of silhouette and material, not surface attractions. Holstein is of the mind that “people come back to your brand for your fabrics.” Black leather for a lean double-breasted coat and mini and midi skirts that flounced in a-line shape from the hips. Bonded crepe satin with a chiffon under layer for dresses as high of neck and long of sleeve as religious garb. Rubberized twill for a long hooded cape. And stretch jersey for body limning dresses with a sexiness that is “owned rather than declared,” to borrow an effective line from the press release.
Where seduction was the name of the game last season, this time it’s happenstance. There’s definitely allure in that. But Holstein did make room for a little fun. It came in the form of shearling-covered pumps and mules, burnished gold leather handbags, and a cashmere intarsia featuring dueling red Corvettes that was worn with a caramel shearling blazer in ’80s-ish proportions, black leather pants, and strappy kitten heel sandals that was the show’s killer outfit. The Corvettes are a useful symbol. This is a season when other promising emerging American brands are scaling back or sitting Fashion Week out. Khaite is on the fast track.