By almost any measure, Khaite, the women’s wear label founded in 2016 by Catherine Holstein, is one of the great recent success stories of American fashion — if not the great success story.
The brand has been in existence for less than a decade, but Ms. Holstein has already been twice named designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, in 2022 and 2023. She has a dream of a Zen brutalist store in SoHo, not far from Prada and Balenciaga. Last year she took on investment from Stripes, the private equity firm that also backs the film production company A24 and On Running, with the aim of opening further shops.
And judging by her show on Saturday, held in an enormous black box at Chelsea Piers, with a mirrored river of a black runway lit only by the sort of follow spot Tom Ford made famous during his Gucci and YSL years, she has ambition to spare.
What she doesn’t seem to have is originality.
In moving from the “cool girl” fashion for which she was originally known to more capital-F Fashion, she seems to have gotten lost in the thicket of other people’s ideas, borrowing a bit from here, a bit from there. It’s as if she feels that to compete with big brands, she has to go through the same motions as those brands. As a result, she is trapped in a buffer zone between the plush angst of the recently popular quiet luxury movement and the dominatrix leathers most associated with Saint Laurent (especially when paired with black shades and red lips).
Or so it seemed from the current collection, with those leathers, in the form of long coats, tightly belted at the waist, with battering-ram shoulders. Also, jackets with more big, curving shoulders but cropped like boleros and paired with boxy leather skirts. Also, organza tops and skirts molded around the torso and legs like squirts of whipped cream or boa constrictors, ghost-girl white nightie dresses and some tango evening scarf print silks, tucked into cigarette pants and cinched with a cummerbund. The silhouette was major on the top, awkward on the bottom.
In her show notes, Ms Holstein wrote that with this collection she had been thinking about “heritage” and “memory,” but the memories that most leaped to mind were of a time when New York fashion was often dismissed as derivative of its European counterparts.
Nostalgia is in, but is that really a time to which anyone wants to return?
There’s a school of thought that says yes, that is exactly what shoppers want: style that creates what is often referred to as “direction,” without the extremity that generally goes along with any change-making idea. That there is enough going on in women’s lives that they don’t want to work too hard to understand their clothes, and that there is value in translation. Besides, every designer copies from other designers. (I can name at least five who have done their version of the Chanel tweed jacket.)
But if Ms. Holstein is really going to be a leader of American fashion, she needs to develop a signature. She needs a point of view about women in the world and where they are going that is singular and recognizable.
There’s no reason to think that can’t happen. Ms. Holstein clearly has taste. She has a platform. She has a solid business. She has the money. And she seems to be trying to get there. Those tricky skirt-and-jacket combinations may be a sign of a collection in transition, an effort to move out of someone else’s comfort zone. The question is whether she can stake out her own.