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When you dedicate your life to making other people look good in clothes, what kind of clothes make you feel good about yourself? When you’re surrounded by fashion all day, every day, do you get more or less self-conscious about your own clothing choices? What do designers wear, and why?
I often think about the amount of time we in fashion spend analyzing how to get others to wear certain trends or brands – how does it compare to the time we spend examining our own choices? After all, designers are also consumers, with all the anxieties inherent in that category. How do you consume, shop and get dressed in order to construct or enact the identity of ‘designer’?
Mike and Zoe have had their company, Eckhaus Latta, for eight years, and I’ve known them for four. We’ve spent many an afternoon talking about the ins and outs of our industry – What do you think of the appointment of so-and-so? What did you make of such-and-such show? – as well as the ins and outs of their work, and mine. But I’ve never asked either of them how they feel in their own clothes. Do they like what they see?
Anja: How would you describe the clothes that you wear?
Zoe: Well, when we first started out as designers, the spectrum of what we would wear was much greater. We wore children's sized or super oversized stuff or clothes for a different gender. Back then, the clothes we made ourselves weren't very practical. Now we wear more of a uniform: I don't think there's a day in the week where one of us doesn't wear our jeans, for example. Mike probably wears them every day.
Anja: How did your parents dress you as a child?
Zoe: It was impossible for my parents to dress me after the age of one: I'd just kick and scream till I got to wear what I wanted. I remember being particularly smitten with a pair of saddle shoes, which typically I'd wear with a pair of leggings and one of my brother's T-shirts with a lizard on it.
Mike: I went through an Abercrombie phase as a kid, and then another when I wore only adidas track pants. Up until high school, I just wore whatever was trendy.
Anja: What about later, when you started to dress yourself and buy your own clothes?
Mike: In high school that trendy attitude went out the window. Instead I'd cut my clothes in half and lace them with chains, or wear everything backwards. I was a really wacko teenager when it came to dressing.
Zoe: When I got a little older, I was really into surf style. I remember once I, embarrassingly, got my dad – he's a jeweller – to cast the zipper for a Quiksilver backpack in gold. It had the Quiksilver logo on it, and I used it as a pendant on a hemp necklace. At the time, it made me feel really connected to the brand and to the lifestyle of being a female surfer, which I was not.
Mike: I was in high school when Hedi Slimane was at Dior Homme, and that super skinny look was really influential for me when I was in my late teens. I wore super, super tight pants back then. From the age of seventeen to twenty-three, I was a really aggressive dresser. I liked to shock people and make them uncomfortable. I would wake up at 9am, and throw on a look. I wanted to elicit a reaction, but I also stayed kind of passive in that process at the same time. It was really considered, but with an ‘I-don't-give-a-fuck' quality to it.
Zoe: When I was in my teens, I loved Nico. And ‘The Royal Tenenbaums' changed my life. I discovered eyeliner and would wear white nightgowns with Dr. Martens. If I was to give advice to anybody who's that age now, I'd tell them to experiment. I'm not into click, ship, done. Clothing is not as simple as ‘small', ‘medium' or ‘large.' You have to try things on to know what works for you.
Anja: What are you wearing right now?
Zoe: Today I'm in Lima, Peru visiting knit factories so I'm wearing a pair of our knitted pants that, by definition, could be called sweatpants, and a button-down shirt we made. I always dress for comfort.
Anja: Do you own anything in multiples?
Mike: Zoe was right earlier. I always wear the EL jean: that's the cut that I prefer on myself. I wear them literally every day, until they fall apart and then I get another pair. Growing up, I was really obsessed with dressing, but now my focus is so not that. I wear a T-shirt and jeans, or a T-shirt, jeans and a sweater, or a T-shirt, jeans, a sweater and a jacket, depending on how hot or cold it is outside.
Zoe: Mike has raided his grandparents' closets for T-shirts. He doesn't even wear Eckhaus Latta T-shirts.
Mike: I feel really uncomfortable wearing clothes that are Eckhaus Latta branded actually. I love when my brother or dad wears the EL logo, or anyone else for that matter, but on me – I just can't do it. It's too much.
Anja: Do you ever feel a need to ‘dress the part?'
Zoe: Sure. I'll wear something more professional-looking if I'm giving a talk or something like that. In everyday life though, I don't want to be reminded of what I'm wearing. I don't want to feel constricted.
Mike: I don't really have a lot of professional clothing. I'll just wear a blazer on top of my T-shirt if I need to look smart. I really need a regular button-down shirt that is, like, normal. Something I can wear and look presentable, that isn't stained or cut or dirty or semi see-through.
Zoe: Last week, we did a photo shoot in Yosemite and Mike flew in wearing a blazer. I was laughing so hard.
Mike: I really don't like a soft shoulder at the moment. And anyway, I like incorporating tailoring in daily life. It makes you look more put together.
Anja: Are there any particular rules you follow when getting dressed? Or that you think other people should follow?
Zoe: We don't have rules for dressing per se, but I know Mike likes a triangular shape. No soft shoulders! I don't like to cover my ankles. Exposed ankles looks so much better on me.
Mike: Also: when in doubt, dress up. Being underdressed in a situation where everybody else is dressed up is like the worst feeling in the world. That's happened to me.
Anja: Have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable because of what you're wearing?
Zoe: Of course. One recent memory is being taken to an incredibly fancy restaurant in Paris and feeling like a homeless person.
Mike: Paris has a way of making you feel that way. It's funny, whenever we go there I always end up looking at my wardrobe with a very critical eye. In New York, you can look grungy but still be perceived as put together. In Paris, that look just doesn't culturally connect.
Zoe: I remember another time: we were doing this shoot for a big brand we've collaborated with, and I was modelling a skirt four sizes too small. We had to cut up the back – I was basically wearing a loincloth. We were in a public space. My ass was hanging out. That was very uncomfortable.
Anja: How do you shop? Do you buy things on impulse or take forever to make up your mind? Which other designers or brands do you like?
Zoe: I mostly just wear Eckhaus Latta though I do love vintage shopping. It's getting harder and harder to find good stuff though. The last thing I got that wasn't ours was a super oversized Dries shirt. No, no, wait. I got an Alaïa dress on the RealReal – a used one, for the sake of having it. It's not even my style or colour.
Mike: I love shopping full stop – I love looking at clothes and trying things on. I'll easily find myself at Gucci, trying on a pair of shoes on my way home from yoga. I go to stores all the time but I never buy anything. Because of our work it's important to know what other people are making. We have to be aware of what's happening. The last thing I got was a pair of Nike sneakers. I like the swoosh.
Anja: Can you think of a particularly memorable shopping experience?
Zoe: Well I just got married and spent literally ages looking for the right shoes. Mike was helping me. Lots of people were helping me. I probably looked at a thousand pairs, and tried on a hundred. I'm not joking. It wasn't fun. In the end I got a pair of red Proenza lace-up sandals with a cylindrical heel and proceeded to break them immediately.
Mike: You did?
Zoe: Well, I can still wear them but the leather on one of the heels ripped off.
Mike: Oh god.
Zoe: It was my fault really. We got married in an apple orchard, and those shoes were not designed for that sort of terrain. [Laughs] Anyway, I wore them together with a dress from our spring/summer collection. I knew from the get go what dress I'd be wearing. Even when we were developing it, we called it ‘Zoe's wedding dress.' It's a simple, bias cut dress with beading that's open in the back. It's light greyish blue and goes to below the knee. As soon as I put it on, I forgot I was wearing it: I felt so comfortable and totally like myself.
Anja: How would you like others to see you? What role does clothing play in that?
Mike: I don’t want others to think I’m trying too hard. You don’t want to look…
Zoe: You don’t want to look superior. You don’t want to peacock or show off. I want to come off with ease. You know those people who just wear jeans and a T-shirt and look spectacular? I’d love to be one of those people.
Mike: I always feel that people in of-the-season clothing look like they’re trying too hard. I know that’s a dumb thing to say as a designer. But you know how people dress for fashion week?
Zoe: That’s peacocking.
Mike: Exactly. That’s a bit cringey to me. People trying to prove that they’re in the know. At fashion week, so many people dress just to get photographed, and that seems insincere to me. I just think they look like clowns.
Anja: What's the best compliment you ever got for your work?
Zoe: I love it when someone tells me they've worn something to the ground.
Mike: I was in a store the other day and this great looking woman was picking Eckhaus Latta off the rail, and I was like: Oh. My. God. She must have been in her thirties and she was carrying this big Chanel bag. She looked very put together. Not that I don't think Eckhaus Latta customers are put together, but you know what I mean? She was really refined. Seeing someone wear our clothes is always exciting and completely shocking. It never gets old.