Is Khaite The Only Womenswear Label You Need In Your Closet?

Now, more than ever, modern women crave functional, comfortable clothes that enable them to go about their multi-hyphenated lives but don’t scrimp on interesting details or craftsmanship.  Donna Karan who rose to fame on the versatility of a collection that featured just seven easy pieces once noted, “Design is a constant challenge to balance comfort with luxe, the practical with the desirable.”

No designer rose to that challenge better than Phoebe Philo which is why the recent direction the brand has taken towards a more glam-rock aesthetic felt so hurtful to so many. After the first Celine show sans the beloved designer, Philophiles took to social media equating the pain of her absence to the pain of watching the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.   

While terms such as for women by women, elevated basics, luxurious essentials, and uniform dressing are increasingly part of the fashion conversation, no one combined all of the above as thrillingly as Philo.

 

Fashion being fashion, there is a slew of young talents eager to fill her Birkenstocks yet there is one with the pedigree and burgeoning cult following that just might pull it off.  Cate Holstein former design director at Gap and Vera Wang, launched Khaite four years ago with a tight edit of butter-soft cashmere, perfectly-tailored pants, and grown-up denim. Her clothes feel rooted in a woman’s day-to-day realities but still, manage to make many a stylish heart soar.  The silhouettes feel forward but are easy to move in, and look equally appropriate on Emma Stone as they do on Robin Wright Penn.

 

 

   

 

      LUCY SWEATER                    DIANE DRESS                 ISA BLAZER                                                                     

 

Don a piece and you feel timelessly feminine like a 70s Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer, but really all Meryls could wear these clothes.  I’ve spent a good portion of 2016-the present in Khaite’s Vanessa jean, a high-rise cut that looks just as perfect with a turtleneck and slides at drop-off, as it does pair with a structured blazer and ankle boots at press events. Two percent elastane gives the jean just a touch of stretch for ultimate comfort.

Says stylist Danielle Nachmani who regularly works with young stars like Laura Harrier and Julia Garner,

"I think from the launch of her brand I fell in love with how effortless it was. Every piece I would want for my wardrobe was in her collection. Timeless pieces that were never overdone and complimented every look I paired it with. I pull her clothes because they allow the women I work with to feel cool but aspirational at the same time."

Designer and founder Cate Holstein. 

The industry has taken note, along with a direct-to-consumer channel, the brand is sold by nearly every online luxury retailer including Net-a-porter, Mytheresa and Saks.  We caught up with the young designer to talk 3-year plans, what she finds addictive and those jeans!

I worked with you briefly on your first fashion show for your fledgling womenswear line Catherine Holstein at Bumble and bumble, how has the climate changed for new designers given that the direct-to-consumer model supported by online marketing channels has proven impactful?

Everything has changed. That was 12 years ago. Facebook was still developing and mainly used by students, no Twitter, no Instagram, and as a designer, we were completely reliant on 3rd party media outlets to spread our voice. And that meant their interpretation of it. Now, as a designer, we have to be customer facing digitally every day, and that has allowed for an immense opportunity on many different levels, both creatively and for commerce. It’s a tremendous advance that has allowed for rapid growth and expansion. However, the competition is more fierce than ever and now companies are competing for mindspan and attention. I used to say that it was easier to start a brand now, but really it might be more difficult than ever to keep up with the increasing demand of the digital age in a 360 scope.

Why did you launch Khaite?  What made you feel ready to strike out on your own again?

Would you believe me if I told you I had no intention of starting this 4 years ago? I had been talking incessantly about my need to find items that I actually wanted to put on every morning; those cherished pieces I had collected over the years- my sisters cashmere sweater from Paris in 1998, a pair of Levi’s I found in Japan, my mother’s old Kelly Bag. These are the items I can wear 4 days in a row without thinking about it. But why could I not find that? Sure, there are exquisite designers out there that I love and still buy, but a lot of the time it almost felt too precious to even take out of my closet. I spoke of this often. At the urging of several friends who pushed me out of the birds nest, I began to form a plan. The rest is history now.

Khaite doesn’t show at NYFW, what do you do to make market appointments impactful? Anything special besides present a fantastic tightly edited collection?

For fashion, I think it’s important to have a 3-year plan always. Always know the numbers you want to meet and creative goals, how those work cohesively and work backwards from there. When I was younger I had no plan. My first line was the greatest teacher I could have ever had. Quite frankly, I view it as my masters degree, more so than an actual company. Market appts are a 360 reflection on the brand, so the spaces need to reflect an intimate and refined experience. 

Last fall you had an in-store capsule collection at The Line, what are your brick and mortar retail plans or collaborations this fall or upcoming?  How did you benefit from that retail experience?

Our online direct business that we launched in March is growing at an exponential rate. However, Khaite, at the heart, is a tactile experience. With the cashmere especially, the touch is emotional. We try to capture that through the photography as much as possible, but we all believe that Khaite very much benefits when it is in person and customer facing. The pop-up was a huge success at The Line. We have a few things in the works with some of our other wholesale accounts, as well as our own outlet. But who am I to spoil a surprise? 

Last year you did four times your original projections, how about this year? 

We are having a good year in sales. We beat our plan again. Beating plan has become addictive, which is exciting, but I have to remember to breathe too, and that it’s not a requirement.

 

The brand's denim has been seen on celebrities like Robin Wright Penn, Emma Stone and Selena Gomez.
 

I noticed that your jeans have a cult following?  Tell me about your denim process?

We spent a year developing our denim program. I have an incredible team on the ground in Los Angeles and a wonderful factory. We were actually extraordinarily lucky to get in there as they usually only take on bigger denim businesses. I am a pants person. I feel like my whole life I have searched for perfect trousers and jeans. It’s an exhilarating feeling when a woman finds a pair that fits just right. While most probably don’t think about why that is, I have spent my life examining what factors into that attraction. There was a myriad of details that came in to play when we went into the development of the denim. Both Vanessa and I were aligned that we felt there was a lack of classic and sophisticated denim in the market that appealed to all ages, while feeling fresh and forward. People thought we were insane to not have a target age group, but we were insistent. My mother is 73 and a very stylish woman, but had not bought a pair of jeans that weren’t Ralph Lauren in years. I always heard her say that she didn’t feel there was anything appropriate for her out there. That bothered me. Through the slim fits and higher rises, and the polished look of our button, we arrived on an assortment that we felt ticked all the boxes for women of all ages. I’m happy it seems to resonate with people. 

You’ve noted in the past that Instagram is key in controlling Khaite’s image and I adore your campaigns, who are your favorite collaborators for your imagery?

Having Assembled Studios built into my partnership structure has been a fundamental factor into our early success. Essentially, I have fantastic talent built into my company as if I was a major design house with them on staff. Hanna Tveite and I have a tremendous relationship and collaboration. We have worked together since the beginning of Khaite, and continue to push the imagery and direction together. I also work with the branding agency Decade, who have been a part of the project since early concept. This is everyone’s baby, and I think to see it grow from infancy into adolescence has been rewarding for everyone’s efforts. 

Any plans to increase employee numbers?  What are the advantages of having a lean team? Drawbacks?

We currently are 6 full time, including myself, with a handful of consultants. Expansion is the goal, but in a considered and effective manner. I don’t want to hire just to hire if I feel like we can accomplish it ourselves. However, I do have to be conscious of the team and make sure they feel that they are given the tools to fulfill their potential. Company culture is of the utmost important in the early stages of brand building.

Describe Khaite designs in three words.

How about one? Robust

Who would you love to see in Khaite?

I am not sure I could pick! We have had the pleasure of dressing a lot of amazing women and count a wide group of incredible ladies as customers. I am constantly excited when I see Khaite out on the street on all different kinds of women.

 

 

Written by Bea McMonagle for Forbes Magazine. 

 

 

 

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Puzzle bag//LOEWE   Coat//CÉLINE*    Cashmere sweater//KHAITE   Shoes//CÉLINE*

 

 

 

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