When I get through to Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, the connection is faulty. “Sorry, we’re just driving!” explains Eckhaus. He has just joined Latta in LA, where she oversees the label’s West Coast workshop. They are in Latta’s station wagon, transporting rolls of fabric to a production site. Even though it’s a phone call and not Facetime, swathes of faux-furs, fleeces, crushed velvets, plastics and pastels—peach and seafoam, puce and primrose, mustards and glaucous greens—manifest in my mind’s eye.

Much has been made of Eckhaus Latta’s unconventional materials—an Ikea rug torn up and fashioned for the foot, plastic, and rope, and plastic again. Their earliest collections clung close to the body, bundling their wearers in sheathes of fuzz and silk, like overgrown babies swaddled in the bleached burlaps, tawny furs, and sere silks of a post-apocalyptic desert people. What was thrilling about these outfits was their ability to transform and expand bodies, endowing them with a capacious soft-sculptural presence. The duo’s more recent collections demonstrate the same predilection for difficult materials, deconstruction and layering, but these garments flow with ease and elegance, lengthening the body with a pared down geometric palette of soft angles, diagonals and curves. For all its eccentricities, Eckhaus Latta is not here to shock the system or parody the worlds of haute couture or pop culture. “They’re not going to have visual irony,” Eckhaus explains of their newest creation, a polyester polo shirt take-away for The Hammer Museum’s upcoming group show “Made in LA,” a riff on Silicon Valley tech convention souvenirs. “There might be a certain concept and then it’s how do you interpret that, make it your own and move as far away as possible from that original concept.”

Garments transform and expand bodies, endowing them with a soft-sculptural presence

Still, never settling for the tight-lipped and tightly contoured status quo of mainstream fashion, Eckhaus Latta has long collaborated with a number of artists to produce performances, installations and videos. In 2015, they worked with painter Annabeth Marks on garments awash in lurid inky abstractions for MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” exhibition. This June, in addition to the polo shirts, pieces from each of their nine collections will be featured in “Made in LA” alongside their most recent video collaboration with filmmaker Alexa Karolinski, Smile. This film explores the interstitial spaces that open up around a model who must turn herself into an image, an experience Roland Barthes once called a “microcosm of death,” as subject transforms into object. A host of nodels (non-models) draped in the soft vestments of EL’s S/S 2016 collection gather in Ray Kappe’s iconic SoCal modernist home, alternately flashing Christopher Williams-y grins, weeping, making out or staring blankly at the camera. The contrast of this model home and the nodels exaggeratedly arranging their faces trains our attention on the artifice and absurdity of advertisement, gently prodding at contemporary norms of self-display and model living.

When I ask if California culture is making its mark on their work in other ways, Latta replies, “We travel so much between both places [New York and LA] that both feel alien and familiar at the same time.” This strikes me as an apt characterization of Eckhaus Latta’s work on the whole. Nodel bodies stained aqua and magenta, coats buttoned upside down, runways strewn with lettuce leaves, skirts and pants sliced open, eerily wide smiles revealing mouths full of metal: all of this feels alien but familiar.

Eckhaus Latta 
(New York / Los Angeles) is a bi-coastal fashion label founded by artists Zoe Latta and Mike Eckhaus in 2011. 

Eckhaus Latta 
is currently taking part
in the 2016 “Made in LA” Biennial at Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, through 29 August.

Chloé Wilcox 
is a writer and artist who currently lives 
in Mexico City.

Photo credit: 
Mitchell Sams