It’s frenetic and surprisingly violent, with shades of Holstein’s favorite ’70s movies like The Warriors, Taxi Driver, and Klute, glorifying a grittier, long-gone New York. On a Zoom call this morning, Holstein said she wanted the film to feel like one of those films, but recast with women for a change. (To that point, it was also deeply satisfying to watch them terrorize the men.) She was thinking about her own youth in New York, too, and how she felt pulled toward the city’s darkness and angst more than its glamour. “I moved here to be challenged,” she said. (Anyone who didn’t was likely among the first to flee in the early days of the pandemic.)
The real point is that she’s confident New York will reclaim some of that edge. Her casting reflected it too, with Mads Mullins and Sara Hiromi bringing a welcome bit of weirdness to the clothes. (If you thought Khaite was just about cashmere cardigans and matching bras, think again!) Also important: McMillan, Elsesser, and Adichol were undoubtedly the first curve models to appear in a Khaite campaign or show. Holstein didn’t mention a push into extended sizing, but given her brand’s exponential growth in 2020—and greater success projected for 2021—it would be the logical next step.
As for those clothes, they borrowed less from the ’70s and ’80s and more from the 1920s: lace negligees, narrow jersey columns, giant faux fur chubbies. “I’ve always loved that Café Society moment in New York, but I was thinking more about how the ’20s were a response to the 1918 flu,” Holstein said. With that pandemic behind them—and newly eligible to vote—women ditched their corsets, hemmed their dresses, and embraced the fluidity and comfort of slips and lingerie. Holstein isn’t the only designer predicting a similar shift this year. “It wasn’t just about being comfortable, but about feeling comforted,” she added. “I think we will still want to be treated gently.”
Her cable knits and faux furs will satisfy that impulse, as will the buttery jersey pieces, like the caramel off-the-shoulder number Elsesser wears in the film. Holstein felt there was a gap in the market for those easy, sensual staples like the ones Donna Karan built her business on; these will speak to women who want that softness and drape, but can’t abide another T-shirt. Even better, they’re coming in at a lower, friendlier price point.
This was not a “roaring ’20s collection,” nor did it feel overly reverential to any one thing in particular, except for maybe Khaite itself. Holstein doesn’t do mood boards or themes; she insists every collection is simply a reflection of what she’s craving. That still includes plush cashmere knits, boxy leather jackets, sharp tailoring, and romantic cotton dresses; those Khaite-isms were all there. Newness comes in the items she’s personally missing, like the down puffers, which were the collection’s big surprise. She bought her first puffer last year (partly for outdoor dining, partly influenced by her streetwise neighbors) and likely saw an opportunity for a better, ultra-luxe version. Her glossy red and black coats were extra-stuffed and coated in lacquered leather; a cropped camel version came in 100% cashmere. In other words: definitely not coats for graffitiing or smashing windows, but they’d look damn good on those aimless Lower East Side walks.