Last September, designer Catherine Holstein took us on a deeply personal voyage into recesses of her own history. It was a trip to her grandparents home in Woodstock, Vermont which inspired Khaite’s Spring Summer 2020 collection. Largely unchanged since the ’60s, it was an emotional visit for Holstein – “each object and space released its long-held memories in flashes: the formative moments and everyday magic of childhood summers” – informing the collection.
While this previous collection was rooted in retro Americana and childhood memories, Khaite’s Fall Winter 2020 was another experiential, introspective voyage into Holstein’s history, but this time she pressed paused on a much more hedonistic time in her life: her college years in New York City. Indeed, you could feel the trance-y beats of Manhattan clubs in the clothes, their club-y sensibilities via zebra mini dresses and slinky shirts worn open. This sexy mood is a one for Holstein. In fact she has always despised the word. “I’ve always avoided the word ‘sexy’ and would say ‘sensual’ instead,” she told Vogue US. “But at this point in my life, I just want to embrace it.”
And reclaiming “sexy” worked for Holstein. This subversive new spirit made things a whole lot more interesting – and glamorous. She was careful not go full ham, though, introducing us to her new-era “sexy” in baby steps – a metallic boot here, a slither of skin there – conflating it with the fashionable conservatism upon which she built her brand, and for why it is so loved amongst her loyal Khaite-ees.
Still, the puffiness and shirring and all those lovely Victoriana sensibilities remained, they were just drizzled with diamantés this time (but exceedingly delicate ones at that). Silhouette too was focused, the extreme puff of seasons prior dialled down a little, as dolly details like bows and ruffles also played out.
While the garment felt a lot more ready for disco, the handbags felt a lot more ready for day (perhaps what you’d take for breakfast the day after). After a recent foray into leather goods, Holstein expanded the collection offering folded clutches, scarf-strewn shoulder bags and do-it-all totes stamped with Khaite’s branding. Footwear pivoted back to the dance floor, kitten heels with searing satin strapping in shocking pink and neon orange seemingly made for dancing, while a printed pantyhose made them feel utterly modern and a little curious.
While the word “sexy” still remains a repellent for many in the fashion know (“sexy” just doesn’t fare well for those taking the higher fashionable ground), Holstein’s take on it felt new and far more “fashion”. It felt like it came innately, not the contrived, use-and-dispose sexy we’re so used to being sold. Perhaps even her original cashmere-wearing, denim-clad customer will give the tiny denim hot pants and leopard pants a go. Heck, if Katie Holmes wore a bra out in public, anything is possible.