We met with New York designer Catherine Litke and talked process, inspiration, and living in NYC. See the interview below and check out her Spring/Summer collection here.
Describe your design process, how do you impart a point of inspiration or reference into the finished collection?
I generally work in a kind of circular motion. Once I see something I love, I can design a collection around it in a week or so, but getting to that point is what tends to take the longest, as there are just so many images that I get inundated with living in New York. Walking past thousands of advertisements everyday can become overwhelming, so I like to keep a collection of tear sheets, vintage embroideries, and old photographs that I’ll try to look back to every season and expand upon.
You mention in several interviews that travel and things foreign to you are paramount for your designs, but what motivates you to design and produce in NYC? How does living and working in NYC influence you as a designer? Is it important to you to produce in NYC?
The Garment District in New York is so supportive of new designers, and I really think it’s important for that relationship to continue from both sides if the industry wants to continue fostering young talent. It is incredibly difficult for a new designer with very little backing to produce a collection outside of the US and have a real feeling of control over the product that they are making. There are just so many different and expensive variables involved in production that can go very wrong quite quickly, and it’s really comforting to be able to walk over to your factory and get there in a few minutes whenever there is a question instead of hoping for the best via email.
I’ve lived in New York for about seven years, and the industry has changed so much in that short period of time that it’s a little frightening to think about what will happen to all the factories here during the next few years if there isn’t a big push to keep them open and producing in a substantial way. There is something wonderful about producing in the city you live in and really knowing all the people you’re working with, and I hope that continues to be an option that’s available to designers working in New York City.
You have a pretty lengthy resume in styling, how has that experience shaped you as a designer?
Working for stylists at publications such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar really helped me to understand the process of editing and working toward a bigger picture rather than on a single project. There are so many variables that go into each image that appears in a magazine or advertisement, and those are all things you have to be aware of when creating a brand if you want to be clear in your intent. If there was one thing I learned through all my styling work, it’s that if you are not clear about what you’re creating, no one else is going to understand it either, so make all your decisions with purpose.
This S/S collection feels very referential, what were you looking at specifically when beginning this collection?
For S/S 2014 I was looking at photos of children’s dance classes from the 1950’s and an illustrated book from 1920’s India called The White Elephant. Both references felt super nostalgic to me, but both of those periods also represent a time when fashion was really at a precipice, and that tension was really important in keeping everything modern and sharp.
The fits of this collection also feel simultaneously loose and sculpted, like a demonstration of restraint and release on the body - how do you approach a woman’s body with your fit?
I really spend a lot of time on my samples to see what works and what doesn’t, mainly to make sure I don’t feel constricted in any way. The collection has a lot of unorthodox shaping applied to sort of “classic” pieces, and so I want a woman to put each piece on and feel a sense of comfort in the fact that someone has thought about where each strange line is going to hit her body perfectly, instead of “who is this supposed to fit?”
Who is the woman wearing Litke, who is your ideal customer? And who would be your dream client to dress?
My ideal customer is definitely a woman who takes risks in her wardrobe and likes a quirky balance of feminine and tomboy style. Mainly though, I’d like to make women feel comfortable and like they’ve found something extraordinarily special that they can wear every day when they put on my pieces. I’m a big fan of Sophia Coppola, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Kiernan Shipka, among countless others, but they would all be a dream to dress.
You site inspiration in designers like Isabel, Stella, and Phoebe Philo - women who design for women - what does this mean in the context of your process and collections?Who are your favorite younger designers working today?
Obviously it is impossible to design for every woman, but I try to only create things that I’d like to wear (even if just in my dreams), otherwise it seems like a bit of a waste, especially when working with a very small budget. Some of my favorite younger brands today are Jacquemus, J.W. Anderson, and Margaret Howell, as they all seem to have a very clear vision of where they want their companies to move and a thoughtful approach to getting themselves there.
Where do you see Litke as a brand in the upcoming seasons? Is there a key DNA that will carry through? What makes Litke different from other brands?
I’d like to see the brand continue the natural growth that’s been happening during the past two years, moving into larger stores but also maintaining a very personal production level. There are so many small mills and companies that I work with to keep the line as sustainable as possible, and that is an element of the company that is extremely important to me. I’ve always appreciated easy, beautiful separates that carry through each season, and so I suppose my goal would be for the line to slowly gain footing in women’s wardrobes until the Litke pieces they buy become the sort of eccentric staples that ground their wardrobes in a really exciting way.