Head to New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood, enter the New York Mart mall under the Manhattan Bridge, skim past the first-floor stores stacked high with plastic-wrapped clothing and a mishmash of shoes, and go up the stairs to the somewhat sparse space buzzing with the sound of passing subways. You’ve reached Eckhaus Latta’s first NYC store.

Considering the New York Fashion Week playbook of the brand, the off the beaten path, unexpected store location (by fashion industry standards, anyway), opened on Tuesday, is to be expected.

Founders Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta have become notorious for hosting shows deep into Brooklyn, a trek from official, Manhattan-based NYFW venues. In September, for example, attendees were required to walk over a set of train tracks and through an operating industrial workspace before reaching the space. However, like in prior seasons, the show’s seats were full, with a who’s who of fashion editors among spectators.

When Eckhaus Latta builds it, the fashion flock tends to come, minimal prompting required. The brand is betting on the fact that the phenomenon will translate to the retail setting.

As with the brand’s shows, the no-frills store is intended for one practical purpose: to be a stage for the designers’ seasonal vision and a reference point for their customers.

“We just wanted to have a public space where people can come and try on our jeans, and get the full size run, or just check out the full scope of the collection,” said Latta. “We wanted to offer a more in-depth experience of our products, independent of what our retailers are doing.”

That the store was designed without Instagram in mind is clear, considering its bare white walls, bare floors and metal pipes serving as clothing racks. “We want the focus to be on the garments and not this funny thing you can take a picture in front of,” said Eckhaus.

Latta said the brand isn’t big on marketing initiatives, so simply announced the opening of the store to current customers and social media followers across channels.

The designers launched their brand, which quickly emerged as an industry darling, in 2011. It’s reportedly been profitable for two years, doubling sales from 2016 to 2017. It is now sold through popular fashion retailers including Nordstrom, Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion, with owned channels accounting for 35 percent of sales. Styles include jeans for $290 and hoodies for $325.

In 2016, Eckhaus and Latta turned a portion of their L.A. studio into a store, and in the last year, they tested the NYC market — their biggest, in terms of sales — through various pop-ups. In August, they kicked off a two-week exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where they sold an exclusive collection, and in December, they set up shop for one week in New York Mart, on the same floor as the new store. Though there are no immediate plans to open a third store, Latta said a Tokyo store would be next in line.   

Eckhaus and Latta’s plans for the New York store include hosting events for customers and selling exclusives, as well as offering a rotating selection of pieces by emerging designers. At opening, racks included styles by Sophie Andes Gascon.

“We want it to be an experience, and include all of our neighbors and the community in that experience,” said Latta. “But it’s not going to be fireworks going off, celebrities coming in, this big blowout flagship store on Wooster Street with $50,000 rent. The risk isn’t as extreme, considering this dying retail landscape, and this is more our style.”

Photo by Thomas McCarty