At This Avant-Garde Fashion Designer’s Dinner Party, Footwear Is Optional
Good conversation, fun tableware and hyper-seasonal fare are Zoe Latta’s secret ingredients for a relaxed, stylish evening.
By Julia Sherman
The characters that the fashion designer Zoe Latta invites onto her runway are unfailingly diverse, ranging from fellow artists to striking, silver-haired septuagenarian women and the occasional very pregnant friend. As one half of Eckhaus Latta, the American label known for its creative, gender-fluid ready-to-wear designs, Latta has a professional practice that slipsbetween conceptual art, high fashion and provocative marketing. Her approach to entertaining is no less fluid.
Since launching the label in 2011 with her co-designer Mike Eckhaus, Latta, 30, has rightfully been touted as an icon of today’s fashion avant-garde. But at her home in central Los Angeles’s Arlington Heights neighborhood, two hours before a dinner party, she is disarmingly dressed-down in a red vintage jumpsuit and a patchwork knit tank of her own design. Latta and her fiancé, the sculptor Riley O’Neill, are hosting a backyard barbecue in honor of the artist Susan Cianciolo, one of Eckhaus Latta’s model-muses and one of Latta’s mentors and frequent collaborators.
This summer, Cianciolo will contribute to Eckhaus Latta’s first solo exhibition, at New York’s Whitney Museum. For the show — part of the museum’s Emerging Artist Program — Eckhaus and Latta have enlisted more than a dozen artist and designer friends to collaborate and reimagine a fully functioning retail experience within the gallery space. Cianciolo will create the dressing-room mirrors, O’Neill will create a sculptural shelf made out of rebar, plaster, resin and glass. The architect Emma Price — Latta’s best friend from childhood and a guest at the dinner party in question — will design the interior layout.
In 2014, Latta relocated from New York to her native California and opened Eckhaus Latta’s Los Angeles studio and retail shop in Arlington Heights. Latta and O’Neill moved into a modest two-bedroom apartment nearby, which they share with their friend Tyler Murphy, the associate director of the Los Angeles outpost of Reena Spaulings Fine Art and House of Gaga. The place is decorated with novelty pillows and vintage textiles, handmade pottery and found furniture. Antique prints of plant specimens hang in the breakfast nook, nestled alongside lumpy ceramic masks and personal doodles made by friends.
Murphy is busy preparing the grill as guests begin to trickle in. O’Neill’s brother, the activist and computer programmer Blaine O’Neill, arrives accompanied by his partner, the dancer and interdisciplinary performer Miles Brenninkmeijer. Cianciolo’s friend Steven Arroyo, the owner and chef of the Mexican restaurant Escuela, is happy to have a night off from cooking. Cianciolo arrives straight from Overduin & Co. gallery, where she has been installing her solo show “RUN 12: God is a Jacket.” One of the last to show up is Miggi Hood, a television producer and veteran runway model for Eckhaus Latta, who has just flown into town from Mexico.
While there is much to celebrate on the professional front, Latta appears most excited to show off her laissez-faire vegetable garden, a wild patch of urban land where she scattered seeds two years ago and has since let nature take its course. Latta and Cianciolo gather herbs, edible flowers and Swiss chard to accompany the spread of seasonal fare that Latta has spent the afternoon diligently prepping. O’Neill and Murphy grill market produce and herb-stuffed trout on two hand-welded oil-drum and cinder-block barbecues. A dinner party at Latta’s home is a well-produced and generous affair, and there is only one proviso: All pretensions must be checked at the door. Below, Latta shares her laid-back approach to backyard entertaining.
Let the Food Be the Flowers — and Vice Versa
In the summer, edible flowers abound, if you know where to look for them. Latta mines her garden for wild yellow mustard, white arugula and fiery nasturtium flowers. These peppery blossoms, commonly used as garnish, are instead the main ingredient in Latta’s edible flower salad with feta, sliced carrot and herbs. With this shock of vibrant color on the table, there is no need for formal floral arrangements.
Work With What You’ve Got
“I just bought a bunch of beautiful produce at the farmers’ market, so I figured I would just go from there,” Latta explains of planning her menu. Start with a glut of seasonal, superior produce, and designing dishes is easy. For the main course, Latta simply marinated baby artichokes, split heads of green garlic, patty pan squash and parboiled baby potatoes in garlic and olive oil, and tossed them on the grill.
Latta is careful not to get too consumed with presentation. “I hate it when the host cares more about perfecting the lattice on their pie crust than they do about spending time with their guests,” she says. “You’re missing the mark if you think that anyone cares about elegant plating more than good conversation.”
Latta is no stranger to the benefits of advance planning; she’s produced events and fashion shows far larger than a backyard soiree. Working from a detailed prep list, she washes, chops and seasons everything well before her guests arrive, while O’Neill prepares a salsa verde with fresh herbs and olive oil — an all-purpose sauce that pairs well with both the vegetables and the trout. To further streamline the meal, Latta ensures that everything will be cooked outside on the grill — including the night’s dessert, a rhubarb-and-blood-orange cobbler in a cast-iron skillet that she throws on the grate while guests work on the main course.
Share the Work
While Latta and O’Neill do most of the meal prep, they aren’t afraid to put guests to work, setting up Cianciolo with a mandoline to slice carrots, and having Hood help with dishes — alongside Goose, Latta and O’Neill’s rescue poodle, who perches on the open dishwasher door licking plates nearly clean. When everyone has a hand in dinner, Latta believes, they feel more connected to the meal itself.
Make It Personal
Latta’s guests eat off melamine plates embedded with sketches that she made as a child (her parents recently found the drawings and sent them off to be immortalized as tableware). Tea candles rest on a small porcelain dish glazed by Latta’s mom, adorned with a portrait of Zoe herself. The folding table is layered with a collection of mismatched textiles — ’70s stripes clash with African kente cloth — and no two napkins are the same.
While Latta, an occasional footwear designer, describes herself as “a lover of shoes,” she appreciates the freedom to go barefoot when entertaining at home. The more comfortable the host, she finds, the more comfortable the guests.