Underneath Catherine Holstein’s four-ply cashmere sweater and mesh slippers is a woman of steel. That’s what she was getting at backstage when she said the word that organized her thoughts this season was ferocity. “I think every woman in New York has to handle herself with a real fearlessness,” said Holstein, indicating that that’s what she had to do while operating as her label’s top creative and, until recently, CEO. “And that’s always something that I bring forth in the brand.”

With their David Bowie in the ’80s by way of Claude Montana shoulders, there was certainly something fierce about the clothes that came down the runway at the darkened and spotlighted Park Avenue Armory. A seatmate whispered “so Tom Ford,” and that isn’t a bad comparison; he liked a tough, chic vibe. It’s also a timely one: With Ford having sold his company and his successor opting to take his debut collection to Milan, New York is light on the kind of up-front sex appeal he used to specialize in.

At the outset, that looked like what Holstein set out to deliver. The opening trio of looks were all black and combined semisheer body-con knits with sturdy motorcycle leather. But in the end, the collection was more of a dialogue between hard and soft, with billowy silk blouses and pin-tucked organza dresses interspersed among the motorcycle jackets and boss tailoring. The suit jackets had sharply peaked lapels and leaned boxy and oversized, overly so when they were paired with similarly exaggerated trousers. A clingy ruched knit skirt was a better partner for the big-shouldered blazers; it brought the proportions—and the pretensions that this show could sometimes suffer from—down-to-earth.

Khaite’s success is at least partly fueled by accessories, which is no small feat for an American brand up against the luxury goods makers of Italy and France. As a New York woman herself, Holstein has a sixth sense for shoes and bags. Every model wore a sensible kitten-heel pump made sensual with mesh insets, and they carried a variety of bags, from smart shoulder bags to hulking duffels. The most interesting accessory on offer, however, was the belt with the brass clasped-hands buckle that punctuated many of the looks. Was it a gesture of contentment? Or self-protection? The ferocious Khaite woman will keep you guessing.

This article was originally published on Vogue Runway.

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