When Greg Chait of The Elder Statesman was named the winner of the ninth CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund we’re not gonna lie–we were a little surprised. His line of luxurious hand-spun cashmere blankets and knits beat out bigger brands with more buzz like SUNO, Wes Gordon, and even Voguette Tabitha Simmons.
So who is Greg Chait and how did he manage to snag one of the most prestigious awards in fashion? We caught Chait on the phone yesterday before he headed back out to Los Angeles, where his five-year-old line is based, to ask him. From interning with Whitney Houston to making blankets, Chait’s journey into the fashion industry may not have been direct but it just won him $300,000 and some serious recognition.
Fashionista: So for those who don’t know, what’s The Elder Statesman all about?
Greg Chait: I was given a blanket like 10 years ago–it was a beautiful cashmere blanket and I’d never had such a beautiful blanket before. And that just spurred something inside of me. So I bought lots of cashmere blankets. But I’m just, at nature, really curious and I love to exlpore and research and I was always looking for something that didn’t exist in the marketpace. So in 2007 I was hooked up with these people who did hand spinning and I realized, after all my exploration, it was about the yarn. And I realized I needed to create the yarn to a specification to have texture and character. Because a blanket’s just a rectangle right? So how do you create something special with a rectangle? And so it was cashmere all the way but it was also this really unique way of doing the yarn. So I started doing blankets first for myself and then Maxfield’s bought my blankets from me and sold them the very next day. They asked if I could make more, so I made more, and then I decided I wanted to do different things–I explored other yarn and manufacturing resources, I made a sweater–just one.
And then I thought, I need to go to Paris. So my very first season I just showed up in Paris with half a meeting–I just had someone’s phone number–and walked out with 10 of the best stores in the world. And that’s how it started.
And what’s your background? What were you doing before you got that blanket and started The Elder Statesman?
I had done a bunch of things. I thought I wanted to be in the music business and started in the mail room of a music management company. Actually my very first job when I was in college was interning for Whitney Houston. So I thought I wanted to be in music but then a month and a half into my first job I realized I’d just rather be a fan. So that same music company [some Googling indicates it was Arista] had also started a branding division so I was able to be in the be in the center of pop culture mixed with music and film and mixed with commercial goods and it was pretty amazing time and place to cut my teeth.
At the same time I met these guys in Australia and helped them launch their denim company Ksubi in the US which they’d had for a year. So that started in my living room at night while I was working in the entertainment business during the day. We grew that and it became quite a big business. I left entertainment and became a partner in that company. And then in the beginning of 2007, the company got purchased and they asked me to stay but I knew I needed to be my own boss. I was going to open a juice business but the guy I was going to do that with saw these blankets I was doing and was like ‘Man, you need to put your energy into that.’
So the fashion thing was a very happy accident. But the common thread that gets me to the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund is that I’ve always been interested in a style ever since I was a kid. I had a fascination with well made things ever since I was a kid.
So were you surprised to win the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund? Congrats! It’s a big deal!
Yeah of course! I mean, everyone had an equally good chance to win. We’re all so different. You just couldn’t guess who was going to take it.
What was the experience like, as someone who is based in LA, to be tossed into this New York Vogue world?
It ended really well for me. The experience was amazing. Last night [at the awards ceremony] was the first time I’ve been mellow in like eight months and I was able to just enjoy the whole thing. I was just really present and it was a lot of fun and the vibes were amazing.
Everyone’s going to know your name now. What do you want them to know about you?
The process with the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund has really focused me in a way. The biggest thing I try and stress is the customer service we offer which is a huge huge part of luxury. And I want to be more exposed to the end client. And I think that’s a special part of what The Elder Statesman is–it’s not just the item itself but it’s the sense of discovery, of finding it, it’s how you get it. There’s a whole experience that goes along with it.
How do you plan to use the prize money and mentorship?
With the mentor–whomever it’s going to be–what they have that I don’t have is experience. It’s gold. I cannot wait to get someone that’s been there and faced the challenges that I’m going to facing in a short while. And the money is just obvious–it’s amazing. I’m gonna buy a ton of cashmere. I’m constantly in development [with new textiles] and one of the things this is going to allow me to do is really explore new ways of spinning and finding new people and unique materials.
There’s a moment in the first episode of The Fashion Fund where you are going back and forth pretty heatedly with Andrew Rosen. What was that all about?
Look, that experience was unique for me. I mean, it would be unique for anyone to be put in that position. I’m just on my own in Los Angeles so I’ve developed a strong perspective and conviction. It was a strong moment but not as bad as it looked. I think it was more of a healthy debate than an argument.
Were you nervous to be up there in front of Anna Wintour?
Anna and Andrew and Reed and Ken–Of course I was nervous. You really want to do well and these are people that are very accomplished and I think I have a pretty good poker face but I was definitely wanting to do well. So I guess there was a bit of nerves there.