The address I am given directs me to the ‘rear house’ buzzer. I am on a quaint street in Greenpoint, in front of an unassuming doorway that almost feels like one of those white fenced houses’ on Venice Beach, except there are no surfboards, nor palm trees, just concrete and your usual European fall foliage. When I reach a second gate, I expect a menacing dog of some kind, because this place seems awfully secure for a young girl’s apartment. But I am wrong, because when she unlatches the gate, all I see is Catherine’s shy, soft smile behind those dancing locks of long, light brown Rapunzel hair.
I’ve only met Catherine Litke once, when she showed me her namesake collections of cotton women’s wear a couple of months ago. She’s barely in her second season now so it would be sensible that her clothes look somewhat fresh and directional, but Catherine’s esthetic is indisputably consistent and strong. She draws from her Polish background and its abundance of traditional costumes. “Each region of Poland has their own variation,” she tells me, “so it is all very personal and unique to each area. They have the most beautiful cotton embroideries and crochet work there, so I definitely get tons of ideas when I visit, usually at least once a year. I’ve also been producing some of my own crochet pieces for the current season there, which has been so fun, as everything is made in a really small village near where my mom grew up. It’s really become a great project that my whole family has gotten involved in!”
The house is much bigger than I expected too. She had told me about “a room” where she keeps all her vintage, but it turns out to be a bonafide dressing room with all the practicalities of a real fashionista. “My boyfriend moved out last month,” she says quietly. “I definitely have a lot more space for my clothes now….” Everything in the two-story house is sweet and clean and clearly had a 24-year old girl’s hand. There’s touches of folklore – I love the old-fashioned cabinet the TV sits on – and colorful souvenirs from her travels, a crisp sketchbook on the table and a bare mannequin waiting to be dressed. “I moved into this apartment a little over a year ago,” she smiles, “and it was one of those amazing moments when you finally feel like you’ve found a home, which I think can be really difficult in New York. I love having so much more room than I did when I lived in Manhattan, and the outdoor space really makes a difference in the warmer months, just being able to step outside. There isn’t much I dislike about the space, maybe the mosquitos that find their way inside from my yard in the summer?”
Style-wise, Catherine sticks to a few staples. One clothing rack has a section of white, vintage cotton slips for the summer, and another holds vintage high-waisted jeans (“I think my body was meant to live in the 70s forever!”), printed button downs and big faux-furs for the winter. She shows me long brocade and velvet gowns she wore to weddings and proof of a dangerous, but captivating obsession with Prada shoes. “My friends like to joke that my style veers into what they’ve coined as “sexy amish”, though I think that description may be fairly accurate,” she laughs. “I love really strict pieces paired in a way that reveals without being overtly sexy.” She shops for vintage at Stella Dallas in Williamsburg, on Ebay and Etsy and at Salvation Army shops and flea markets Upstate. And for new designers she often tries Steven Alan. And then sometimes she slips, like that fateful moment two years ago when she decided to get a pant suit with a lady bug print. “I thought I was crazy because it’s like I’m wearing a picnic on my body,” she rolls her eyes, “but now I love it!”
I can’t detect an accent so I’m surprised when Catherine tells me how she got made fun of when she was younger. “I learned English from a Polish-speaking mother,” she laughs, “which got a bit confusing at times, but I’m so glad now that I can speak to both sides of my family!” Her parents live in Oyster Bay, just an hour away and she has a brother at Fordham University in the Bronx. They are a tight-knit family which probably explains why the relaxed nature of her heritage has such a strong influence still. She has an acute sensibility for anything romantic and cloudy, like the new Blood Orange album she’s been playing on repeat since I walked in the door. She wanted to be a “painter, a horse back rider and a ballerina” when she was growing up and admires women like Francoise Hardy and Anna Karina. I ask her if any of those things might be good for a Halloween costume and she freaks. “I loooooove Halloween!!! It’s my favorite holiday! I was Ziggy Stardust and a Richard Prince nurse before. And this year I am Barbarella!” I think we need to see pictures…..