Cashmere will always be the raison d'être of The Elder Statesman, but for Spring, Greg Chait found a new fiber to call his own: denim. The new collection had the usual Statesman offering of great hand-painted and -dyed cashmere sweaters, in striped, blocked, and baja versions; dyed scarves; and plaid shirts and shirtdresses in tissue-thin pashmina—one sleeveless, for the redneck who won't compromise on quality. But here, too, was embroidered denim sourced from the hills and dales of Guatemala. On a recent trip to the country, Chait became enamored of the traditional embroidered skirts Guatemalan women wear and, a bit of market haggling later, found a supplier. He's cutting the cloth into rainbow-striped jeans in cigarette and boyfriend styles, shorts, overall rompers, and even a body-sized denim duffel. That bag comes with a patch of the California Republic flag—one hand-beaded by craftspeople of the Masai. Why do cheaply and easily what you can do laboriously and expensively?
There, in a sentence, is the Elder Statesman's core creed. And if you're comfortable with the basic premise of luxury products—i.e., that a sweater may be worth the price of a visit to the Masai—then touching is believing. (Chait himself is such a charming evangelist that a walk-through with him may be enough to win over any doubters.) Though the line bowed out of an official presentation this weekend, Chait has larger goals in mind: the movement of production from New York to his home base, L.A., where he recently opened his own factory, and the eventual debut of a Beverly Hills store. In the meantime, the introduction of denim, priced in line with the cost of most designer jeans, happily enough offers a foothold entry point to the Elder Statesman world for those who may not have a separate annual budget for cashmere. (The un-dyed Kenyan cotton pieces may help, too.) And for those who do have the means, Chait's most lavish cashmere pieces still have their faintly numinous appeal. They pull off the feat of being holy without being pious—right in line with the bearded, Birkenstocked, music-fest styling. It suggests the new best way to tell a hippie from a trust-fund hippie: Just nuzzle his sweater.