From Issue Three of the Gear Patrol Magazine.
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Tucked away on a private driveway in West Hollywood, Greg Chait sat barefoot on the steps of a small bungalow. Though the mid-century building was once used as movie-studio housing, Chait now uses it as an artist’s retreat for his cashmere brand, The Elder Statesman. Inside the house, photographs and found objects sat next to collections of books. A surfboard leaned against the wall and a stack of cashmere blankets — the first product offered by The Elder Statesman — sat in a corner. “There’s nothing about my life that’s linear,” Chait said, reflecting on his early career in the entertainment industry. Since founding The Elder Statesman in 2007, Chait has built a reputation for producing some of the finest luxury goods on the market.
Chait’s first love was the music industry. One summer during college, he landed an internship with Whitney Houston, on her last tour of the ‘90s. “Things started to crumble, but what ended up happening for me was, I was in the inside, so I got a massive lesson in life.” Over the following summers, Chait worked for Arista Records and spent time surfing in Australia, where he became friends with the founders of the denim brand Ksubi. Upon returning to the US, Chait sought out an entry-level job in music and landed himself a mailroom job at The Firm, an entrepreneurial, forward-thinking management company.
Though the recession was in full force when his sweaters were delivered in October, the entire first season sold out.
Moving through the ranks, Chait eventually worked himself into the brands division, a section of the company that connected artists and brands. “Branded entertainment had not been done before,” Chait said. “These guys were the pioneers.” The Firm’s work caught the attention of innovators like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, and publications like Vogue and GQ. Chait gained an invaluable list of connections working at The Firm, and when his friends from Ksubi asked him to work with them full time to launch their line of skinny jeans in the US, he took the leap. Then, after a few years with the brand, Chait left Ksubi, with plans to capitalize on a new trend. “I was going to be in the juice business, believe it or not,” he said. But thanks to the grand foresight of his brother, he instead decided to invest in the world of cashmere.
After designing cashmere blankets for his personal use, Chait founded The Elder Statesman in 2007. He sold his first creations at Maxfield, a luxury store in Los Angeles. “I had no vocabulary for it, but I inherently got it,” he said of his passion for the fabric. After a sold-out run of blankets, Chait produced a line of sweaters and hats, showing them to luxury-retailer buyers in Paris. “I thought I had a men’s collection, and I walked out with eleven orders from women’s stores and one men’s order,” he said. Orders were placed in early 2008, and though the recession was in full force when his sweaters were delivered in October, the entire first season sold out.
“Cashmere to me is like gold. If it’s kept in fiber form or yarn form it can be anything.”
“Without the recession, I don’t believe The Elder Statesman would be here,” Chait said. The brand’s understated aesthetic and lack of branding offered an alternative to the ostentatious products other luxury brands were selling. “It wasn’t in good taste to be seen wearing the new season’s stuff when people were really suffering.”
Chait knows that the value of his product is in the yarn, the highest-quality cashmere. “Cashmere to me is like gold. If it’s kept in fiber form or yarn form it can be anything,” he said. “It doesn’t go down in value, if anything it goes up. It doesn’t go out of style or trend.” The Elder Statesman runs a Culver City factory with workers knitting on vintage looms. Chait points out that much of his stock of cashmere comes from a single village in Mongolia. “I take all of that village’s capacity in yarn,” he said. “They’re farmers that spin it by hand, and we take every last ounce that they can make when they’re not in the fields.”
Behind the factory, freshly washed cashmere sweaters lay in rows, drying in the open air. “This is what nobody has that we have in California,” he noted. “There’s something that the sun does that you just can’t replicate as part of the finishing process.” The Elder Statesman’s business is not a high-numbers game; rather, it focuses on custom orders for clients and limited releases for stores across the world. “We’re an Americana luxury brand,” he said. “And nothing else like it exists.”