Words by Mr Benjamin Seidler
Mr Chait, the bearded paradigm of the sunny Californian, is incongruously attracted to the warmest cold-weather-staple of them all - cashmere. That might sound like an Inuit with an addiction to popsicles, but Mr Chait has his reasons. "Cashmere touches me on an emotional level. Why are we attracted to gold and diamonds?" he asks.
"Cashmere is one of those precious raw materials to which we, as humans, are naturally, instinctively drawn. I made my daughter a small cashmere poncho and when she puts it on she hugs herself. She's 19 months old, so she doesn't know what cashmere is, she just instinctively knows that this stuff is awesome."
When Mr Chait founded The Elder Statesman label in 2007, he sought to employ the rare, comfortingly soft material in a design aesthetic that has remained straightforward and utilitarian. He develops his own lightly fuzzy cashmere yarn from which his clothes are handmade. To do so, he has to work with suppliers from Mongolia to the camps of Navaho Indian tribes, hand-spinning fibres and mixing various traditional methods to produce innovative and unique results.
As precious as all that sounds, each unique item feels easy enough to be thrown on before an evening stroll on a breezy beach. This laid-back attitude is unmistakably Californian, which is no surprise as the brand was
established at Mr Chait's home in Venice Beach, where he enjoys nothing more than catching some waves on his surfboard. The label's best-selling Baja sweater feels like wrapping up in a sun-warmed beach towel after a refreshing swim in the ocean.
"The Elder Statesman refers to a member of society who is generally respected by all," explains Mr Chait. "So Robert De Niro is an elder statesman of acting, Richard Branson of business - it's someone with authority and confidence. They're usually rebellious, but with class." All these words can be attributed to Mr Chait's cashmere pieces.
Raised in Arizona, Mr Chait started his career in the entertainment industry (his first job was working behind the scenes on a Whitney Houston tour). But when he established Ksubi, the cult streetwear label, in Northern America, he realised his heart was in starting new businesses. "I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit," says Mr Chait, "I designed my first mobile lemonade stand when I was eight."
After selling his shares of Ksubi five years ago, Mr Chait took some time out before the idea of a niche cashmere label gradually developed. He had been collecting handmade cashmere blankets, but never found one that could fully envelop his 6'1" frame. "Everything was a bit light and feminine for my taste," explains Mr Chait, "I wanted something that was rustic and utilitarian but luxurious at the same time." So he had his own made out of Mongolian cashmere by a specialist guild in Canada. Whenever a houseguest wrapped themselves up in his creation, they would ask for one of their own, and so Mr Chait already had a ready following when he finally established The Elder Statesman.
"When I started," Mr Chait recalls, "I thought that the worst-case scenario was that I'd have a lot of nice cashmere blankets. But sometimes you find something that you're good at and that you just understand. I found my place. I got really lucky."
For his MR PORTER shoot, Mr Chait chose to present his designs on people who he thinks best represent the values of his brand. "Amazing chef" Ms Nina Clemente is one of his oldest friends and "really cool", while Mr Julian Schwetner "is an incredible musician", who, according to Mr Chait, has unrivalled knowledge of music pre-1968. "I thought they made sense to represent The Elder Statesman because I am fond of the way my customers are strong in their individuality," he explains. "They aren't fazed by branding. I make pieces that can stand on their own without a label."