Noah Kantrowitz is bringing couture to corporate America. Since graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in 2020, he has been building an independent design studio whilst balancing a corporate nine-to-five in New York City. Earlier this year, Kantrowitz launched his debut collection titled Late with Coffee. Consisting of 10 looks in total — each centred around knitwear — this collection reimagines the office as a sci-fi jungle, swarming with frenetic energy and agile bodies. For Kantrowitz, camp is the antidote to corporate ennui. The office has become his muse, and he’s inviting us in.
Hi Noah, how are you? Are you in New York City right now?
Hi Jasmine, I’m good! Yes, I’m in New York — I’m actually in my apartment in Brooklyn at the moment. The weather is beautiful today.
What have you been up to this week?
This week has been crazy work-wise. It's been really crazy. My day job is wacko-doodle busy right now. And it’s just been all-consuming and that’s very unfortunate, but such is life. I’ve still been working on my own stuff in my studio, but it’s kind of dropped off a little bit just because my day job is so fucking annoying. Wait, can I swear?
Of course.
Okay, well my work has been fucking crazy, so I haven't had as much time to focus on my personal work, which is sad.
You’ve recently launched your first F/W collection, Late with Coffee. Congratulations!
Thank you so much. This collection really does mean the world to me, and it has been such a labor of love.
How did you land here?
Late with Coffee sprouted out of direction given to me from the people around me. A lot of the work I’ve done have been one-off pieces. Things would excite me, and I would make these pieces, and they would just exist as standalone pieces. And then through posting, sharing online and meeting new people, some really incredible opportunities started forming. It was all so fruitful, being in New York; so much work stemmed from just being able to network and being able to meet all these people. But then I stepped back and realised that although I had built this incredible portfolio, none of the work was mine. I might have a credit somewhere, but I didn’t have ownership of the project. That’s how the idea of this collection started to form. I wanted to have a cohesive body of work that is thematic and unified; something that you can talk about, and something that would kind of start to separate you from being this person that does things for fun and a brand that has a language and a point of view and a business model.
What does it mean to be “Late with Coffee”?
Late with Coffee actually comes from one of the first jobs I've ever had. I’ve been working since the day I turned 16. We were doing a training day, and my boss said something like: “Just so you know, if you come to work late with a coffee, then you’re not actually late.” Like, he was saying that can’t exist, and if you had time to get coffee, then you had time to get to the office on time. And it’s like, Oh, shut up! Like sometimes - sometimes we’re going to need to get a coffee. Sometimes human life comes first. And sometimes it’s poor time management but chill out. Anyway, it’s always stuck with me because I had that job when I was 16. It was a harsh reality check because it’s like, I am here working for you for pennies, and you’re not even going to allow me the grace of four minutes because I need to like, caffeinate to make sure I can get here and be my best self. I always think about this every time I walk into work late with a coffee.
I’m late with a coffee every day of my life.
Yeah, and it’s totally okay. Nothing happened. No one died. No one exploded. It’s just so wacko. If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late with coffee, you’re fired!
All the people that I’ve created and designed for within this collection, I imagine them all to be working in this office together. They’re bouncing ideas off each-other and are working with each-other every day. They’re almost like Pokémon stage transitional phases of each other; from the intern to the associate to the final boss. Like, it’s one person, one unit, one lifecycle. And they’ve all been late with coffee, and they’re all okay.
There’s a real subversion of corporate aesthetics in your work.
Yeah, Late with Coffee is inspired by the jungle of corporate America and the corporate global sphere that we all kind of joke about and hate and love at the same time. And it’s extremely disorienting, I guess, to navigate this world as a creative. You get to peek behind the curtain within these mega-corporations and start-ups and you’re just like, Jesus Christ, there are constant fires everywhere. Like, everyone is crazy. Everyone is out for blood.
There’s a jungle motif in this collection, which isn’t necessarily animalistic in nature. The jungle is more representative of the ladder-climbing mindset that we all have. It’s a complex feeling. I’m not done fleshing out what it truly means to be existing in this world, pursuing creative endeavours whilst working in the corporate sphere and realising that it’s a dumpster fire. Everyone is miserable. Everyone hates their jobs. But we get sucked into the world of nine-to-five corporate America because it meets our needs.
We all love to hate on our jobs.
It’s crazy. That juxtaposition, like that weird, snake eating its own tail environment was the inspiration for Late with Coffee. A lot of the looks from the collection stemmed from people I would either meet at the office, interact with at the office or hope to be one day at the office. And like, all these people that I’ve created in this large world-building space are people that I think we’ve all met before in our lives, but I’ve tried to reinterpret them in a tongue-in-cheek, campy, fantasy way.
Did the idea of creating a formal body of work feel daunting for you? This collection feels like it was a long time coming. 
The idea of creating a formal body of work both is and isn't daunting. Yes, it's incredibly scary to think about finalising a body of work and presenting said body of work. But I feel like as an artist (and many artists would agree), if you do not make work, you will die. Maybe that's really crazy to say, but I feel that to be true for myself. Like, the day I don’t make work is the day I don’t wake up. Creating a formal body of work will never be daunting — if it’s done privately. I think what becomes daunting is the idea of formalising the work and presenting it to the public, because then it becomes very intimate.
The work becomes intimate once it’s made public?
Yes, because then it’s out there for people to criticise, or admire, or reflect on or be inspired by. I will always continue to make work, even just as personal projects, because in my brain, it must be done. I must create; I must continue moving forwards and continue developing my own vantage point and point of view. However, the idea of sharing my work to the public will always be extremely daunting. I saw a tweet a while back, and it said something like, “We all yearn for work that feels like it was made in private.” And I feel like that’s true. It will never feel disingenuous to create work when you plan on showing it to no one. That’s when I feel like work is the most unique and raw and transformative.
Having now formalised your practice with a collection, have your impressions of the industry changed in any way?
I don’t know. I’m sorry, that’s like, a loser-ass answer. The truth is: my impressions of the industry are constantly changing. When I speak about the industry, I’m talking about fashion with a capital F — the fantasy, the illusion, the work that makes you dream, the work that wants you to be in the in crowd, the work that is competitive. I think that stuff is so fabulous and destructive at the same time. Fashion with a capital F is a double-sided coin. On the front side, it’s everything. It’s luxury, it’s a dream sequence, it’s tangible, it’s out-of-reach. But the real world is horribly dark. It’s full of waste, it’s full of mismanagement, it’s full of people being underpaid. Like, the fashion and apparel industry is the third largest polluter after oil. There are teams of people behind these brands curating a certain image, but that image isn’t real. Let’s say you see a reel on Instagram, and it’s showing a woman wearing a crisp white lab coat with white gloves making a bag, and there are people in the comments being like, “Oh my god, I can see my bag being made, thank you so much.” And the woman’s hammering the leather, and there’s soft jazz playing in the background. But that’s not real. Like, your bag is being made in a factory somewhere in the world where people are being underpaid and horribly treated.
Having just created a collection of work in-house as a solo project, I feel good knowing that I can create bodies of work and objects that I can share with people while creating minimal waste and controlling everyone on a small scale. It’s been incredibly affirming and productive; I learned so much about myself and who I am as an artist. But, as it pertains to the industry, I just don’t know. I don’t have enough skin in the game yet to understand how I’m lined up in this imaginary bell curve. I definitely feel more confident in relation to my ability to function in this industry and to speak out on the industry as a whole. I still dream. I still dream that there’s another world out there that we can reach with hard work. God, I sound so American.
What does your creative process look like? How do you approach your bodies of work?
I guess [the] process can stem into two different categories. It’s inspiration and then it’s the way of working. Inspiration comes from everywhere. I look to other shows, movies, TV, anime, science fiction, horror, history — all these things that I just always surround myself with. To be honest, everything around me is inspiring. That sounds corny, but I will internalise everything and store it in the back of my mind, so that I can pluck it out one day when I need it. I think John Waters once said something like, “Beauty is looks that you’ll never forget.” And I find that to be very inspiring. Anything that’s like, uncomfortable or weird or bizarre — those are the things that I find inspiring. Again, it sounds corny, but every day I wake up and open my eyes and realise that I can take in the world around me with a grain of salt and see what I can spit back out into it.
In terms of process, I never sketch out my looks. I like to knit fabric and then drape the fabric and sculpt on a dress form. And then bodies of work stem from that. Rarely do I start on an iPad or a sketchbook and draw clothing. I always start with material. I like to look and see what I have first. I try to never buy new yarns.
Who inspires you?
I think about this in terms of my dream people to wear. Wait, excuse me, I mean dream people to dress. Oh my god, I sound like Buffalo Bill. Anyway, right now, my studio practice is landing in this nightclub world, which I’m really excited about. I have done a lot of pulls for editorial magazines and music videos for performing artists and DJs. Arca would be a dream person to dress. And Ice Spice. Like, all these really badass, video vixen divas in the moment right now that are hot and doing their damn thing and owning their sensuality and artistry - they’re all so inspiring to me.
You’ve worked with some pretty incredible people already, no?
Yeah. My brand has got the opportunity to work with people that I would never in a thousand, million, billion years ever dream of working with. Like, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Madonna on her Celebration tour; I’ve had the opportunity to work with SZA for a music video; with Eartheater for some cover editorials. It feels really inspiring and affirming when fierce teams of people ask me to help craft their fierce visions. It’s just so affirming. Like, you’re telling me that I’m out here coming home from work every day and knitting in this busted-ass basement and celebrities’ teams are asking me if I can help them? Wow.
So, what are your hopes and dreams for the rest of the year Where to next?
I don’t know the end goal, but I know that I want to continue impressing myself, continue moving outside of my comfort zone and be able to look back on the year and be like, wow, I couldn’t have even dreamt of this reality before today, and now I’m sitting in it. It’s so cool to think that it’s a reality that I can achieve with hard work and spirit. Life moves at you fast and New York is tough, but I’m tougher and I’m faster. I don’t know specifically what’s next, but I know that the spirit and speed will never stop.