E.M. Reitz’s Soulful New Line

The Charleston designer’s new women’s wear line embraces effortless cool

Photo: Kirk Robert

Erin Reitz at home in Charleston, wearing her Baker’s Apprentice shirt and forthcoming skirt, with the A Day at the Park dress and the Lunch at Quo Vadis shirt.

To watch Erin Reitz drape and pin a length of creamy poplin on a dress form until, suddenly, a shirt takes shape is the visual equivalent of listening to a guided meditation. As she gently, expertly folds and tucks the fabric to taper a sleeve, you find yourself entranced, pondering big ideas: how if you look closely, the beauty of seemingly simple objects actually comes from complexity of design. The same goes for Reitz’s new E.M. Reitz line of everyday women’s wear, basics that sing with composition and details of the finest caliber. 

As the forty-three-year-old developed the two shirts and the dress that launched her collection this spring, she experimented to produce lovely pleats and ideal pockets and easy-wearing fits. “My typical woman crush is fifty-five,” she says. “Creative women, at the height of their careers—busy, but soulful.” Women who, like her, crave comfortable but quality garments: “Even if your kid just threw a peanut butter sandwich across the room and you didn’t make your bed, you can leave your house and think, Okay. I’m still put together.” 

Reitz named the Lunch at Quo Vadis shirt, with flawless seams triple stitched by hand, after meals at “the most beautiful restaurant in London’s Soho” with her husband, the Charleston, South Carolina, restaurateur Brooks Reitz. “This is what I want to wear there, with a silk scarf, my loafers, and maybe a blazer.” The Baker’s Apprentice shirt offers a slit at the hips ideal for French tucks, and subtle volume at the shoulder blades for roominess and structure. “This is a roll-up-your-sleeves, get-in-there, you-can-get-flour-on-it shirt,” Reitz says. And Charleston inspired the immaculately pleated A Day at the Park swing dress. “You need to wear dresses here because it gets so hot,” she says. “When you put it on, you have this amazing swish, swish.” 

The practical garments look and feel luxurious—Reitz uses 100 percent Italian cotton typically reserved for men’s shirts, in blues and whites. Her mother, who worked for the Forest Service in Washington, D.C., influenced this classic approach. “She wore navy suits and pearls,” Reitz recalls. “She had a kind of uniform, and that’s what I’m striving to build.” 

Reitz’s fashion career began in a New York dive bar, when the head designer of Nanette Lepore spotted her homemade tote and offered her an internship. Afterward, she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology and landed positions at Anne Klein, Ann Taylor, and Eddie Bauer in Seattle. The grind wore her down, and then a benign brain tumor stopped her in her tracks: “I left my job. I was like, I almost died. What is my life?” 

On a road trip back East, she detoured to Charleston and never left, instead opening a home goods shop and crafting a line of glassware and ceramics. But she missed dreaming up clothes. The designer Natalie Chanin, who invited Reitz to her Alabama studio and hired her on the spot, praises her talent: “Draping for the body,” she explains, “is very complex.” While caring for her newborn, Hoyt, during the pandemic, though, Reitz yearned for an outlet of her own. “If he was napping, I’d drape. When I’m in that zone, it’s pure joy.”

After draping her designs, Reitz works with a lauded New York patternmaker and sewing factory to bring them to life. The finished looks are available online and at Laura Vinroot Poole’s Capitol boutique in Charlotte. “Erin’s clothes have a hospitality to them,” Vinroot Poole says, and “very personal details in the construction that only the wearer will notice and enjoy.”

Reitz plans to soon add a skirt and a tunic, but her ambitions reach further into the future. “You buy a few of these pieces, you wash them, and you continue to wear them,” she says. “They will age with you.” Not unlike her hopes for her company. Reitz pauses to laugh. “My goal is for my career to peak in my sixties.”