When Betina Holte started making clothes several years ago — first for herself, after fiddling with fabrics she’d find at flea markets, and then for a couple of stores in New York and Copenhagen — she’d become wary of the “model slash designer” taboo, or the skeptical, preconceived notions that befall many models (or actors) when they try to branch out into other creative ventures. So she decided to launch a line not under her own name, but under “Lis.B,” a play on her middle name. The collection had a short run; when she landed a design role at Zac Posen, she could no longer find time to sustain it. But Holte said it was a learning experience that helped her fine-tune her aesthetic.
Now 34, Holte is ready to take another stab at design — this time under her own name. Though it was her modeling career that initially brought her to New York in 1998 from her native Denmark, the statuesque beauty — who is married to Madonna’s ex and Lourdes’ father, Carlos Leon, and pregnant with the couple’s first child — retired from all that in her mid-20s. During a three-year turn as Ralph Lauren’s in-house fit model, Holte found herself inspired by the designer and everything he’d built. “It spurred my interest in design,” she said.
A chance encounter last spring brought Holte together with Fernanda Sousa — a longtime fashion executive, most recently at Reitmans Canada. Sousa had already heard of Holte through her work with Zac Posen, but was impressed with her personal style after spotting her on the shoe floor of Bergdorf Goodman. “Betina was a very striking presence; everybody at Bergdorf’s was looking at her,” Sousa recounted. “I decided to reach out to her later via LinkedIn and see what she was doing. I thought, you know, I’ll just ask. She replied, we started a dialogue and I was very taken by her discipline and her very defined point of view, which is so critical in the fashion industry today.”
Within a few months — and with the help of Denise Arab, a seasoned public relations and marketing professional and friend of Sousa’s — a brand was born. The debut collection will launch this spring on the label’s e-commerce site, betinaholte.com, with eight pieces priced from $200 to $700, though a few T-shirts and tanks will retail around $100. The site will begin a blog and newsletter later this month, featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the brand launch.
The concept for the line — a seasonless collection of core wardrobe items meant to be layered on and off year-round — is conveyed with day-to-night looks including a buttery leather jacket with exaggerated lapels, tailored pinstripe suiting, languid silk dresses, a drop-crotch jumpsuit and gray wool outerwear. The first capsule, which is limited-edition, also includes a pony-hair clutch. New pieces will be added online every few months.
“With the launch, everything is black,” Holte said. “We all wear black. We all love black, and it’s easy to layer and love for a long time. But we will also have things that are going to be more seasonal. For spring, some of the silk pieces will be made in colorful, printed chiffon. For fall, there will be some knitwear. You’ll always find the basics that you love, but maybe we’ll add in some color.”
Added Sousa: “It’s such a reflection of Betina’s point of view, this urban, edgy aesthetic that happens to be feminine and elegant at the same time. There’s a sensuality to the clothes on the body; the cuts, the drapes, the silks and the fabrics. But it’s not overtly sexy.”
Indeed, the collection has a dark glamour about it. Holte has already designed footwear, with future plans to become a full-fledged lifestyle brand.
“Even though they are basics, I do love being a little bit out there — a little bit different,” Holte said. “It’s about taking chances and not being afraid of making clothes that you really want to make, instead of trying to do something that everyone else is doing.”