Katie Holmes knows how to attract a crowd. And how not to.

Last season, she and her partner, Jeanne Yang, officially presented their label, Holmes & Yang, during New York Fashion Week for the first time in its three-and-a-half-year existence. For fall, the designers downsized the spectacle to private appointments in a suite at the Palace Hotel, where Holmes greeted editors with a silver tray of muffins that she procured herself that morning from Foragers. She offered coffee, made tea upon request, and invited everyone to take off their shoes if they liked — she already had. “Mine hurt,” she said, acknowledging her stocking feet — navy tights that matched her dusty blue plaid dress from this season’s Holmes & Yang line. The atmosphere was genuinely casual.

So, had the glare of Lincoln Center been a bad experience? “We really enjoyed it, but it’s February,” Holmes said, curling up to indicate that it’s cold outside and cozy in the suite. “This is how we’ve always done it. It’s nice to spend time with editors.”

“Our clothing is quiet,” added Yang. “We go back and forth — make a splash, make it known that we are here, but we also go back and say, ‘Do we have the time to talk to [the editors]?’”

From there commenced a narrated walk-through of the 15-look collection, which was inspired by the Forties — Katharine Hepburn, in particular — and featured simple, elegant items such as a black ponte dress under a two-tone blue cape, its interior hem detailed with nailheads. “This is something that you only get to see in person,” said Yang, flipping over the edge. “Feel this ponte. That’s stretch and thick enough so it’s like a girdle. You feel confident and comfortable.”

“But it doesn’t press so hard your tummy hurts,” Holmes said.

Yang was right, the collection features understated classics, the type of clothes that are about fine quality and construction but might get lost on the runway. A black halter gown was perfectly flattering and timeless; a chambray shirtdress, great for everyday chic. A plaid wool bustier and matching slim trousers were as edgy as it got. Yang pointed out the extra seaming details that give a pair of pants just the right oomph, if increasing the price. The designers apparently have great sell-through on pieces over $1,000. The collection is currently in about 15 doors. Worthy construction does not come cheap, especially when everything is produced in New York and Los Angeles, as is Holmes & Yang. Domestic production hits close to home for Yang. “My mom was a sewing contractor, and she put me through college,” said Yang, the more dominant of the designers, who is quick to offer personal anecdotes, whether her own or her business partner’s. “Katie’s mother had a drapery business, so she knows about draping.”

“She did the curtains in my apartment,” said Holmes. “She did them all by hand, and they are perfect. They’re a light blue silk.”

The conversation took a surprisingly personal turn — tales of mothers and granddaughters. Neither Yang’s nor Holmes’ mother has continued her sartorial pursuits professionally. Yang’s mom got into Korean baking. Mrs. Holmes closed up her drapery shop when Katie was a toddler, and when she’s not crafting her daughter’s window treatments, she’s sewing American Girl doll clothes from patterns for her granddaughters, Suri included. Holmes produced photographic evidence of her mother’s pink and purple handiwork on her phone. Asked if Suri is old enough to appreciate such a personal gift, Holmes says, “Yes. [I tell her], ‘Someone was thinking of you and taking the time.’”

Then Yang tied the digression back to their own collection. “We know that we are a younger line, but we come from a heritage of parents that are self-made,” she said. “They taught us not to be afraid of customizing something and being confident. ‘Go ahead and make this dress your own.’”

By  on February 7, 2013
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