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She’s been feeling her way in the fashion business since 2009, but Katie Holmes admits the retail world still has the power to surprise her.

“When you go in and you show your clothing, you think that they’re going to buy the whole collection,” she said with a hearty laugh during an exclusive interview with WWD on Tuesday, minutes after inking a deal with Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. “And when they don’t, you’re like, ‘What do you mean? It all goes together. So what do we do with this?’ So that was new, but I think that’s kind of a life thing — ‘What, you don’t want all of me?’”

This story first appeared in the September 6, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Holmes, along with business partner Jeanne Yang, will stage Holmes & Yang’s first New York Fashion Week presentation on Wednesday. Clad in a long-sleeve cream silk blouse from her fall line, the actress sipped coffee with soy milk as she answered questions ranging from the origins of her ready-to-wear label to the scope of her new beauty deal.

The 33-year-old Holmes will appear as the first celebrity face for the 21-year-old Bobbi Brown brand. According to executives, she also will act as the brand’s muse and a full-blown collaborator. Her face will appear in a new ad campaign, due to break next spring, as well as on-counter visuals at point of sale. In fall 2013, her name will appear on a capsule collection of color cosmetics. While Holmes, Brown and executives from the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., which owns the brand, declined comment on details of Holmes’ contract with the brand, industry sources estimated the actress is being paid between $2 million and $3 million over the course of a multiyear deal.

While personable, Holmes adeptly sidestepped questions that veered too far into the personal realm — as with the topic of where her six-year-old daughter, Suri Cruise, will start school this fall (reportedly Academy of the Sacred Heart). All Holmes would say was, “They’ll find out in due time.”

Despite the press’ frenzied efforts to ferret out the smallest of details regarding her past few months (ignited by her high-profile divorce from Tom Cruise), she doesn’t trash the Fourth Estate: “I have a lot of feelings about the press,” she said with a smile. “There are a lot of people with much bigger problems and who are less fortunate. I try to keep it all in perspective.”

But she grows animated when speaking about her Holmes & Yang collection, which launched at Maxfield’s and is carried by such retailers as Barneys New York and Dallas boutique Forty Five Ten. She and Yang chose this season to stage their first formal New York Fashion Week presentation “because the brand is growing and expanding, and so we thought we would have something a little more substantial.”

They’re hoping the week will help expand the brand’s reach at retail, said Holmes.

A presentation rather than a full-blown show felt right, said Holmes. “We’ve been very gradual from the beginning, and part of that has been because we’ve wanted to take the time to get to know the business, get to know the right stores — and, most importantly, to get to know the customer and what she needs. In terms of the presentation versus the show, we felt a presentation was more appropriate for the clothes we sell. It’s a little more our speed in the way we wanted to go about it, and more of a transition for us from meeting privately with buyers in a hotel room to going right to a big show.”

Holmes describes the Holmes & Yang aesthetic as “very simple, with very classic lines. We use a lot of silks and leathers and suedes. This year, we’re excited because we’ve incorporated a lot of new trims. It’s basically pieces that have evolved from basics, but not too far. They’re just nice, well-made luxury items that highlight the woman wearing them.” Price points start from about $700 and range to $3,000, she said. “We have a lot of casual, and gowns, some unique jackets.” Details include shirts lined in silk — “the silky part of the shirt is on your body all day,” she said.

Yang worked as Holmes’ stylist for five years before the two founded their brand. “She has incredible taste, and I look to her for a lot of guidance,” Holmes said of Yang. “I’ll have an idea, and I’ll say, ‘Jeanne, is this good or is it not?’ And she gives her opinion, and she’s very generous. She comes from one way of looking at things, I come from another, and we always meet in the middle and are very appreciative of the other person. We’ve never, in all this time, gotten into a fight over a look. It’s usually like, ‘Oh, really? Yeah, that’s perfect! I’m so glad you thought of that.’ It sounds like, ‘Yeah, right,’ but it’s true. Even when I’m leaving the house, I’m like, ‘Jeanne, is it good?’

“When Jeanne and I decided to do this — we’re both mothers; our daughters are very good friends — and I said, ‘Jeanne, this has to be something that we enjoy, because we want to do it with our girls here.’ We started off because we wanted to have shirts that were well-made and went with everything. I just want something I can wear all the time and nobody’s going to say, ‘Oh, I saw that yesterday.’ We try to make beautiful things, and we’re not so trend-driven. We try to do a touch of rock ’n’ roll with our stuff, but keep it very classic.”

While they’ve dabbled in children’s wear and have a deal with Valextra for handbags, Holmes noted that she and Yang, for the moment, are focusing chiefly on their ready-to-wear offering. Of children’s wear, she noted: “It’s a lot of work for a price point that really doesn’t make sense for that age. Obviously, they can’t wear them very long.”

Her upcoming fashion presentation isn’t the only project on Holmes’ already overloaded plate. On Nov. 29, she’ll open on Broadway in the comedy “Dead Accounts,” which she postponed a movie to work on. She joked about the timing, given that she was doing Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” four years ago when Barack Obama was elected President. “I have to fix this — [Broadway projects] can’t just be every four years,” she said with a laugh. Turning serious, she added, “It’s a medium I really enjoy.” She’s not bothered by having to perform every night. “I’m a schedule person. I like to have a routine. You’re also very in touch with your audience — they’re very much a part of the show, which is obviously something you don’t have in film. You get to know people in a different way. The matinee audience is obviously very different from the Saturday night audience. You learn about material — you really start to understand what works and what doesn’t. I think both film and stage are so challenging, but in different ways. With film, yeah, you have another take, but a lot of the time you’re losing the light, so you better nail it on that take. I haven’t found any part of acting to be easy.”

The press’ voracious interest in everything from Holmes’ choices at Whole Foods to which label her young daughter is wearing on every given day was considered a plus by the Estée Lauder Cos. When John Demsey, group president of the Estée Lauder Cos., was asked if the notoriety surrounding Holmes’ marital breakup is a plus or a minus, he laughed and replied that this is “a significant opportunity.” Industry sources estimate the size of the Bobbi Brown business at more than $500 million at wholesale.

The ad campaign will be shot by Tom Munro, according to industry sources. “This all came together eight weeks ago, when Katie and I were introduced by a mutual friend,” said Brown.

One can draw certain parallels between Holmes and Brown: Both are from the Midwest (Holmes from Toledo, Ohio; Brown from Chicago), both are entrepreneurs and both emanate a girl-next-door vibe. Both share a passion for natural-looking makeup. Both are devoted mothers. “We had tea in the afternoon, and we bonded,” Brown recalled. “And then it was, ‘Oh, my God, you would be the perfect face for Bobbi.’ We weren’t looking for a celebrity, just a cool, amazing woman who would fit with our brand. And she’s just ridiculously naturally beautiful.” Brown will do the makeup for the Holmes & Yang presentation next week.

“I think it’s amazing that Bobbi found a hole in the marketplace and said, ‘I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to create a line for real women who want to look pretty and have it be easy,’” said Holmes. Turning playful about her role with Brown, Holmes intoned in a mock-serious voice, “I will be watching over every woman as she buys her lipstick.” Relatively speaking: Her image will appear on in-store visuals for Brown’s products.

Staying grounded? Holmes credits her Midwestern upbringing and crafts with her daughter for helping to keep her feet on the ground. “I spray-paint shoe racks, because, why not?” But she says with a laugh that said projects aren’t always successful: “I think, ‘Oh, I’m a great mom’ — and then it doesn’t really pan out the way I think it’s going to. But the intention’s there. I’ve always painted and done crafts at home — I have to stay creative in every aspect [of my life]. My sister teaches art, and she gives me a lot of ideas.” Leslie Sloane, Holmes’ publicist, offers in an aside: “She’s a really good decoupager.”

Holmes noted that she enjoys trying something new every day, without “being afraid to fail. Who cares? At least you tried. It’s usually the people who haven’t tried who are the naysayers.” On her list of things to try: directing, as well as more producing. “I executive-produced a film called “The Romantics,” and I do have interest in producing and directing in a few years.”

Holmes’ next film is an as-yet-untitled project directed by Christian Camargo, in which she stars with William Hurt. “It was an amazing experience, for sure,” she said, noting the film is set for a 2013 debut. “Wonderful actors — Allison Janney, Juliet Rylance, Mark Rylance, Michael Nyqvist, Cherry Jones.”

As for future film projects, Holmes is adamant that she not be pigeonholed into one particular type of role. “As an actress looking for new characters that have something to say — I always try to find projects that have a purpose and a message, and a real character — someone who either is flawed in a way we feel accessible to them or as a character you go to the movies and want to be.” She noted that she’d also love to work with Woody Allen: “I love ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ so much.”

For her part, Holmes noted that she’s enjoying collaborating with Brown. “This is my first foray into beauty products and the evolution of a look,” she said. “You want the hair and makeup to support the woman, just like you want the clothes to support the woman. You don’t want to lose the woman. That’s how Jeanne and I design.”

“The girl next door has built a career,” said Maureen Case, president of specialty brands at the Estée Lauder Cos. “She has taken the bull by the horns and moved forward.”


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