K A T I E   H O L M E S :
The Girl Next Door

Holmes & Yang: Famous Fashion

Couture Snob
By Liza Powel O'Brien

It is easy--or perhaps, to be more accurate, it is seriously tempting--to write off any celebrity's foray into a new echelon of art or craft, whether it is James Franco and his short stories, Gwyneth Paltrow and her recipes, the Olsen twins and their t-shirts, or any number of other celebrity ventures from Leonard Nimoy's poetry to Paul Newman's salad dressing, as flighty whims of the shallow and ill-informed.

The crime we'd all llke to suspect them of, of course, is dilettantism. These people, in having achieved notoriety and success in some very public forum, have already won fate's lottery; how could they possibly--or, to be more honest, how dare they--be worth their salt in some other area as well?

It could also be said that when the celebrity venture concerns fashion, our radar goes up even more. Maybe it's the quotidian component: As anti-fashion as anyone can be, there is no one who can not wear clothes. Whether they like it or not, everyone is necessarily engaged in fashion; in this way, it belongs to us all. And because of this, it can be deceptively simple: As anyone who's ever thought, "I'll just whip up my own prom dress" knows, there is nothing simple or easy about designing great clothes.

So we're on guard. And the minute someone who hasn't spent years toiling at a sewing machine, slogging it out in the work rooms of Parsons or apprenticing for Karl steps into the arena, we're ready to make them prove their mettle--stitch by stitch, button by button. Which is exactly what Katie Holmes & Jeanne Yang seem prepared to do.

Their first collection, with its luxe staples and understated color scheme, showed that the team was not interested in trends or flashy design. For Fall 2011 (their third season), they've stayed true to their original vision but expanded it slightly--there is a new color (a bright, deep orchid pink), a new sizing scheme (they've traded in the four-size roman numeral system for traditional American sizing running 2 through 12) and a few new pieces--inspired, as always, by personal experience.

"I was sick of my suits getting ruined by going to the cleaners," says Yang. She goes on to explain that most off-the-rack suits are finished with glue--even those from high-end designers. After a few trips to the cleaners, steam acts on the glue and can cause the fabric to pucker. Because the Holmes & Yang suits are hand-tailored (in Brooklyn, New York), the stitches have a pliancy and a stamina you can't get with glue. It's a more expensive way to produce the pieces, but as Yang puts it, "I want this kind of quality for myself; why would I pass on anything less to my clients?"

The pants, far from being overlooked, have clever seaming down the legs "to make the butt look better," says Yang, and a vent at the bottom so that, as Holmes puts it, "you can let your pants do the flirting for you." This "rear" interest is an aspect that informs every piece they design, from the glove-quality leather elbow patches on the suit jackets to the interplay of thin suede ropes at the back of a cocktail dress. "We think a woman should look as good leaving a room as she does entering it," the design duo says.

Holmes says she wears clothing of her own design at least five days out of seven and that her favorite part of this whole endeavor has been the trunk shows, where she and Yang get to work with customers on what pieces might be best for them and how to get the most out of them. In fact, as Yang tells it, both the line's ambition and its success can be summarized by a single instance from the trunk show in Chicago: The bi-color silk maxi dress was tried on by both a prom-bound teenager and an older woman with a benefit to attend. The two women came out of their dressing rooms at the same time, looked at each other, and said to one another, "You look great."

"That was a great moment," says Yang.

As in earlier incarnations of the line, there is no forgotten spot on any of the pieces: the insides of the jackets are lined in heavy silk so that it feels good against the wearer's skin; small nail-heads do the work of the Chanel chain and add just the right weight to the bottom of a jacket (though--even better--they also hold a sort of secret punk appeal); the buttons are the equivalent of 220# paper stock--thicker by far than the average button for a better look and greater ease of use.

In other words, when it comes to clothes, this pair are both obsessed and detail-oriented, two winning characteristics when it comes to either art or craft. It's safe to say there are no dilettantes here.

Holmes & Yang at Barneys New York.