Jeanne Yang, stylist to the stars and co-owner of Holmes & Yang, believes in three things: pairing denim with diamonds whenever possible, keeping her purse off the floor, and having her fashion line manufactured in New York City. While the former rituals are more personal matters-of-the-heart, the latter is strictly business.
Just six fashion seasons ago, in the fall of '09, Katie Holmes and Jeanne Yang launched their eponymous label to a select crowd of Maxfield L.A. customers. It was Holmes' first foray into design, and Yang's second time to work on a collection. The actress and stylist joined forces after Holmes had been a client of Yang, and both realized they shared a unique aesthetic vision. "We realized that, as women, it's difficult to have a uniform. Clothes that will take you to drop off your kid at a carpool, go to work, and then head for cocktails," says Yang. "The point is beautifully made clothing, classic with a twist... Wearability."
Their debut collection featured a limited run of luxe basics, following their brand mantra that "it's about having less clothes, not more." Soon, the brand would become a permanent fixture on the sales floor at Barney's New Yorks across the nation.
As any customer that happens by their space at Barney's, my first impression was one of curious intrigue. The intricate patterns, sturdy materials, and detailed structuring of their garments had my eyes darting about, trying to absorb it all. The price tag also raised an eyebrow, and I was curious to find out more about the line. A few emails and phone calls later, I found myself sitting in Holmes & Yang's showroom on the top floor of Chelsea Market. Forty-foot-tall brick walls holding ceilings aloft at a neck-bending height set an industrial tone that seemed fitting for such an unapologetically local line of clothing. Patterns hung in the corner flanked by rolls of fabric, and pieces from the spring collection bedecked several clothing racks scattered about the space. Inspiration boards sat propped against a wall, not far away from a determined young intern snipping flawless squares out of swatches of fabric.
Laura Kadamus, Holmes & Yang's assistant designer, invited me in for a personal tour and even modeled a few pieces for me. The first look she donned was the "Dancer," the brand's most popular jacket. Soft buttery suede plays canvas to four large cargo-like pockets, while a drawstring waist ensures that this casual coat can be figure flattering, as well. Any woman could easily wear it multiple times a week. "If you look at your wardrobe, the average person has a rotation of 10-15 items a month," Yang later explained to me. "So why not just make them great, fantastic pieces?"
Next, Kadamus switched into a snug printed blazer (perfect for work or play) followed by my favorite piece of all, a double-breasted terrycloth blazer that comes in white and navy. What continued to perplex me as my visit came to its end was that the fact that every piece is made in the U.S. In New York City, no less! Living in New York, I have always heard rumors of designers making clothes in the boroughs, but I had never actually seen it. When I asked Yang about this aspect of their business, she stood firm: "It's 100% a big deal. My mother was a sewing contractor in California; the money she made put me through college," she says. "The people you meet at our factories are also putting their kids through school. We care about our industry and take care of those people."
Still eager to see this rarity for myself, I followed Kadamus on a few appointments that day. Walking into a leather factory they use, I was immediately impressed by the stockpile of lavish fabrics and skins lining the shelves. Patterns hung from the ceiling like paper chandeliers. We proceeded further into the shop, toward the sewing stations where I noticed a Dancer jacket lying next to an antique sewing machine. The jacket's maker was hurriedly buzzing about the space, obviously juggling multiple jobs in preparation for fashion week. She must have been in her mid-40s, and wore a screen-printed New York t-shirt with a few pieces of gold jewelry, including a wedding band. It became clear that this woman was to whom Jeanne had been referring earlier that day: a hard-working everywoman like her mother, trying to make a living off of her trade. The Holmes & Yang line may carry hefty price tags, but seeing the work that is put into each piece makes it worth every penny.
So what does the future hold for this line of sumptuous staples? Could Holmes & Yang create a more affordable line for the masses, as so many high-end fashion companies have done? "It's definitely a future goal that we strive to reach," says Yang. "I hope that people realize the conundrum that we face in this industry; that at the end of the day, when you pay a little extra for something, it will last. And we're able to maintain the quality. Right now, we use some of the best contractors in the world, on the isle of Manhattan, and suit makers in Brooklyn. We don't want to change that."
Whether you believe in your mother, your country, or simply in New York City, I think everyone can resonate with the ethos that Holmes & Yang was founded on. Taking care of yourself, while still taking care of others. Buying one well-made coat to last a decade instead of 10 cheaply-made pieces to get you through the fashion season. Quality, not quantity, or, as Yang quoted during our conversation, "Live simply so that others can simply live."