So­phie Holt has taken the reins at Oro­ton, charged with re­viv­ing and rein­vent­ing a ven­er­a­ble la­bel that was tee­ter­ing on the verge of ex­tinc­tion. By Zara Wong.


So­phie Holt has taken the reins at Oro­ton, charged with re­viv­ing and rein­vent­ing a ven­er­a­ble la­bel.

Com­ing to Oro­ton, So­phie Holt found her­self pleas­antly sur­prised. “I didn’t think I would fall in love with the brand as much as I have,” she says with a shy smile, as if she is still be­wil­dered by it. She ex­cit­edly pulls me from a meet­ing room, lead­ing me around to show off the open-plan Oro­ton of­fices on Syd­ney’s North Shore. There’s a de­sign room in the cor­ner where she can most of­ten be found. As she ex­plains, she is still com­mut­ing to the Syd­ney head of­fice from her home in Mel­bourne un­til a sec­ond of­fice is es­tab­lished in her home town. “So most of the time I come here, I don’t have an of­fice,” she says with a chuckle. “I’m just a lit­tle rogue Mel­bourne off-shoot!”

Holt is part of the new guard charged with re­vi­tal­is­ing the sleep­ing gi­ant. Founded over 80 years ago, in 2018 Oro­ton went from vol­un­tary ad­min­is­tra­tion to hav­ing new back­ers who saw value in its his­tory. “It was a slightly sur­pris­ing de­ci­sion,” she says, with a hint of mis­chief in her eyes, of ac­cept­ing the role at the Aus­tralian la­bel. She was en­am­oured with the good­will and re­spect the pub­lic has for the brand. “It’s older than so many Euro­pean houses, and we should be proud of that. It stands for qual­ity and there’s still so much love for the brand. Com­bin­ing the qual­ity and the his­tory with a mod­ern, new fresh ap­proach is a re­ally nice recipe.”

The in­jec­tion of the con­tem­po­rary, of rel­e­vance, of what makes our style uniquely Aus­tralian – th­ese are sub­ject mat­ters in which Holt is a pre-em­i­nent ex­pert. Although she has long loved fash­ion, as did her fam­ily (her grand­mother Zara Holt had the bou­tique Magg, and she, along with her mother and step­mother, were con­sid­ered supremely stylish), a ca­reer in the in­dus­try wasn’t an ob­vi­ous choice. Her of­fi­cial fash­ion ca­reer started at Sports­girl, not as a de­signer but as a mer­chan­diser, at the age of 25, where she suc­cess­fully launched off-shoot brand Elle B, be­fore work­ing at Witch­ery, where she started Seed, and then spent 13 years at Coun­try Road. It’s a for­mi­da­ble list of achieve­ments.

Holt re­signed from Coun­try Road in 2016, with the aim to free­lance and con­sult, but “I worked out one thing – I don’t like not work­ing full-time!”, she says, chuck­ling to her­self. She came to Oro­ton as a con­sul­tant be­fore as­sum­ing the man­tle of cre­ative di­rec­tor. “I re­ally love brands and I love cre­at­ing a con­cept and vi­sion for the brand and then work­ing with the teams to de­liver that to the cus­tomer. And so the fol­low-through is re­ally im­por­tant for me.”

Like her grand­mother, Holt does not cut pat­terns, sew or de­sign – she hes­i­tates to clas­sify her­self strictly as a de­signer. In­stead she throws the credit, the de­sign glory back to her small team. “They are the true de­sign­ers,” she says proudly. “I think of my­self as a mix be­tween a re­tailer and a de­signer: I’ve got good de­sign­ers work­ing for me, so there­fore I can step back and con­cen­trate on the over­all vi­sion for the brand and look at the mar­ket­ing, the store de­sign­ing and the colour pal­ettes, then di­rect the team.” They are ac­ces­sories de­sign­ers by trade – one had pre­vi­ously stud­ied in­dus­trial de­sign, bring­ing an un­der­stand­ing of struc­ture and func­tion to the Oro­ton ac­ces­sories. It is her team that has taught her about the specifics of what it takes to make a good hand­bag – “there’s a fo­cus on func­tion­al­ity”.

As cre­ative di­rec­tor, she has the vi­sion but also the at­ten­tion to de­tail to tease out the essence of a brand. “We need to give it a big swing, make it fash­ion-rel­e­vant and com­mer­cial,” she says. Although she was aware of Oro­ton grow­ing up, she did not own any Oro­ton pieces, “be­cause it wasn’t very rel­e­vant and mod­ern to me, but it made me think of qual­ity”. She at­tests that this makes her un­usual, but it means that her con­cep­tion of what Oro­ton is and where it should be is un­hin­dered by the heavy bur­den of the past. “Oro­ton now needs to be un­der­stand­able, but rel­e­vant.”

For Holt, this trans­lates to a sense of light­ness and fresh­ness, so she has in­tro­duced non-leather ma­te­ri­als such as raf­fia, cot­ton drill and can­vas, as well as silk scarves, her lat­est fas­ci­na­tion. “I spend my time in the de­sign room with the team, and that’s my main fo­cus. We’re talk­ing about colour, hard­ware and leather – and I’m al­ways try­ing to talk about scarves, be­cause I needed to get some colour, fab­ric and print into Oro­ton, loosen it up,” says Holt. She has also looked to her grand­mother’s store Magg, which was es­tab­lished in the same era as Oro­ton, for in­spi­ra­tion. “It’s got that same nostal­gia and his­tory.”

The day of this in­ter­view is pre­cisely the third day of Holt and her team’s foray into ap­parel. While Oro­ton has pre­vi­ously ex­per­i­mented with a small se­lec­tion of knit­ted tops and cardi­gans, the Aus­tralian brand’s first full line of ap­parel will launch in 2019, a blank slate for Holt. (“It’s fun slash scary”, she says of the ex­pe­ri­ence.) She is care­ful to em­pha­sise that this is the very be­gin­ning of Oro­ton’s first steps into cloth­ing, but it is in­dica­tive of the greater vi­sion she has for the Aus­tralian brand.

Holt ad­mits her past ex­pe­ri­ence has fo­cused on cloth­ing, and she pokes fun at her­self about her first day: “When I got here, I got a bit of a shock when there were no clothes on the scene.” As well as ap­pear­ing within Oro­ton’s ac­ces­sories range, the scarves will also serve as in­spi­ra­tion for the ap­parel col­lec­tion: Holt is imag­in­ing them re­worked as gar­ments. “If you un­der­stand the his­tory and the DNA of the brand, it’s about cre­at­ing hand­writ­ing for the brand, which I think my­self and the de­sign team have started to do with the hand­bags and the scarves. The next thing is to cre­ate a hand­writ­ing for the cloth­ing that tells a sim­i­lar mes­sage.”


And all for the bet­ter, Holt has moulded Oro­ton some­what to fol­low in her own per­sonal style and taste. “One of the rea­sons I came to Oro­ton is that it fit­ted me very well. I am quite clas­sic and I like a pretty blouse, but I like a bit of util­ity,” she says, ges­tur­ing to her black trousers, her white broderie anglaise blouse and flat shoes. She al­ways wears flats or very low kit­ten heels. “I like to be com­fort­able and on the move! And that suits Oro­ton, be­cause there’s a strength about the brand, there’s an hon­esty in the raw ma­te­ri­als and that crafts­man­ship. All of that re­ally speaks to me.”

So­phie Holt wears a Dries Van Noten top, $1,250, and skirt, $1,255, from Poepke. Her own jew­ellery, worn through­out. Do­ratey­mur shoes, $595, from East 43.

Loewe shirt, $1,335, and Emilio Pucci skirt, $1,645, both from Par­lour X.

Glomesh frame bag, $249. Leather tote, $599. Silk scarf, $100.

All pieces by Oro­ton. Leather-trimmed tote, $399. Gold-plated neck­lace, $199.

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