What Are You Looking At?

Double-sable long-sleeve dress with scallop-tiered skirt, $3,790 at Valentino. Hanes Smooth Illusions opaque tights. Photo: Mark Seliger

Katie Holmes has not lived the typical Hollywood story. She’s a Catholic schoolgirl from Toledo, Ohio, who went to L.A. for the first time when she was 16; she arrived on a Sunday and was cast in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm the very next day. Dawson’s Creek came a year after that, and then there was Batman Begins, and then there was perhaps the world’s most famous courtship, and then there was the birth of the world’s most famous baby, and then, three years ago, her marriage to Tom Cruise, arguably one of the world’s most famous men.

And so for a number of years now, she’s been right at the center of our culture, the subject of an endless swirl of discussion and fantasy: What’s the deal with her marriage, does she really believe in Scientology, did Tom replace her innards with some kind of computer chip? And then there’s Suri! Piercing blue eyes, princess dresses, and a perfect combination of her parents’ very good looks, Holmes’s daughter is 4-year-old tabloid candy. She still travels with a blanket, but already she can’t move around the city without the company of someone very large and very well trained in the protective arts.

It’s not, by any stretch, an ordinary life, which is perhaps not what anyone expected from the girl whose appeal was originally considered “wholesome,” or something you’d find “next door.” She’s in a whole other rarefied neighborhood these days, so no wonder more people than like to admit it find themselves wondering what it must be like to be Katie Holmes.

Maybe all of this wonderful luck, good fortune, and circus-style mayhem that surrounds her every move is why Holmes’s demeanor is so calm. She speaks softly, choosing her words with care. When she smiles, though, she looks like a teenager: all round eyes and crinkly nose and that charmingly crooked Joey Potter grin.

In 2008, Holmes did Broadway, but this is the year of her return to film, and it’s happening in a very big way: She’s completed four new projects. She has a small role in Jonathan Ames’s The Extra Man, out this month, and a starring role (as well as an executive-producer credit) in The Romantics, a Big Chill–meets–Rachel Getting Married indie that comes out in September. Next is Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which is a horror movie, and then the cop thriller The Son of No One. And in the meantime, she is shooting a History Channel mini-series about Jackie Kennedy—another quiet brunette whose presence the universe found captivating, though for other reasons—hence our homage on the cover of this issue to Ron Galella’s Windblown Jackie photograph. Holmes is also, like other celebrities, now a designer as well. She’s 50 percent of Holmes & Yang, a small collection of luxuriously made basics that call to mind the wardrobe of Lauren Bacall. Given her bruiseless track record, it should come as no surprise that Barneys has had to reorder her fall collection.

You put your collection together with your stylist, Jeanne Yang. How did you get into designing?
I started making clothes for Suri when she was born, designing dresses, and then having seamstresses sew them, because I don’t sew very well. As a child, I was always drawing clothes, and I’ve always loved fabrics, and when Suri was born, I wanted to have certain things be from me and created just by me for her. And so that kind of got me into it, and then one day, Jeanne and I were getting ready for something and we thought, men have such beautiful tailored shirts, they have such a uniform, and we thought it would be nice to make things that are simple that you can have forever.

Were you always into fashion?
I always loved clothes growing up. My mother had a drapery business. And now, part of being in this business is that you’re around really nice clothes. You do these photo shoots, you get exposed to Hermès and Chloé and Armani, and you start to feel the difference.

Is Suri into clothes, too?
I grew up the youngest of five, so there were a lot of hand-me-downs that I would sort of change up. And Suri and I do that now with her clothes. Or rather, she does it. She says, “I want this sleeve cut,” and it’s like, “Okay, we’ll cut it.” She picks out all of her own clothes and has since she was 1½. Tom and I went to the Met ball a couple of years ago, and I had this beautiful red gown and these royal-blue shoes that I wasn’t planning on wearing, but Suri made me put them on and so I was like, “Okay, I trust you.”

Chiffon blouse, $595 at Marc Jacobs. Holmes & Yang silk crépe de Chine pants, $940 at Barneys New York. Chloé belt, $360 at Saks Fifth Avenue. Christian Louboutin suede pumps, $795 at Saks Fifth Avenue. Perlée 18K rose-gold hoop earrings, $4,350 at Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Mark Seliger. Styling by Bifen Xu. Fashion assistant: Eve Bertin-Lang. Hair by Danilo for Pantene at The Wall Group. Makeup by Gucci Westman for Revlon. Manicure by Martha Fekete for Martha's Corner NYC. Fashion consultant to Ms. Holmes: Jeanna Yang at The Wall Group.

She’s often with you on set, right?
Her first set was Lions for Lambs, when she was 9 months old, and now she’s 4 and she’s so creative and she’s so bright and so special. Whatever she wants to do, I know she’s going to be amazing at it. I’ve already started my applause, and I will be applauding for the rest of my life.

You’re playing Jackie Kennedy now. Do you think about your experience in the public eye while doing the role?
I’m just focused on creating a character as much as possible without knowing what was going on behind closed doors. In my own life, it’s just something that’s there. We luckily have security so I can focus on motherhood and work and other things.

Is it complicated balancing your schedule with Tom’s?
We have quite a schedule, you know? We don’t say, “When I’m working, you don’t work,” or anything like that. Last year he was shooting Knight and Day and I was shooting The Romantics, and we’d just fly to see each other after we wrapped. And we homeschool Suri—she has a teacher who is with her every day. We like the one-on-one education. I’m happy that my daughter is strong-willed and determined. You really have to go with what the child is wanting.

Would you and Tom ever work together?
Well, we do collaborate on everything at home. But I mean, he’s Tom Cruise! His body of work is incredible. Every movie he’s done has done really well. I look back, and everything’s a classic. I definitely come home and say to him, “So, imagine a scene … how would you play it?” And he’s helpful and sweet and gracious. He’s quite an incredible human being.

Do you read the various speculations about your marriage?
It’s there, it’s one of those things. My big concern is what does he have going, what do I have going, what are we going to do this weekend. It must seem weird, I guess, having so many people watching. It is weird. I get it. But you just, you know, smile and nod.

What Are You Looking At?