International Women's Day

Sophie Holt, Oroton's creative director, celebrates International Women's Day. Discover more about one of the most influential figures in Australian fashion and how she is empowered by the women in her life.


Words by: Natasha Inchley

The fact that Sophie Holt is one of the most influential figures in Australian fashion certainly is part of the story, her design hand-writing is distinct, however it’s her refreshingly honest point of view and her focus on team collaboration that’s equally compelling. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked the Oroton Creative Director to tell us about the women who inspire her, and how she in turn influences and mentors those around her – hint: being a brave forward-thinker is key.

Looking back, what ignited your love of good design?
Growing up, I was surrounded by women who were unbelievably stylish and quite avant-garde – my grandmother [Dame Zara], my mother and step mother. They had a huge impact on me, not just because they were strong women but also because of their wonderful style – from the clothes they wore to their homes, the interiors, the colours, and the fabrics they chose.

It’s interesting when you consider that Dame Zara also made her mark as a designer with her brand ‘Magg’ and she, too, was a brave colourist:
Absolutely. I remember Zara had a sitting room in which all the walls were a glossed chocolate brown, the sofas were made in matching velvet and the curtains were chocolate taffeta. Her eye was remarkable and she really made extraordinary statements in design – one of the most memorable was when she decorated the lodge, and carpeted the floor in a bold emerald green to tie in with the red and navy of the Australian flag, a primary palette. She had amazing taste.

What values did the women in your family instil in you?
They were uncompromising and very true to their vision, to their own style. They didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing, and they forged their own path. That thinking has influenced me, too.

And so how then would you describe your own aesthetic?
Perhaps it’s simple, slightly man-style. I love easy, wearable clothing – I think fashion has to fit in with your life; it has to be smart, it has to be quick.

At what point in your career did you feel a certain confidence, that you were on your way as a designer?
I’d say when I created Elle. B [a Sportsgirl subsidiary label] and the collection became a success. I was 25 and it was my first hint of thinking: ‘I can do this’. Also, having the opportunity at Country Road [as Creative Director] to bring all divisions together in order to create a consistent hand writing that embodied the essence of the brand.

Now in your role as Creative Director at Oroton, tell us about your vision for the brand, and what appealed to you in taking up the post?
The history of the Oroton brand is definitely a factor – it’s an Australian icon which stands for craftsmanship and great quality. I felt that I knew what I needed to do in order to make it modern and relevant to customers of today, and across a broad spectrum of customers. The classic pieces are still there, of course, but I think the colour palette is fresh and more modern, and now there are twists.

Those “twists” and surprises are a signature in your collections. Nothing is ever predictable. In fact, the motifs you have introduced to the silk scarfs are playful – there’s an element of chic humour to what you’re doing. How does that vision play out?
I would say the collections are very considered – I’m passionate about working from the design table through to giving our customers the same message on the shop floor. At the same time, I feel it’s important to inject a little lightness into the collections and have some fun. We are taking more risks in a design sense and being brave because ultimately I don’t think you can go in half-baked.

You are known for your dedication and focus – how has this shaped your success?
I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that I have been in the industry for a long time and it’s a tough industry, you have to have a certain amount of tenacity, determination, focus and bravery. In order to survive, I think you’ve got to be strong and you’ve got to be clear in your vision.

Not to mention timing. A designer needs to almost thrive under pressure when it comes to fashion’s ever-quickening pace. How do you handle those intense moments when deadlines are looming?
I think it has everything to do with fostering a team mentality whereby everyone is really excited about what they’re doing, everyone is on board with the brand and equally passionate. The hard work then becomes much easier when you’re achieving a strong result as a team, and you’re proud of the work. It should never be just me who feels like that, that feeling has to belong to the entire team. For me, one of the most exciting parts of the job is working together in the studio, work-shopping ideas, one idea sparks another, and from there a new collection comes to life.

And lastly, when it comes to family life, how has motherhood influenced your work?
Well you’re forced to strive for some kind of balance – and that’s something I’ve always prioritised; I have always made a point of getting home for dinner with my children. We also traveled a lot together, which was something hugely important to us. We dragged the kids all over the world, from when they were little, and I think it made us so much closer as a family because we have been fortunate to have shared so many special experiences along the way. And that, no doubt, has inspired me in my job too.