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How a Charleston jewelry designer wound up accessorizing first lady Jill Biden

·4 min read

When Natalie Holst saw the glint of gold, her hands began to shake.

It was Saturday, and the designer had just shuffled through security at Charleston International Airport. She was on her way to New York City, the fashion capital of America, but now she was on her iPhone, looking wide-eyed at the screen, as she waited to take flight.

“I think that’s my bracelet,” she said to herself.

But she needed to get a better look. There had been other close calls, other gold bracelets. She needed to find out if she had just accessorized the first lady of the United States.

It had been months since Holst received an email that sent her Charleston-based jewelry studio, Holst + Lee, into a quiet frenzy.

A customer from New York, whom Holst refused to identify in an interview, had reached out because they wanted to buy the mesh classic gold everything bracelet.

No surprise there, Holst said of the $125 bracelet. It’s one of their best-sellers. But the customer also sent along a note.

They admitted that this order was not for them. It was a gift for first lady Jill Biden.

“I didn’t want to mess it up in any way,” Holst, 42 said.

And so, after a bit of back-and-forth, Holst shipped the order.

“I knew to be on the lookout, but in fashion there are no guarantees,” she said, adding that she also threw in a few other items, “you know, just in case.”

Then, she waited.

Holst checked Biden’s official Instagram account, and every few days Holst confessed that she typed the words “Jill Biden visits” into Google.

The order, which shipped before President Joe Biden’s first international trip as president in June, left Holst humming. When the Bidens announced they would be visiting Queen Elizabeth, Holst found herself thinking, “Oh my gosh. What if she happens to wear it with the Queen?”

But Biden did not wear a Holst + Lee bracelet during Sunday tea with Queen Elizabeth. By September, Holst found herself looking up “Jill Biden visits” maybe once or twice a week.

Still, she had hope.

The mesh classic gold everything bracelet is a Holst + Lee best-seller, according to designer Natalie Holst. First lady Jill Biden was recently spotted wearing it.
The mesh classic gold everything bracelet is a Holst + Lee best-seller, according to designer Natalie Holst. First lady Jill Biden was recently spotted wearing it.

Around the time the customer reached out about this special order, Holst said she was watching the Netflix miniseries about the iconic American designer Roy Halston, whose signature pillbox hat was worn by Jackie Kennedy at her husband’s 1961 presidential inauguration.

“It can be career-defining moment,” Holst said of having a first lady wear a designer’s creation.

“Just like an artist, where people say, ‘Oh that’s a Van Gogh,’ I want people to look at my work and say ‘That’s a Holst + Lee.’ And, as a female American designer, I can’t think of anything more iconic than putting it on a first lady,” the College of Charleston graduate said.

And Holst knew she had a chance.

Jill Biden often favors creations made by independent American designers. It’s a similar fashion philosophy as that of former first lady Michelle Obama, who repeatedly championed young American designers during her time in the White House.

“I think Jill is more classic American style, whereas Michelle was pushing the boundaries of fashion,” Holst said.

When Biden appeared on the cover of Vogue in August, the fashion magazine declared she was, “A First Lady for All of Us.” And Biden’s communications director Elizabeth Alexander confirmed the first lady does not work with a stylist, telling the magazine, “It’s all her.”

“I like to choose from a diverse group of designers,” Biden told Vogue. “When I was planning my Inauguration outfits, that’s one of the things I considered.”

Holst, still shaking in the airport last weekend, now realized that the first lady may have considered her jewelry designs, too.

And as she waited for her flight to New York, Holst searched for more images of what she had learned was Biden’s recent trip to Wisconsin and Iowa.

Then, she found it.

There was a photo of the first lady, waving to the crowd, at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. And there, on Biden’s wrist, was the signature magnetic clasp of a Holst + Lee design.

Holst pinched the screen, zooming in closer and closer on Biden’s right wrist, until she could read the words written on the bracelet for herself.

It said Holst + Lee.

“That’s the picture that every designer would die for,” she said. “It’s my Roy Halston moment.”

Since sharing the news on social media, Holst confirmed her business has seen a spike in sales for the same bracelet worn by Biden, saying she sold more of that bracelet this week than any other week in the last year.

One Facebook user suggested Holst should rename the bracelet “the Jill.” In an interview, Holst laughed and said she just might, admitting, “You know, it’s probably a good idea.”

And unlike other first ladies, who would seldom repeat an outfit, there’s a good chance Biden could be seen sporting the Charleston-made design on her wrist again.

“I kind of love the idea of being a classic staple of a very classy first lady,” Holst said, before adding, “I still can’t believe this happened.”

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