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A New Getty Family Business

Once, more than a decade ago, Rosetta Getty was asked by her daughter’s elementary schoolteacher, “Are we going to discuss the elephant in the room?”

Ms. Getty didn’t know what she meant.

“The fact that Violet basically acts like a boy and dresses like a boy,” the teacher said, according to Ms. Getty, who said she replied nonchalantly. “We don’t make a big deal about it,” Ms. Getty recalled saying, bracing for whatever came next.

“She actually was cool about it,” Ms. Getty said in a recent interview for this article. The teacher told Ms. Getty she wouldn’t divide the class by gender for group projects or anything like that; Violet wouldn’t be forced to choose. “She was bringing it up to be supportive.”

The first time Ms. Getty told this story to The New York Times, it was October, and she was sitting under an umbrella at a wicker table at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. It was one of those stories you expect to have an unhappy ending until it doesn’t. The tension dissipates before impact — poof, phew, look how far we’ve come.

In November, Ms. Getty told the story again, this time sitting beside Violet at the mosaic-mirrored dining table in their loft in TriBeCa. It was Violet’s first time hearing it.

“That’s crazy,” said Violet, now 20.

Violet said that for as long as she could remember, she hadn’t dressed like other girls. Once, she wore a deflated soccer ball as a hat and headphones as a belt. Today she typically wears oversize pieces from Comme des Garçons, JW Anderson and other designers known for making “big, eccentric, unisex, cool stuff in great fabrics,” Violet said.

That evening in TriBeCa, though, Violet was wearing clothes she and her mother had made together: a purple wool-cashmere sweater and brown suede pants. Rosetta, 53, is a fashion designer who started her namesake label almost a decade ago. On Nov. 16, she and Violet are releasing their first joint collection, made up of about a dozen unisex styles.

This collaboration has allowed for a rare glimpse into their private family dynamic. Rosetta and Violet are members of the sprawling Getty clan, famous for its wealth and tragedies — though perhaps not as famous today as it was in the 1950s, when the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty was declared by Fortune to be the richest American man, or in the 1970s, when Mr. Getty’s grandson was kidnapped and held for five months.

Movies and TV shows have been made about the crime, which ended with John Paul Getty III losing an ear to his kidnappers and his grandfather eventually paying a negotiated ransom. John Paul Getty III went on to have a son, Balthazar, an actor and musician who married Rosetta in 2000.

Curiosity about the family remains robust. “Growing Up Getty” was not only the title of a book published in 2022 (about the family broadly), but also the headline of a Times article in 2018 (about another fashion-y branch). Earlier this year, The New Yorker published a lengthy article about a financial dispute in yet another branch.

Balthazar and Rosetta’s branch is known for its proximity to Hollywood, perched above Sunset Boulevard in their mazelike Spanish colonial-style home — it is painted salmon with blue frames and surrounded by lush landscaping — where they represent a somewhat bygone Los Angeles creative bohemia.

Violet is now helping that bohemia live on, taking on a role in the family business.

Rosetta Getty was raised in a commune in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. The residents of her apartment building were all affiliated with Subud, she said, a spiritual practice that originated in Indonesia. It was, she said, “a bunch of hippies having kids, running loose.”

“There wasn’t any real parenting, because it was all about changing the rules — having no rules, because they felt like there were too many rules,” Ms. Getty said. It was the 1970s.

Ms. Getty likes to tell a story about the parallels between her and her husband’s unsupervised upbringings. When she was 5, she said, she survived a serious fall from her building. He once required dozens of stitches after climbing onto a glass bookshelf that had toppled over at the Chateau Marmont, where his parents lived for a time.

Ms. Getty learned to sew when she was about 7, she said, and though she began modeling around 14, she preferred making clothes to being photographed in them. Even then she was shy.

Youth culture dominated that moment in Southern California, which inspired Ms. Getty, according to Patricia Arquette, a childhood friend who grew up in a separate Subud commune. “There was punk rock, there was new wave, there was pop-locking and break dancing and the cholo culture, and so many different things that make up the melting pot of Los Angeles,” Ms. Arquette said. “She always loved fashion. It was very clear that she wanted to be in that world.”

In the mid-1990s, Ms. Getty was asked by a friend to help shop for flower girl dresses. The options were uninspiring, so she decided to design her own from linen, decorating them with hand-cut flowers. One of the wedding guests owned a children’s boutique in Los Angeles and asked Ms. Getty to make more. Her first label, Rosetta Millington, for kids, was born.

Ms. Getty had taken some fashion courses but otherwise taught herself about production and manufacturing, she said, outsourcing help only when she needed it. That is still her attitude. (At Rosetta Getty, her current label, “I’m sort of the C.E.O.,” she said, in addition to being the creative director.)

In 2000, she married Balthazar, whose breakout role as a teenager had been in “Lord of the Flies.” They met through mutual friends, including David Arquette. “At that point in my life, I was very successful, I was very independent, and I wasn’t really looking to go out with some young actor guy,” Ms. Getty said. (He is a few years her junior.) They fell in love anyway.

Still, the new last name took some adjustment.

“People have a lot of ideas about what that means and who we are, and sometimes it’s not pleasant,” Ms. Getty said. “There has been a lot of tragedy, for sure. But most families have tragedy.”

She has embraced the family’s philanthropic work, particularly their land and wildlife preservation efforts in Africa. Over lunch, she became tearful while describing watching a rhino’s horns be shaved to save it from poachers. “We have to handicap our creatures so they won’t be killed off,” she said. “How do you explain that to your kids?”

Those children are June, Grace, Violet and Cassius — now ranging in age between 16 and 23, and in personality from buzz-cut countercultural to Alex P. Keaton — along with the family’s newest addition, Wolfgang, born by surrogacy about a year ago.

Another thing the Gettys have had to explain to their children: the responsibility to give back when you’re “born with money given to you for doing nothing,” as Ms. Getty said. “We do give a lot. Almost maybe sometimes too much.”

There is, she added, “a lot of guilt wrapped up in it.”

At their century-old Hollywood Hills home, a former bed-and-breakfast to the stars filled with European stained glass windows, Ms. Getty hosts family dinners twice a week. Until recently, the ceiling of their dining room was covered in vines; to reach that room, you had to walk through a teal-saturated library, past a taxidermy polar bear wearing a giant wooden beaded necklace.

“I think you associate the Gettys with something really formal, and it’s more homegrown,” said the filmmaker Gia Coppola, who is the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and whose mother was once married to a Getty. “They have such a bohemian way of life.”

From a young age, Violet was aware that people wanted to take her picture, and not just the paparazzi, although they certainly were circling, taking photos of the family at the beach or at the airport.

Artists wanted to capture Violet, too, drawn to her self-assured, androgynous style. “I could tell I was very different from most kids,” she said. When Violet was about 13, the photographer Collier Schorr asked her mother if she could shoot her portrait. Ms. Getty said no to her and most others.

“I wasn’t supportive,” Ms. Getty said. “I mean, I’m always supportive.” But she was nervous, having been a teenage model herself. “Because I didn’t have anybody looking out for me, I am such a helicopter mom,” she said. “I want to make sure none of them ever have any bad experiences, which is probably not great either. But I’m just not willing to let the reins go as much as I probably should. This world is dangerous.”

Around the time her daughter turned 18, Ms. Getty did let go a little. Violet signed with the modeling agency IMG, walking the runways for Bottega Veneta in Detroit in 2021 and Marni in Milan the following year. (Her father joined her in the Marni show.) Ms. Schorr finally shot Violet, for a 2021 magazine cover, befriending Ms. Getty in the process. The photographer also shot the look book for the new unisex collection, in the family’s backyard.

Ms. Schorr said Ms. Getty is like a cross between Yoko Ono, Holly Golightly and Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” — an individual. Violet struck her as “the straight arrow” of this big, rambling family, she said — mature and empathetic.

Violet and her mother are close, holding hands at one point while discussing their relationship, kabbalah red-string bracelets tied around their wrists for protection. Violet’s girlfriend of two years wears one, too.

If Violet’s modeling career continues, her mother wants her to have even more protection, like an on-site advocate. Violet said she has felt uncomfortable during some jobs, particularly when the language barrier prevents her from explaining to whoever is dressing her or tailoring her looks that she does not wear women’s clothing.

“She’s taking a bit of a break right now,” her mother said.

That seems fine with Violet, who is already developing samples for their second unisex collection. She is energized by the challenge of making clothes that fit everyone in the same way, she said. Fashion has long felt like an inevitable career to her.

“I always knew I would work with my mom,” said Violet, who is not fazed by the phrase “nepo baby.”

“I love that, because I’ve worked my whole life so hard,” her mother said. “It’s nice to know that you might be able to pass that on.”

Since the founding of Rosetta Getty in 2014, the label has generally been a direct reflection of Ms. Getty’s world. She wanted a wardrobe of seasonless (Angeleno-friendly) clothing that could take her from school drop-off to business meetings to evening engagements, simply by shedding or adding layers. As a collector of contemporary art, she wanted to collaborate with female artists like Isabelle Albuquerque and Alicja Kwade to inspire her designs and presentations.

If the company passes into Violet’s hands, it makes sense to start incorporating her young, optimistic world — one where, as she said, “there should be no boxes.” The unisex collection will be priced lower than the main Rosetta Getty line, starting at $150, with some proceeds from sales going to the Los Angeles LGBT Center. It includes an oversize denim set and a few variations on a knitted sweatsuit. Rosetta said she is intrigued by the possibility of having male customers for the first time.

“I like the idea of taking away another rule or structure or anything that defines us,” she said. “I’ve always been sort of a rebel in that way.”

Not unlike her daughter, or the somewhat inattentive commune members she grew up around, “I don’t want to have any rules.”

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