"I was fully into it," she recalls. "I still loved clothes, but I didn't miss designing. I had done 'Falcon Crest,' and at that point I was working a lot, so I was on a roll for a couple of years. Then I had a not-so-good couple of years, and also I realized I had played a lot of really dramatic characters, and I had to cry at almost every audition. I didn't want to go there anymore. The other thing was, I started not liking being an actress. I felt you had to be so self-involved in order to succeed, and you're always defining yourself by what jobs you do or are up for. I felt like I was growing out of it."
About that time, as fate would have it, she was introduced to Harp, who was looking for a design assistant.
When the time came to pass the baton, Michelson says she was ready, a far different person now from the young designer who couldn't handle the tough demands of success.
"When [Holly] was sick, we'd talk about it," Michelson says. "I said, 'Obviously I'll continue,' and I kind of realized it was my destiny. I thought, 'I'm supposed to be doing this, and I'm older now and I've learned a lot.' "
Michelson admits, however, that at the debut of her first collection in the company's New York showroom in 1995, "I had never been so scared in my life. I just felt like this was such a huge responsibility, and if I fail, I'll bring down the whole ship. But I also knew that what scares you the most is what's going to get you the furthest. And the collection was well received."
It's not often that a designer designates a successor; sometimes the owner of the house names one.
So says Patrick McCarthy, chairman and editorial director of Fairchild Publications Inc.
"Designers never plan for it, even when they're old," he says. "It's one of those businesses where people don't want to talk about retirement. Their feeling is, when I die, the house dies with me. Sometimes it goes on, sometimes not."
If it does go on, McCarthy adds, it's with a designer, not a design team. These days of fashion celebritydom demand it. And when that new person does take the reins, she's faced with an instant challenge: Put her own signature on the line while not alienating existing customers.
"They must share a sensibility," McCarthy explains. "Holly knew she wanted the line continued, and there has to be a connection between her work and her successor's work. You can't suddenly go from Holly Harp to John Galliano."
If there is consistency in the collection, there's also consistency in the family business. The Harps' son Thomas, 29, a recent Wharton School MBA, is CEO.
What would Holly think of Michelson's success so far?
"I think she would be, 'You go, girl,' " Michelson says. "I think she would be really excited about where it's going and my courage in trying to work through things in the business. I'd think she'd be saying, 'Right on.' "
Amy Michelson for Holly Harp and HH by Amy Michelson are available at Saks Fifth Avenue, the Alley in West Hollywood and Bergdorf Goodman in New York; Amy Michelson Wedding is available at the Montclair Collection in Santa Monica.