WITH fashionista chums like Agyness, Pixie and Alexa, Henry Holland is one of the country’s hottest designers, but his new high-street range means you don’t need to be a supermodel to join his style gang
Once upon a time, a 15-year-old boy made friends with a cool blonde girl who worked down the local chippie. They moved into a flat together and everything was great, until an annoying Mancunian boy arrived and kipped on their sofa.
But they all ended up the best of chums – along with the skinny girlfriend of a photographer and the daughter of someone famous. They were like the cool kids at school everyone wanted to be friends with. So is it any wonder that Debenhams wanted Henry Holland to be part of its designer gang?
In Glasgow to launch the new H! collection for the high-street giant, he insists that he’s only too aware of what it must all look like from the outside. “When I met Aggy [that’s supermodel Agyness Deyn, people, keep up], I was 12 years old and she worked in a chip shop,” he says.
“I didn’t look at her and think, ‘In 15 years’ time she’s going to be a top model, I should make friends with her now.’ I made friends with her because I got a discount at the chip shop.
“I met Pixie [Geldof – come on!] when she was 15 years old and I worked at Smash Hits magazine.
“I met Alexa [Chung, of course] when I worked there as well, because her boyfriend was a photographer who used to shoot our covers. I didn’t actually meet any of them through fashion. Even Nick Grimshaw, who’s a really good friend, he now has his breakfast show [on Radio 1] and is going to be huge. He used to sleep on my and Aggy’s couch when he first came to London and I hated him. I was like, ‘What are you doing on my sofa? Get out of my house.’
“It sounds really contrived and I can see what it must look from the outside – ‘Ooooh, let’s all be famous together’ – but it’s not. We are legitimately friends. We sleep at each other’s places at weekends and eat chips and pizza and do normal things.”
So let’s just say there’s a vacancy in the Holland house – someone to maybe pop the popcorn or hoover up the pizza crusts on Friday movie night – what would the entry requirements be? “Someone who makes me laugh,” he says straight away. “I’m very much about fun. And someone who can hold a good conversation.”
It might also help if you happen to be a girl. “I have very few male friends in comparison to women friends,” he admits, “but when I do have friends they’re really close. I’ve always hung out with girls. I went to an all-boys school until I was 13, then I was like, ‘Had enough of that.’
“I’m very lucky to have amazing, inspirational women around me,” he adds, “whether that be people I’m photographed with in the paper, who are immensely stylish and famous for being so, but also my mum, my auntie ... my grandmother wore matching trouser suit and blouse until the day she died, and she was amazing. She wouldn’t answer the phone without her lipstick and her earrings on.
“And my mum – once I went out late and got locked out, so had to knock on the door to get her to let me in. She answered the door with her lipstick and her dressing gown on. I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ That was just how they were brought up.”
Born in Lancashire, Holland graduated from London College of Printing with a BA in journalism, and worked as fashion editor on teen magazines. He admits now that his career in fashion proper started as a bit of a joke, when he created slogan T-shirts for his mates (example: ‘I’ll Tell You Who’s Boss Kate Moss’ and ‘Get Yer Freak On Giles Deacon’).
In 2006 he presented his first bona fide collection in London, and who else would he ask to model it but long-time BFF, Deyn. “We lived together for five years and we are really close – we’re family in a way,” he says. “We’ve been inseparable, we’ve gone everywhere together and I’m very lucky that her career trajectory happened at the same time as mine. She’s one of the world’s biggest supermodels – you wouldn’t go somewhere else would you?
“And anyway, when you’re that close to someone, you’re very similar and so she embodies a lot of what I’m about.”
House of Holland is now a regular on the London Fashion Week schedule – when we speak he’s preparing his 12th runway show – and is celebrated for its hip, London-girl look. Holland’s own wardrobe reflects that sense of street style – leather jacket, jeans and chunky skull ring combine with gleaming neon trainers and that trademark cockatiel quiff; part punk, part poodle.
His collaborations are legendary – those suspender and alphabet tights for Pretty Polly are now a style staple. He has also worked with Superga, Levi, BlackBerry, Charlotte Olympia, Roxy, Asos and Swarovski.
Some people might say, then, that the deal with Debenhams, signed off in 2010, was one collaboration too many. People like Miuccia Prada, who famously said she would never collaborate on a diffusion line, sneering that most are merely a “bad copy of what one does for the main brand”. “Those people are few and far between now,” says Holland.
“Karl Lagerfeld has done it – he was the king of elitism. Donatella Versace, Marni, Comme des Garçons. I really like it and, as a designer, I like to translate my aesthetic in lots of different ways – whether that be iPhone covers or a diffusion line or whatever ... And I really like seeing a different customer.
“The Debenhams range is aimed at a younger customer than my main line, and that was quite important to me. I didn’t want to cannibalise my business so I wanted to keep it separate and have a different target audience. The House of Holland customer is maybe in her 20s whereas the H! customer can be down to 14 or 15.”
It was an interesting departure for Debenhams too, he adds, “because it was a whole new customer for them. I don’t know a 15-year-old that would have shopped in Debenhams before”.
His autumn/winter 2012 collection includes fun, casual pieces like parkas, a biker jacket, dresses and blouses in his signature prints and animal logo knitwear, with prices around the £25-£75 bracket. And, pleasingly, there’s a noticeable tweed and tartan presence in there too. “There are lots of Scottish references,” he says excitedly.
“I love heritage fabrics and I’ve used them quite a lot in my mainline collection. I did a big Harris Tweed collection. We had a delay getting our fabric off the island because of the weather and I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t I get it from China.’”
He’s joking, of course.
“All our tartans are from here too. I love tartan – it’s a visual thing. It’s really strong and graphic, which befits our style. There’s also that street culture side of it. I like to think we’re quintessentially British as a label, even though we’re quite eccentric.”
So while his House of Holland range might be a little out of the price range for most young fashion fiends, H! hits all the same buttons at a dramatically reduced dent in the pocket money. “It is the girl who looks at what we do at House of Holland and admires it but can’t afford it,” he says, describing his target customer, “and a lot of that I think is the younger fashion follower.
“I think more and more being a fan of fashion is as big a thing as being a fan of football. How many young girls and young boys write fashion blogs? It’s what they talk about and what they write about. Their whole thing is saving their money to buy certain things so they can show off at the weekends. It has always been like that but with the internet it has grown and they’ve become a legitimate market.
“It’s not about making kids’ clothes a bit bigger any more; they look at the internet, they read Vogue and Elle, they don’t read Just 17 – all the teen magazines have gone under because teenagers don’t want to be patronised.”
Currently appearing on Sky Living, in the Rihanna-produced Styled to Rock, he has had the opportunity to connect with that young audience, as well as work closely with another one of his great gal pals. “Nicola Roberts is a friend,” he says. “I got to know her through work and through her coming to my shows, and I’m a huge Girls Aloud fan.”
He has described the redhead as his muse, and explains, “The reason I really like her sense of style is because she’s so individual. It’s the way she talks about fashion – it’s not that she intellectualises it, because I hate that; it’s the way she talks about how it makes her feel.
“I always say fashion shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It should be about playing dress-up and enjoying yourself and experimenting with that side of yourself and showing a part of yourself to the world through what you wear.
“Sometimes that comes across as me being a bit flippant, but actually I’m very serious about what I do with respect to the business and my company. But I just feel that fashion should be enjoyable as a consumer. And it should be about experimentation and expression, and Nicola embodies that. She was in this girl band from the age of 16 – which is amazing, they’ve just celebrated their tenth anniversary (and she’s still younger than me – bitch). And from then, somebody was telling her what to wear and what she should look like.
“She has red hair and pretty much blue skin – she’s so pale – and the other four girls wore fake tan, had big hair ... she stood up and said, ‘I don’t want to do that, that’s not what I’m about.’”
Working with her on Styled to Rock, he says, has given him an even greater insight into the way she uses fashion as an expression. “Especially on stage, as a performer. She talks so eloquently about how important clothes and costume are as a musician, in terms of connecting to your fanbase.”
So, all in all, this is not a bad place for Holland to be in, considering he never even went to fashion school. “There are a lot of industries that are difficult to get into,” he says, “and as long as you have the commitment and the drive and the passion and the confidence in your own decisions – every decision you make will be judged, and it’s very difficult to stand up and defend that if you lack confidence. If you know what you want, then you can go out and get it. I think that’s the same in any industry, not just fashion.
“I want to build the brand like one of the Americans,” he adds, warming to his theme of global domination. “I love seeing my aesthetic and my design on all sorts of different products, whether that be underwear or footwear or iPad covers. I want it to go beyond fashion and become huge. That’s my dream.”
So watch out world, Henry Holland is coming.
• The H! range for Debenhams is in store now (www.debenhams.com); Styled To Rock is on Thursdays, Sky Living, 10pm
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