Henry Holland is probably one of the most exciting designers in the London Fashion scene today. In 2016, we celebrated ten years of the craziest show in London Fashion Week, self-effacing British humour, girl-gangs, and cheeky rhyming tees. While anyone in the industry can say that they have a passion for fashion - Henry Holland has actually bled fashion; beginning his early career managing a hundred and one internships, a journalism degree, and an editorial job with three different teen magazines, whilst laying the foundations of a budding fashion empire.
In his sprawling East London studio, with Martin Parr images on one wall, and a rare collection of vintage pop-art magazine covers on another, we meet Henry Holland. He is unsurprisingly as enigmatic and charismatic as any one of his memorable runway shows. A self-confessed fashion groupie, Henry claims that his meteoric rise to fashion fame all happened by happy accident — a whirlwind of wow moments, hard work, and good luck. But more than this, it is clear that Henry Holland has grown his happy accident into one of London’s most outstanding fashion houses — a champion of fun fashion, and true London style.
Growing up in the small town of Ramsbottom in Lancashire, what inspired you to start a career in fashion?
I come from a very long line of stylish ladies and have always been very interested in fashion. It’s always been very much about the way it makes you feel, and how it can kind of completely change your mindset and mood for the day. A person’s style, in part, tells everyone who they are; and that was something in-built in me from a young age.
Growing up where I did, the concept of a career in fashion wasn’t really a thing. I went to London and studied journalism; and I realised there were loads of courses in fashion and I was desperate to change my course to one of them. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any room in any of the courses for me. Despite this, it was great as I had to build my fashion knowledge with a vocational degree, which meant that by the time I graduated I had 2 years of fashion experience. In those days, I did everything that had anything to do with fashion, I tied shoelaces, made teas, and carried carrier bags. Back then there was much more of a sense of entitlement. Fashion is a really difficult industry to get into and I think that it’s just a real shame for people who don’t have any background. It’s very difficult to support yourself by doing internships and my focus was to do that while I was at university. I was studying and getting experience at the same time, and I got a paid job right after my exams. Drive is really important. You see people who come to the door who like the idea of working in the industry but lack the drive and absolute passion to do it. It’s all encompassing and takes over your life so if you’re not fully into it, it won’t be for you.
What was it like starting out as a young creative in London?
It was amazing! When I started making my t-shirts, everything happened by a happy accident so everything that happened to me was the best thing ever! It wasn’t part of a preconceived plan or anything. Everything was a wow moment and I felt like the luckiest guy in the world. I was working with my best friends (I still do) and just having the best time. It was really hard work and fast paced. At that point, one of the biggest challenges was growing a business, and we didn’t get a second to stop and think. We were reacting to the demand and didn’t feel like we had any time to sit down make a plan and take stock, but I found it so thrilling and rewarding. I have to remind myself that I have the best job in the world and make sure that I get excited about exciting things. I do miss that complete naivety and innocence of young, wide eyes.
With a journalism degree from the London College of Printing, you started your career as a fashion editor for a couple of teen magazines. What made you decide to shift your career and become a designer?
It was more a lack of a creative output. I worked for three different teen magazines, two at the same time simultaneously. I had 20 pages a week to fill and I was the only person in the team. One was published every fortnight and one was a weekly; and I was working the fashion department for both. When I went onto a monthly magazine with a team of three people, I was working at a different pace to the one I was used to. At one point I was editing the website as well as managing the fashion department! The t-shirts came as an idea amongst friends. It started out as a random design and one day I got a few printed and decided to go for it.
We were in the same building as Love magazine; and I was selling my t-shirts to the assistants of love magazine. I was using the post room to ship my international shipping! I was selling on my own website, and then I got picked up Dover Street market. I got a lot of attention when Gareth and Giles wore them at the end of their shows, after that we got Barney’s on board. I made the first t-shirt in august and we were shipping internationally by Christmas. I was sat there crying with 56 pages of Barneys’ shipping guide. Before I knew it, I had all of these massive models like Daisy Lowe coming into my tiny flat and my mum would make stew, trying to make these models eat, it was hilarious.
“I’ll Tell You Who’s Boss Kate Moss” and “Get Yer Freak On Giles Deacon” are some of the cheeky slogan t-shirts that have sky-rocketed the House of Holland name. How do you incorporate this quirky tongue-in-cheek humour to your collections today?
For me it’s quite natural as it’s a reflection of my personality. It’s really key to me to build the brand while maintaining its personality and values. We have a really strong visual as a brand but also have a fierce tone to what we do, and that’s really important because that’s what makes us unique. It’s a very British thing; self-effacing humour. Nudge-nudge and tongue-in-cheek. Pushing the boundaries of how rude you can be but in a nice way.
What is one thing that our readers should know about you?
I’m such an over sharer; I don’t really have secrets. I went to get my lorry driving license recently, I drove a massive camper van in Tennessee on holiday. I saw Edie Campbell just got her HGV license and got really jealous and that was that!
House of Holland has always been known for fun colours, frivolous prints, and unapologetic British style. Do you think that London is an intrinsic part of your brand?
100% being in London is really important to my brand, I take a lot of inspiration from this city. The more time goes on, the more it becomes its own country. It’s a diverse city, from a visual point of view and has an aesthetic that informs so much of what I do, with its tone, personality, and playfulness. London is the best city in the world. Nowhere else has the same kind of vibe or energy that you feel when you live here. You can see that in the way it produces the creativity it does.
2016 marked the 10 year anniversary of House of Holland. How did you celebrate this landmark moment in your career?
My SS17 collection marked the brand’s 10th anniversary (Sept 2006-Sept 2016). I wanted to do something to mark the occasion and celebrate the heritage of the brand. I didn’t want to do something that was so retrospective, and the whole collection was based around that. I wanted to do something guerrilla and fun. It’s been 10 years since we really wrote about our new t-shirts and there’s a whole new group of people that need to be written about. The t-shirts are very much fashion groupie t-shirts. I wanted to be in this fashion world, and when I was in teen fashion, the t-shirts were always positive and celebratory of life. Kind of like a band tee or football shirt but for fashion freaks. I only choose people that I want to celebrate. Some people who I love can’t have t-shirts of simply because the rhyme doesn’t work.
Any advice for young designers just starting out in the industry?
Try not to think about it too much I think. Oh! And go out as much you stay in. So much of what I learned, was from being in nightclubs and socialising and being a part of the industry, going out, and meeting people. That’s where I met so many of my collaborators and really good friends as well. It’s such an important part of what we do — for me anyway. I’ve been so lucky to have been helped along the way by a lot of amazing people really high up in the industry, but you must get the balance right. I go out with the people at work, but make it a point to never be late.
Finally, how do you think young creators like yourself are changing the face of London Fashion?
I think its kind of twofold from the work they produce. Moving forward, London is now one of the most if not the most important fashion week in the calendar. When I started showing in 2006, American press didn’t go to fashion week; there were no important shows. All the important shows had moved to Paris and Milan. McQueen, Paul Smith, and Burberry, were the big brands that were showing in Europe. That’s massively changed in the last 10 years. Also, the number of brands have changed. London, as a creative centre of the world, has massively changed. The work that is being shown as well as the way it’s being showcased and the way we are developing as a fashion city. It is very forward thinking in terms of the evolution of showcasing, and it’s really exciting. Compared to other cities, London is the most exhilarating. The overarching aesthetic in London is extremely powerful, which I think is very stimulating.
Portraits by Chris Baker
Words by Hannah Tan