The young Mancunian can’t help coming across as more of a businessman than a designer, a collaboration king who wants his brand to encompass everything.
Henry Holland is telling me about the first time he and model Agyness Deyn met Anna Wintour. “Agy and I were introduced by Amy Astley from Teen Vogue. Anna looked at us, then started whispering to Amy and I thought, ‘that’s really rude,’ but what she was doing was asking Amy if we’d been invited to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards. She said, ‘You must come,’” recalls Holland, putting on a posh voice over his soft Mancunian accent. “Then, she said the best thing. Agy was wearing a Jeremy Scott sweatshirt dress, I was wearing something Liberace probably wore on a night out, a black sequinned blazer. And she said: ‘You must come tomorrow’.” Holland mimics again, before raising his voice in a mock female shrill and adding: “‘But dress up!’ Then, she looked at Agy and said, ‘Both of you!’ And then she left!”
So what did Holland wear the following night? “I wore that f***ing blazer again. I was only in New York for four days.”
In those four days back in 2005, Holland, then a fashion journalist, didn’t just meet Wintour and attend the awards. He also met the Olsen twins and pulled off an impressive selling feat that launched his fashion career: Julie Gilhart, the former fashion director of US department store Barneys, bought 1,500 of Holland’s now famous slogan T-shirts.
Holland’s ability to cram so much in is indicative of the way he runs his House of Holland brand, which shows at London Fashion Week.
By his own admission he is “the collaboration king”, a reference to his many licensing deals, including hosiery, underwear, eyewear, a Designers at Debenhams collection, a footwear line with Superga due to launch next month and a beauty range with Boots later this year. While many high-end designers would turn their nose up at diffusing their label so early on in their careers, Holland is sticking by his strategy. From a business perspective, it’s a no-brainer: licensing is the brand’s biggest growing arm and helps to fund the ready-to-wear business.
“The financial gain keeps the business going. We would never have been able to launch a pre-collection [for spring 12], which has been a great success for us commercially,” Holland explains. “Now, pre is going to be a really core part of the business. It opens us up to more stores and different territories.”
Even with the obvious financial gain, you don’t get a sense that Holland is selling out. As much as he may love fashion, he comes across as more of a businessman than a designer. “For me, I want House of Holland everything. I want the Ralph Lauren ranch in purple tartan,” he laughs, referring to the brand’s signature fabric. “I want to build a brand that encompasses everything because that’s just me.”
But for someone known as much for his personality as his brand, he must have differences of opinions with his more commercially driven licensees. “I’ve been very lucky and that’s partly down to the partners we’ve chosen to work with,” he says. “With Debenhams, it was perceived that we would launch with a bang of fashion pieces, but that it would actually filter down to basics and core products. It’s been the opposite. It’s the directional pieces that have sold really well.”
Keeping designer DNA
Holland has been working with Marshall Lester, founder of international brand consultancy ML Marketing, on building his licensing business. Lester says licensing helps high-end designers expand their distribution channels beyond traditional clothing boutiques. “It’s very difficult to make money in England because there are not enough high-end doors to sell to, like in the US or Italy,” he explains. “But the licensee has to respect the licensor, otherwise you lose the DNA of the designer.”
For Holland, that DNA is as much a design aesthetic as an attitude. “We’re trying to build something that is very inclusive. We want to welcome people into our world,” he says. “We’re quite transparent in many ways, through things like social media.” House of Holland even has a Weibo account, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. “We talk about what we had for lunch as well as what product is coming out. So many brands use it as direct marketing and it doesn’t work. [Customers] feel like they know us,” he continues. “The last three biggest news events I found out from Twitter. That’s how the world shares information now, whether or not you’re in fashion. But it makes fashion have much more of a conversation. Everyone can express their opinions now. It’s a good thing. You’ll never take away the prestige of certain publications, but you even get a sliding scale of blogs now.” Then, aware that his tone has become serious, he asks jokingly: “God, can we talk about my hair for a bit?”
We talk instead about his autumn 12 collection, due to launch at LFW just days after we meet. “You’re sat next to the [mood] board,” he tells me. “My phrase [for autumn 12] is: ‘Mork and Mindy do the Tour de France’.” At his catwalk show a few days later, the standout pieces featured a houndstooth print, while the cocktail dresses were also impressive. He has streamlined the autumn 12 collection in terms of options, while keeping it at 64 pieces. “Last season we gave the buyers too many options. If you make something in four colours, they buy one. If you make three [different] jackets, they buy all three.”
Holland is learning the art of sourcing. He dashed to textile show Première Vision in Paris just before his catwalk show. “As amazing as an idea might be, until the fabrication is right, and at the right price and the right minimum, it’s really difficult to realise.
“So, with fake fur, you Google factories that would make fake fur, but they have a minimum order of 1,000 coats. And every time someone asks us which factories we use, I’m like, ‘Bob?’” he says, looking sheepish.
“I never know the name of their factories. There’s Eve and Lucy…” He may have a well-coiffed quiff, but it’s not big enough to hide some genuine business acumen.
2012 House of Holland awarded Fashion Forward sponsorship; collaborations with Superga and Boots
2011 Launches pre-collection and House of Holland for Le Specs eyewear
2010 Launches H! by Henry Holland for Designers at Debenhams
2009 Collaboration with Pretty Polly
2008 Shows at LFW, supported by Newgen sponsorship
2007 Shows at LFW