Henry Holland in the house

British designer on T-shirts, career changes and womenswear


Unlike many fashion designers, Henry Holland is funny, self-deprecating and irreverent. Perhaps it’s because he never intended to be a designer in the first place; his career started in the dubious world of UK teen magazines where, as a fashion editor, he found himself overseeing such riveting assignments as ‘What to wear at the bus stop’. Moving up the food chain to now-defunct, pop music mag Smash Hits, then teen girl publication Bliss, he branched out into more diverse fields.

All that changed in 2006, when the mischievous journo designed some T-shirts with rhyming couplets that playfully teased fashion insiders. ‘I’ll show you who’s boss Kate Moss’ was followed by ‘I’ve got more than a handful for Naomi Campbell’. Holland’s defining moment came when star designers Gareth Pugh and Giles Deacon showed up at the end of their London Fashion Week catwalk shows wearing each other’s T-shirts, emblazoned with ‘Get yer freak on Giles Deacon’ and ‘Uhu Gareth Pugh’, respectively.

Demand for the pieces soared, and Holland’s career underwent a dramatic shift. ‘It just took a big detour,’ he explains, ‘I didn’t have time to be a journalist.’ A genius PR move? Holland thinks so, but adds that it wasn’t cynical. ‘It worked because it was organic; it wasn’t contrived, it wasn’t premeditated. I think if it had been, people would have seen right through it and been like, “Er, that’s lame, trying to launch yourself off the back of someone else.” But it was just not like that – this was natural.’

Since then, his brand, House of Holland, has gone from strength to strength. His spring/summer 2013 collection, ‘Buzz Kill’, now available at S*uce , sees him channelling ’90s teen films and grunge music. ‘This year’s look is basically a House of Holland girl with an attitude problem because she’s listened to so many grunge albums, and she’s trying her best to be angry at the world – but she’s not that good at being angry.’

The collection’s palette is darker and a bit moodier than previous seasons, with oversized, over-woven checks on some silks and jerseys, and smaller patterns on the woven prints. ‘Florals with lingerie detailing, and with lace on the back, are slight nods to grunge, but it’s more about having super-girly feminine dresses with biker jackets thrown over the top, so a party jacket becomes tougher, more hardcore.’ Tie-dye is something Holland loves, and he has treated leather pieces by thinning down the leather by 0.3mm, then dyeing it as a fabric, with really vivid results.

This level of imagination and detail has helped Holland to succeed in a sphere he never expected to enter, but so has his cheeky personality, shaped by his upbringing in the north of England. It runs through his designs, springs out in his conversations (the only fashion faux pas he would struggle to make cool, he says with mock bravado, is the shell suit) and even influences the direction of his entire line. ‘That sense of humour, playfulness, making fun of yourself – that nudge nudge, wink wink kind of humour – helps me visualise what a House of Holland girl is all about,’ he explains. ‘She’s loud, slightly obnoxious and likes to use fashion as an extension of her personality.
Henry Holland’s new collection is available at S*uce, various locations including The Dubai Mall (04 339 9696).

Men’s T-shirt stores

The Zoo Concept
Head here for a cool edit of statement men’s T-shirts from Don’t Believe the Hype, Monsieur Steve and Candy for Rich Men.
Beach Road (04 349 5585).

Pull & Bear
On-trend vintage-feel T-shirts for both men and women at bargain-basement prices.
Various locations including Mall of the Emirates (04 341 4234).

Home of locally designed Wasta, the graphic T-shirts playfully combine western pop art with Arabic tweaks.

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