Nick Grimshaw interviews his longtime friend Henry Holland about his brand ‘House of Holland’ and where it all started.
Myself and the rest of the audience were in FITS of laughter the entire time! It was almost impossible to type up these notes without a huge smile on my face. I hope you enjoy as much as I did!
Have you always had an interest in fashion?
HH: I’ve always been into fashion through my Mum, even a little boy I’d tell her what to wear.
NG: …And did she listen to you?
HH: Yeah, as a little gay boy I’d be like “I think you should wear those wedges with that skirt”. That was her whole thing, nurturing the gay in me.
NG: Was she desperate for a gay son?
HH: She was desperate! She would have sobbed if I wasn’t. When I told her she said “Well you know me darling, I’m delighted – but what are we going to tell your Father?”
NG: Shoutout Stephy Holland, I love Stephy. What did you like from her wardrobe?
HH: She had what she would call her divorce outfit. When she got divorced from my Dad she went mental. She had bright yellow jumbo cords and a fuchsia cardigan with big black polka dots…
NG: Very house of Holland!
HH: Yeah, literally House of Holland – with stilettos.
Do you remember when it switched from “Oh I like my Mums clothes” to “I actually might do this for a job”
HH: It happened the minute I arrived in London because in Ramsbottom, where I grew up, fashion isn’t a career. Unless, you worked in Manchester on the weekend – then it’s like “Oh I work in fashion” because you have a Saturday job in All Saints.
No offence if anyone has a Saturday job in All Saints.
So I came to London and wanted to do media studies. Didn’t you do media studies?
NG: Yeah, half. Half business and half media studies.
HH: But did you finish it?
NG: No, I didn’t finish it. I was drunk…
HH: I decided to do journalism because I thought I could write about anything I wanted to write about but then I realised that there were entire courses dedicated to fashion. And I was like “Shit, I should be going there”.
So after 4 days I tried to move onto the fashion course but Dennis Norden’s daughter turned me down, Maggie Norden – she said “Sorry we’re full, come again next year”. But I wasn’t going to wait a year so I just carried on.
Has the fact that you haven’t studied fashion held you back?
HH: Never, if anything it made me more determined. I decided to get all my fashion knowledge and experience from internships. I knew I was in the wrong degree so I did anything.
I was a styling assistant, interned at loads of places and that’s how I ended up in Teen magazines. They had fashion departments so I just went there.
“I wish we had Instagram when I started.”
How did House of Holland of begin? The name and the fashion brand.
HH: This is a true story, I got a press release from House of Dereon, Beyonce’s label. And I was trying to think of a name for my t-shirts so I was like LOL – let’s call it House of Holland and we did!
NG: Have any of the Knowles family worn House of Holland?
NG: I was just listening to her on the way here. Tell me more about the t-shirts?
HH: I just bought loads of American Apparel t-shirts and was really into pop culture. So when Mary-Kate went into rehab for anorexia, I made a t-shirt saying ‘SAVE MARY-KATE’ and she was the first famous person I gifted a t-shirt to and she was like ‘Thanks, I’ll wear it to bed”. I was like, well unless you’re getting photographed in bed then…
NG: I’ll have that back thanks! I remember those times, coming to London and having the t-shirt line just blow up! It was a very specific time…
HH: It was ‘New Rave’. I made 50 of each t-shirt and honestly thought I’d just be giving it to my friends.
I had no idea how to run a fashion business. I was working at Smash Hits and Sneak, someone from Esquire upstairs knew how to build websites and then I had a paypal link on my MySpace…
NG: Of it’s time!
HH: This was pre-hashtags and all about who’s in your top 8. I loved top 8. So, I gave one of each to Gareth Pugh, because I’d use his name for one of them. And literally we wore it at the end of one of his catwalk shows because he hadn’t been home to get clean clothes. He’d been in the studio for like 24 hours and he didn’t have time to go home, so that’s how my business started.
NG: …because Gareth Pugh is a mess!
HH: …because Gareth Pugh doesn’t shower.
NG: Then the next day Gyles did the same.
HH: Yeah, Gyles came out and did the same thing and I basically got a call from a PR agency the next day! After Gareth and Gyles wore it Mandy Leonard was like “Darling, talk to me…”
And then she got me into Dover Street and a Club Kid shop and then within 3 months, I was in Barneys in New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, pretty much all the best shops in the world stocked us.
And I still had a full-time job at Smash Hits.
NG: So who were you styling at Smash Hits?
HH: My favourite story to tell Nicola from Girls Aloud, is a time when they came in pre-styled for a shoot because I wasn’t allowed to style them. I was only allowed to add jewellery. It was the times of neon eyeliner, one earring…
NG: …like a dreamcatcher earring!
HH: And white Lipsy dresses. Loads of people were mean to me then.
Aside from your Mum, who are the style icons or people that made you like fashion at the very beginning?
HH: Anything and everything. When I was in Manchester I wasn’t aware of High Fashion but when I moved down here, it was like Gareth, Gyles and the whole scene around London Fashion Week that I had no idea about. I was living with Aggy (Agnes Dean) and she was doing loads of castings and getting no work…until she cut her hair. We followed around a crew of cool people and just tried to be a part of it.
NG: Going back to the t-shirts, did anyone take offence?
HH: One person sent me a legal letter, Olivier Theyskens. I also got legal letters from Alber Albas and Donnatella (Versace).
NG: That’s fun!
HH: I’ve got those in a frame. Another brand actually made me pay their legal costs.
When did you decide to leave your job and make it a full-time company?
HH: I didn’t make both those decisions at the same time. Lulu Kennedy asked me to do Fashion East in November, then I quit my job in December and my first show was in February. I thought “Okay. I’ll quit my job and just see what happens”. Worst case scenario, I’d just get another job – I’ve still not got one.
NG: Why doesn’t any designer finish their show until the day of the show? Don’t you guys know the date? That’s a genuine question…
HH: This season I was like right guys, this is our 20th fashion show and we still can’t get shit together. But, it’s actually because you never feel like it’s the best it can be. It’s also indecisiveness and it’s constantly changing.
NG: When I did my line for Topman, I thought I was being indecisive because I kept changing my mind. I’d do stuff one day and a week later and hate it.
HH: No that’s fine, it’s part of the process. It’s a constantly evolving process, some of the best looks that go down a catwalk show aren’t made until 3-4 days before. Your mood massively informs what you do.
NG: You’re quite tech-davy too because you show collections that can be bought straight away
HH: I actually did ‘see now, buy now’ 10 years ago with my t-shirts. I like incorporating tech into my collections because I’m personally interested in it.
Have you ever refused celebrity to wear your clothes and how do you deal with that?
HH: Yes definitely. I don’t do that, my team would handle it!
Who is the best person that’s worn your clothes?
HH: Rihanna was a good one and I love it! She’s so into it and loves looking weird and wears weird shit! She doesn’t always want to look sexy, she just wears what she feels.
People will look at stuff and say “How the hell would I wear that” but she’ll figure out a way to wear it so effortlessly.
Who is the scariest person you have met in Fashion?
HH: Probably Anna Wintour is the scariest person, even if you’re like really big in fashion she’s still scary.
When I met her, she said hello to me and then she turned her back towards me and I was like that’s just great.
But she was actually checking with her assistant if we had been invited to her party the next day!
She then turned around and said “You must come to my party tomorrow” – so that was cool but then looked us up and down and said “…And dress up”
Do you listen to music when you are designing things?
Yeah, we just have the radio on at the back with you on (meaning Nick Grimshaw).
NG: Is my show inspiring?
HH: Oh yes! It is until the going home song comes on.
Q&A SESSION: Audience ask Henry Holland questions
How do you financially support yourselves, how did you form House of Holland?
I did it back to front; I brought all the T-Shirts from American Apparel, printed them in Kentish Town and then sold them.
But most people go to college and work on their designer set and maybe three of four years time will develop a commercial product with a good market margin that they could sell in volume. I’ve done that from day one.
I used to charge people shipping and then either send it from my dad’s postal room or send all my international shipping from the post room at Smash Hits, which use to be cheeky but was saving so much money in courier.
That process helped me save money; I already had a full-time job with a salary, and then gave that up. We didn’t have any investment and funded a lot of things through collaborations, brand extensions and different partnerships.
The British Fashion Council has many funding schemes now, in comparison to my starting point. The BFC support used to run for two seasons and now it’s six. They noticed how essential it is.
How do you feel about brand collaboration that are done just for the money?
That’s something I will avoid! When taking on a brand collaboration you should never be embarrassed about it. If you are, the money isn’t even worth it. But if you absolutely have to do it because you NEED the money then get involved creatively as much as possible and make it amazing.
A prime example would be Rita Ora. She does so much collaborating and get into it. It never seems like it’s JUST for the money.