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Henry Holland S/S16: A Bug's Life

Creepy-crawlies are not the most obvious catwalk accessory, but then Henry Holland has never been one to toe the line. As the designer prepares for his A/W16 catwalk show at LFW, we delve into the bright, bold and brash S/S16 collection

"I’ll show you who’s boss, Kate Moss.” To say that as a whisper, let alone print it in block capitals on a neon T-shirt, takes some guts. But Henry Holland isn’t scared of making a statement.

“Do me daily, Christopher Bailey.” “Get yer freak on, Giles Deacon.” He started out poking fun at fashion and the move saw him thrust into the spotlight. Does he see this as a pivotal moment for his career? “For sure,” he tells me in a cheery Northern twang down the phone. “Before that I was working for teen magazines. T-shirts were a little project for fun that completely changed my world. I quit my job, started a new business, and built my brand off the back of it.”

He will be celebrating House of Holland’s ten-year anniversary in September this year, which is sure to be a big event but, despite my prying, he keeps any details firmly under wraps. 

Originally from Ramsbottom in Lancashire, the Northern fashion designer moved to the capital to study at the London College of Communication. Fashion wasn’t at the forefront of his mind and he genuinely wanted to carve a career in journalism. “I never wanted to leave. I didn’t create the T-shirts because I wanted to get out of that career path. I was completely focused on working my way up to be an editor for women’s magazines. I love writing and still do. My comfort was that I could go back to it. I was really sad to leave.”

He looks back at this time with fondness, laughing about the nature of the job. “I just couldn’t believe that it was a job! On my first day we got called into a conference to watch a Blue video and have a conversation about whether the boy band was back or not, if they were cover-worthy and what we would do with the shoot. Who should take their top off? Who should we cover in grease?" 

"I was like: Oh, my God. You get paid for this?”

I assure him that it isn’t like that at all publications (ahem). 

At the same time that his career launched, so did his best mate’s – model Agyness Deyn. “She spent a long time really working hard and doing some crappy jobs, before, all of a sudden, she exploded onto the scene pretty much on the same day that my T-shirts launched. It was so simultaneous, it was creepy. We have known each other since we were about 12.”

Was it fun to share the attention? “Yeah, it was. I would go to all these new events and fashion parties, where you generally have to go and make friends, with my best mate. I think this kept us quite grounded. We wouldn’t go back to after-parties and stuff; we would just go back home to bed,” Holland laughs. They lived together for five years in London too.

“We were like husband and wife; we would make each other tea when we got home from work.”

From designing in Deyn’s room, after she flew to New York, to sustaining a team of about 15 to 20 people, Holland has transformed his T-shirts into a fully fledged business. But his wordsmith side is still very much present. The S/S16 collection, which he launched at London Fashion Week in September, is based on Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Although, Holland openly admits he has never read the book. “I tried to read it a hundred times but it’s really difficult. It’s supposed to be hard – that’s his thing – but it goes on and on. So a lot of the reference points come from the 1998 film, starring Johnny Depp.” It is a decade that frequently appears in his designs.

“There are always ’90s references in my work because that’s when I fell in love with fashion. People credit it as ’80s, but they’re wrong.”

For his urban jungle-themed collection, he worked with Suzan Pitt. The prolific animator and painter was a big hit in the US in the ’70s and ’80s and she does a lot of work with fashion designer Patricia Field, doodling over shirts, jackets and bags. “I found the bugs in research and thought they would be perfect for the hallucinations,” comments Holland. “There are lot of weird bugs in the film – people turn into caterpillars. It’s a good addition to the collection and gives it a bit of pop.”

The insects are used as broaches, patches and prints, as well as mobile phone cases. The latter are for a collaboration with goo.ey, a company that produces cases that stick to walls and surfaces. 

Holland has worked with many big labels including Levi’s and Habitat, as well as more high-end names like Charlotte Olympia and Swarovski. Does he not worry that this dilutes the identity of his brand as well as its appeal to an affluent, fashion-savvy audience?

“The DNA behind House of Holland is the tone, humour and personality,” Holland replies.

“I think you can translate that to any price point and any product. We have been lucky that we have been able to partner with so many different companies. You can keep that tone from anything like a vacuum cleaner to a set of false nails.” After a bit of Googling I find that the House of Holland Hoover doesn’t exist yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long before it does. 

Holland excuses himself as he has another meeting booked – probably about the next collaboration – but before he disappears I ask him, as it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, what he will be doing for it? “Valentine’s Day got cancelled as soon as I started a fashion label,” he laughs. “London Fashion Week is either on Valentine’s Day or just before or after.”

However, he has been with his fiancé David Hodgson for more than five years, so I find it hard to believe that he is deprived of romance. “I was proposed to on a pier in the Maldives about two years ago,” he replies, “but I’ve not done anything about it.” I guess he’s just too busy.