The Interview: Henry Holland, founder, House of Holland
Henry Holland and his House of Holland label burst on to the fashion scene in the mid 2000s with its bold, slogan T-shirts (often paying homage to fellow fashion creators – remember "Uhu, Gareth Pugh"?). He has since gone on to create one of the most high profile accessible luxury brands for the millennial generation and is one of the fashion's most prolific collaborators.
This season at London Fashion Week, he revisited the brand's roots with a slogan T-shirt, made in partnership with disruptive payments provider Klarna, and staged not one but two shows (one "see now, buy now" for consumers and one SS20 for the trade).
TheIndustry.fashion caught up with Holland the day before his SS20 show, with the consumer-facing AW19 show due to take place the day after. Given the well-known stresses of staging one show a season, few designers would take on two, covering two consecutive seasons over two consecutive days. It begs the question, what was he thinking? "I didn't suggest that," quips Holland, "Let me put that on the record!"
But he appears remarkably relaxed and immediately goes on to enthuse about the idea of the British Fashion Council opening up London Fashion Week for the first time to include paid ticketed shows for members of the public. Henry Holland, along with Alexa Chung and Self Portrait, took up the mantle of staging see now, buy now shows for the public.
It's a move that chimes with the House of Holland philosophy of being accessible and speaking directly to the consumer, and, in any case, it has staged a number of buy-direct-from-the-catwalk initiatives in the past. "It was really just a super-great initiative," he says of opening the event up to the public. "[Fashion Week] completely changed when social media blew the doors off it being an industry event."
The Klarna partnership, which led to Holland creating one of his signature bold T-shirts bearing the legend "Shopping Drama Averted with Klarna", formed part of his SS20 show. To underscore the initiative, models at the event greeted guests wearing bright pink jumpsuits with Klarna emblazoned across the back and House of Holland down one leg. A leather version of the jumpsuit appeared in the show.
The T-shirt was sent down, or rather round, the circular runway at Gasholder Park in King's Cross with Klarna pink trousers and an organza shirt. It's a happy accident that Klarna's Pepto-Bismal-pink branding fits perfectly with the House of Holland's bold and colourful aesthetic.
For 48 hours after the show Holland switched off all other payment methods on his website and the T-shirt was made available as soon as it was seen in the show. For Holland the Klarna platform, which was already offered on his site, helps him to achieve further accessibility. For credit-card averse millennials, it allows them to buy products and pay later, or split payments into three instalments.
"We are quite a youthful brand," he says, recognising that not everyone has the means to buy into his mainline collection, where dresses cost between roughly £250 to £450, at least not in one financial hit. "[Klarna] gives as many people the opportunity to buy into the collections and into the brand as possible," he says.
Holland has always been about democratising his brand and reaching the mass market, and cites his long-standing collaboration with tights company Pretty Polly as an example of this. Fans of the aesthetic can buy into the world of House of Holland for around £12 for a pair of tights. However it's not just the price accessibility that appeals to Holland, but that fact that spreading payments across three instalments enables people to invest in pieces that will stay in their wardrobes for seasons to come, which also speaks to sustainability, another key focus for him.
"We're trying to get people to buy into things that they covet and keep for a long time. If they see something they really long for, then I'd like that them to have the opportunity to buy it," he says.
Of sustainable practices in general, he adds: "We're trying to incorporate as many as we can, but you can't just flip a switch and become perfect overnight, it has to be a staged process. But we are working with recycled material and we're looking at our packaging."
Another issue that's been front of mind has been Brexit. While he's now firmly part of the fashion establishment, Holland is still only in his mid-30s and very conscious of his young customer base and its feeling towards the UK's rupture from the EU. "It's the antithesis of what we want," he says, "putting up borders."
The political and economic "quagmire" in which the country finds itself inspired the SS20 collection, called "Dance the Pain Away", which was a colourful and optimistic fusion of 70s disco and 90s rave culture. "It was born out of a time when people were so pissed off with the world that they just wanted to go out dancing, and I feel the same," he explains.
While his T-shirts could have been the perfect platform for expressing his opinions about politics and the world at large, Holland has steered clear so far, though his AW19 collection was called #GlobalTraveller, again in reference to his young market's desire not to be constrained by borders.
"I've always been very cautious about incorporating any political message into my work, I don't know why, I suppose I didn't feel clever enough," he says, though the point about him not being clever enough is clearly nonsense since he is that rare beast, a true creative who is also a very smart businessman and marketer. "But the more I've felt completely disillusioned, it's impossible not to," he adds.
Beyond the feeling of disillusionment, Brexit does of course bring with it uncertainty, particularly for the leaders of global brands, which is what Holland is. "We'll be taking forward orders on this collection that we're showing and we'll take those orders at a set price and, by the time we get paid for that, we will be on the other side of Brexit and that will have an impact on exchange rates," he says.
He's been invited to conferences to help brands mitigate for the impact of Brexit, but he's not convinced they'll be able to tell him anything useful at this stage "until we know one way or the other [whether there will be a deal or no deal]".
"If I had £1m in the bank to help mitigate it, then I would, but I don't. Fashion is very reactive and it's very global. Yes, it's this huge creative industry, but we're actually manufacturers and we're trying to manage this whole shift and we don't know what this shift is yet," he says.
"Actually," he muses, "People buying this T-shirt [which is on his site for £50], could be making their final payment after we've left the EU!"
Acknowledging that the conversation has taken turn for the serious, which was perhaps unexpected for a designer who has always placed humour at the heart of his output, he laughs and perks up: "So, anyway there's this T-shirt, and people can pay for it in three instalments, that's it..."
And with that off he goes to put the final touches to his show, which, despite the gloom that inspired it, was one of the brightest (in more ways that one, it was staged outside in an unseasonable 25-degree heat) moments of the season.