Although Ramsbottom, in Lancashire, attracts folks from far and wide to its yearly World Black Pudding Throwing Championship, it has traditionally been far less renowned for spawning red-hot fashion designers. Until recently, that is, because one of this gritty northern town's prodigal sons, has in the past year or so become a name oft-dropped by anyone who knows owt about fashion.
Twenty-four-year-old Henry Holland is the designer in question, and he operates under the moniker House of Holland. What started out in 2006 as a sideline in his spare time he was producing garish T-shirts adorned with saucy rhymes about famous fashion designers, as a bit of an industry "in-joke" to his day job as fashion editor of the teen magazine Bliss, has now grown into a bona fide, head-to-toe fashion brand; one squarely aimed at sassy chicks and style-savvy chaps.
Famous fans of Holland now include Naomi Campbell, Beth Ditto, the Olsen twins, Mischa Barton, Gwen Stefani, Sienna Miller, Gareth Pugh and Giles Deacon. His designs are being sold everywhere from Dover Street Market and Harvey Nichols in London, to Colette in Paris and Henri Bendel and Barneys in New York and Japan, to name just a few international stockists. Furthermore, American Vogue's editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, even invited him to the most recent of the impossibly glamorous annual Met Balls in New York and you don't get a more full-on seal of fashion approval than that.
This upping of the stakes from cult to high-profile status was both inevitable and necessary albeit unusually rapid. After all, those initial T-shirt slogans, such as DO ME DAILY CHRISTOPHER BAILEY, CAUSE ME PAIN HEDI SLIMANE or UHU GARETH PUGH (stylistically updating designer Katharine Hamnett's political slogan T-shirts from the 1980s), became so popular last summer that many high-street chain stores maxed up their profits by knocking out less-knowing versions, and overkill began to set in. In the meantime, however, Holland wisely gave up the day job and moved things along in a gung-ho manner that must surely inspire ambitious fashion students everywhere. Several full House of Holland collections have now been shown and well received at the past two London Fashion Weeks, in conjuction with the talent-fostering organisation Fashion East. Various well-chosen collaborative projects are now also tucked under Holland's belt including House of Holland designing shoes and T-shirts for Kickers, and cheery-but-certainly-not-cheap bags for Mulberry.
Supping a cuppa in his Polaroid-festooned, knick-knack-strewn Soho studio, Holland is, however, quick to point out that these, and other hook-ups, were certainly not the result of icy boardroom meetings: "All of the collaborations have been really organic, and come about through friendships over a bottle of wine and a fag!"
A long-term fashion junkie, Holland is clearly as amazed as anyone at how quickly his brand has taken off: "I had no idea that the T-shirts were going to be as big a hit as they were, so it was part happy accident and partly another way of me channelling my fashion obsession," he recalls. "Then, a lot of what has happened since has been a case of reacting to circumstances and not really having much time to think or plan a 'next step'!" It was during his first-ever trip to the States, while still holding down his job at Bliss, that his new-found popularity suddenly hit home."I met Anna Wintour, went to these major American fashion parties and then met the buying director of Barneys, who bought a big order for their stores across America. I realised that this was pretty major. I thought: 'Shit! I think I just broke America.' Two days later I was back at my day job in the office at Bliss, doing page layouts for bargain pyjamas, so I soon got over that!"
The willingness to send himself up, his happy-go-lucky demeanour, trademark penchant for wearing acid-bright clobber and that vast quiff, have all ensured he is a wonderful, cross-media figurehead for his own label. He is equally at home being papped for the pages of Heat or profiled in style publications such as Pop magazine. More than that, though, on a personal level, Holland is that rare thing in the fashion industry not only talented, but a very likeable person, too. "People love him for his cheeky chirpiness," confirms the journalist Ruby Warrington, the former fashion editor of the teen magazine Sneak, who gave Holland his first "proper" job as her assistant in the early Noughties, while he was still a journalism student at the London College of Printing. "He's always got a joke or a funny story, which makes people want to be around him, because he's hilarious." True to form, Holland suddenly dispenses with professional protocol, breaking off from the interview to chat to his mum who's phoned him from the hairdressers and is needing urgent coiffure advice. "Just think volume think big! No, don't have a bob far too boring!" he mock-scoffs. "Better go now I'm doing an interview!"
Indeed, while some trend-makers prefer a frowningly intellectual approach to fashion, House of Holland is, by contrast, an unashamedly hedonistic, camp-as-Christmas, "fashion is fun" phenomenon; a hipper, more modern spin on the pop- culture-teasing trail once blazed by labels such as Red or Dead, back in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
The whoops and hollers of delight coming from the excitable audience of fashion-industry stalwarts, clubbers, students, drag queens and hangers-on at his recent spring/summer 2008 catwalk show which starred his lifelong friend, flatmate and model of the moment, Agyness Deyn were as much for the kitsch-but-clever range of clothes inspired by early-Nineties pictures of rocker Axl Rose and the supermodel Stephanie Seymour, as a reflection of the youth-quaking energy permeating the British capital right now. House of Holland loudly trumpets the new wave of creative talent that has seen London's freshest young designers (including Gareth Pugh and Christopher Kane), the most kookily dressed-up club nights (Boombox, in particular) and groundbreaking bands and performance artists (from the Klaxons to Johnny Woo) all garnering much global media attention.
Holland's spontaneously giddy approach is, happily, making sound financial sense, too important, as so many young London designers get plentiful press coverage, yet swiftly vanish by not doing the sums properly. He proudly reveals: "This season we have gone from about 25 accounts worldwide to maybe 40, so we are just trying to grow at a manageable pace. And I have just got a PR in America to push the label in the States and increase sales there." Next on the agenda is a collaboration with the Japanese department store Isetan ("I'm really excited, I've never been to Japan before!"), not to mention an invitation to give a speech, as guest of honour, at his old school's prize-giving night "I haven't got a clue what I'm going to say yet," he admits.
Which, really, just leaves one burning question... has he ever thrown a black pudding? "No, but funnily enough I ate one just the other day for breakfast, in a greasy spoon caf down the road," he concludes, with a grin. "And very tasty it was, too!" You can take the boy out of Ramsbottom.Reuse content