Henry Holland has a talent that no other designer possesses: the gift of rhyme. While you'd be correct in assuming that a razor sharp tongue and fashion have nothing in common, Holland has managed to combine the two and become a star in the process.
'I was working at Bliss magazine a few years ago and I had an idea to make T-shirts with slogans. So I created four styles featuring designers like Gareth Pugh, Giles Deacon, Christopher Bailey and Hedi Slimane,' he explains.
'I made them for my friends to wear as a laugh, but then Giles wore his at his runway show, and style.com noticed. All of a sudden everyone wanted one and overnight people were wearing them in the front row of shows. That's how my label started.'
While coming up with tongue-in-cheek slogans like 'UHU Gareth Pugh' and 'Get Your Freak On Giles Deacon,' isn't exactly rocket science, it was enough to catapult the aspiring designer onto the international fashion stage. Today he is one of London's most sought-after names while his brand, House of Holland, is stocked by international retailers including Browns, Opening Ceremony and Liger in Hong Kong. He's even won several awards, including the recent Fashion Forward award from the British Fashion Council, while stars such as Rihanna and Sammi Cheng have been spotted wearing his quirky designs.
'I want to be the next Michael Kors or Paul Smith. I interviewed Paul once for Vogue TV, and as we walked around his five-floor office he introduced me to everyone by name and told me what each person was good at. I was so impressed. I even met Michael Kors once with Bette Midler - he was so camp and brash - everything that's so wrong but right in life,' he says.
In person, Holland embodies the quirky British cool you read about in fashion magazines. He's tall and beanpole thin, and is wearing a battered tee, jeans and funky trainers. Even his signature quiff is working in his favour until he whispers, 'I got it because I have a big nose and I had to detract from it.' That self-effacing humour only makes him cooler. It's no wonder that he counts model Agyness Deyn and other British brat-pack designers as his mates.
Holland is in Hong Kong to DJ at a private event, but is also using the opportunity to show his collection to select editors and retailers. After conquering Europe and Australia, he now has his sights set on Asia, especially China. 'We started a Weibo account, but our fake account has more friends than the real one. We're also discussing doing lectures and talks about fashion in China, like I'm doing at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
'I'm really excited about the opportunity for growth here, especially looking at the way women dress. There's a real sense of individuality, which is key to what I do. You can't buy my clothes and fit into the crowd. I like that attitude and that sensibility, and it seems to work in Asia,' he says.
Holland has long been obsessed with women's style - he was appointed his mother's stylist at a young age and was frequently pulled out of school for last-minute shopping trips. The fun continued when he decided to become a journalist and worked at popular British teen magazine Smash Hits where he penned his own fashion column under the moniker of 'Henry Trendy'. He gave up journalism when his slogan T-shirts took off, but soon realised that the fame they brought him was not going to last forever.
'I did a show as part of Fashion East with Lulu Kennedy and she said I could do whatever I wanted. We sent out the T-shirts featuring slogans about models, and at the end, I took my bow wearing a shirt saying 'One Trick Pony',' he says. 'I wanted to say it before anyone else had the opportunity - but that didn't stop fashion critic Sarah Mower [of style.com] saying that I'd only last five minutes unless I did something else. That really struck a chord with me. By that point I had seen what I was able to achieve, so next season we did denim, bags, shoes, everything. We really went for it and from that moment we haven't gone back to the slogan T-shirts.'
Without any formal fashion training, Holland had a lot to learn, so he hired an intern who taught him how to make patterns using a sewing machine in his bedroom. He held his first solo show in 2008 and it was a hit with editors and 'It girls' such as Lily Allen and Pixie Geldof, who immediately related to his youthful style that referenced pop and street culture. From bold shirts to customised colourful tartans (he won 'Best Use of Tartan' at the Scottish Fashion Awards) Holland's designs are about fun, and plenty of it.
'I like to explore different themes with my collections, but the thread - apart from the obvious sense of colour and print - is a personality. I feel they have a personality to them and it's a humorous one. People ask me who the House of Holland girl is and I say someone I want to hang out with. She approaches fashion the way I do - it's about expression, something that should be fun, not to be taken too seriously. Fashion is there to be enjoyed.'
His spring-summer 2012 collection, themed Pastel Punks, embodies this spirit and was inspired by a Gavin Watson photograph from the 1970s titled Skinhead Girls, along with a trip to Miami. As such, it's a collection of contrasts - tough and masculine silhouettes are sweetened with pastel colours and sheer fabrics. Leather, snakeskin, camouflage print and tartan also add character.
'The past few years have really been about concentrating on the collections and developing the brand into a design-led house. We do a catwalk show every six months, but there's still an element of accessibility to what we do. The point of difference is that we have the same level of design, but our customer is much younger. I want people to be part of this world we are trying to build,' says Holland.
In his bid for global fashion domination, Holland has followed in the footsteps of other young designers in Britain and delved into the world of licences and collaborations. A line of hosiery kicked it off in 2008, and he has added sunglasses, denim and underwear to the list, alongside high street collaborations with stores such as Debenhams. Next up is a line of trainers with '80s favourite Superga and a range of fun tights to usher in the 2012 Olympics.
'We've never tried to leave our customer behind. We want them to grow with us and be a part of what we are doing. I want our customer to be able to come to the House of Holland and buy everything,' he says.
'I also like to control everything myself. It's important to me because of the nature of what I do. Imagine if I had a board of directors and took them a pair of underpants ... can you imagine their faces?'
While Holland has made his mark cashing in on his passion for youth and fun, surely there will come a time when the 28-year-old has to grow up?
'Obviously, as anyone grows older, their taste level evolves with them. It is about that girl we design for - she is growing up with us. I hope to evolve the house and take our customer with us as well. It will be a natural progression.'
The H factor
House of Holland for Pretty Polly
A collaboration with British hosiery brand Pretty Polly, Holland's tights have been spotted on pop princesses Rihanna and Jesse J. Quirky styles include sheer tights printed with the letters of the alphabet, bones and bingo balls.
House of Holland underwear
This unisex collection of cotton smalls features tongue-in-cheek slogans such as 'blonde', 'brunette' and 'full bush'. Look for bold prints such as the signature deckchair stripes and large polka dots.
An alliance with Australian brand Le Specs, the line is available at I.T and features retro-inspired shapes, including aviators. House of Holland will launch its own sunglasses line in September.
Launching this summer, the Italian brand's classic trainers are given the Holland treatment with leopard print in pastel shades, crochet prints and high platforms decorated with polka dots and stripes.
They're back. To mark the launch of the House of Holland online store, the brand has re-released three of its popular slogan tees: Get Yer Freak On Giles Deacon, UHU Gareth Pugh and Cause Me Pain Heidi Slimane. Available at www.houseofholland.co.uk.