Fashion in Hong Kong and China

The rise and rise of Henry Holland, fashion designer behind House of Holland

Briton talks about his continued growth in China, expanding into menswear and the accidental public relations coup that catapulted him to fame

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 May, 2016, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 May, 2016, 12:30pm

British designer Henry Holland glances up momentarily as an array of models walk up and down wearing his garments. It’s Shanghai Fashion Week and Holland looks approvingly at every look for a show that will take place the next day at fashion trade show The Hub.

“Hong Kong and mainland China accounts for almost 30 per cent of our business, so it’s an important market,” says the House of Holland’s creative director. “We are always keen to do whatever we can promotion-wise to keep up our brand presence in this part of the world.”

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Holland creates youthful, catchy pieces for a contemporary audience that is unafraid to experiment with new colours, textures and silhouettes. It’s therefore not hard to see why the British brand has resonated with customers in Asia. This is especially the case with the Chinese market, where customers are quickly developing an appetite for smaller labels, and are still eager to experiment with new styles and silhouettes.

“We’ve always had great responses in this part of the world, even from the very beginning, 10 years ago. I remember when Joyce Ma [founder of Joyce Boutique] came to my first-ever studio and was in my stockroom saying, ‘I want that, I want that, I want that’, as if she were picking T-shirts off the shelves. And she didn’t care if I protested, or told her that certain products were exclusives to Henri Bendel in New York.”

It’s apparent that Holland thrives on a fast-paced work schedule.

“I’m a very competitive person, so I need to have an outlet for my competitive streak,” he says. “Even when I was younger, I needed somewhere to express that energy. As a child, I competed nationally in gymnastics, and recently I’ve completed the London marathon twice. All of this has taught me a certain level of discipline.”

It is this drive that has seen Holland take advantage of every opportunity presented to him. And just like the marathon, he has taken his career and run as far as he can.

Holland catapulted to fame through an unlikely incident. While working at a magazine, he had made a series of T-shirts with tongue-in-cheek slogans such as, “I’ll show you who’s boss, Kate Moss”, or “Harder, harder Miuccia Prada” and other one-liners. A few of his friends wore them. One day designers Giles Deacon and Gareth Pugh were seen wearing his T-shirts, and the fashion media quickly latched on.

“I remember that moment when things just snowballed. I’d just had a meeting with my magazine editor and my phone rang. So I picked it up and the other person said, ‘Hi Henry, it’s Sarah Mower from British Vogue. Can I talk to you about your T-shirts?’ I nearly dropped the phone.

“When I look back at that time and the way my T-shirts came to be known through Gareth and Giles, it was such a genius PR stunt and a really clever idea. But I think the reason that it worked is because it was literally an accident. Gareth had just worked all night and hadn’t had the chance to change. And Giles saw the shirts and thought it would be cool if he wore one, too.” The rest, as we know, is history.

Holland had never planned on becoming a fashion designer. He studied for a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the London College of Printing, and planned on working in the media side of fashion. Though he confesses to not having enough time now to pursue this passion, it is still an area he would love to one day explore, whether it is through writing a book or contributing to a magazine.

“Although I’m not a journalist, that side of me has still helped my career. With House of Holland, I always think about my work and how it’s going to resonate with the press, and how it’s going to cut through the noise and get the attention that it needs,” he says.

As a company, we saw the move [into menswear] as more of a brand extension and an addition to what we already do. But now we know that it’s a completely new label
Henry Holland

“Also, a lot of my friends that I studied journalism with are now fashion editors, so I have amazing relationships with the press. I’m just more understanding of the way that these two elements of the industry have to work together.”

An integral part of House of Holland’s growth is its foray into menswear; its first collection was shown last year. Like its womenswear, the men’s line offers catchy prints, contrasting colours, pop graphics, and a youthful spirit. That said, the process has been much more work than Holland expected.

“It was trickier than I anticipated. As a company, we saw the move as more of a brand extension and an addition to what we already do. But now we know that it’s a completely new label – new buyers, new relationships and new customers. In some ways, it has required us to really get the momentum going, so it’s been a real learning curve into how we manage it.”

It’s a process that’s likely to continue as Holland expands. “For me, it’s not so much the pace of the creativity, ideas and concepts that are the struggle. It’s more so the back office things – the financing, sales, production, deliveries ... basically the business side.

“Fashion is a double-sided industry. Because you can only realise creative ideas as much and as quickly as you can afford to pay manufacturers, you can only deliver as quickly as you have the capabilities to produce. There are so many different elements to running a business, so even though we’ve been doing this for 10 years, the challenges are still the same.”