This week saw the launch of Fashion Futures in Newcastle, an event set up in place of Newcastle Fashion Week this year to celebrate the emerging design talent from Northumbria University, who have been delivering outstanding Fashion Design courses for sixty years.
The two day programme had a jam-packed schedule full of great events for both industry insiders and the public with the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art playing host to the whole event providing a hub and backdrop to this awesome celebration of homegrown talent. Think of it as the North East’s Somerset House / Brewer Street carpark.
über cool designer Henry Holland visited the region to participate in Fashion Talks with Laura Weir, Fashion Features Editor for British Vogue. The auditorium was packed out for this event with Editors, Bloggers, Fashion students and people with a genuine passion for fashion and it didn’t disappoint. The pair took to the all white stage, Laura Weir looking slick in a House of Holland midi dress and biker jacket and Henry Holland looking every inch the off-duty designer in black skinnies, Dr Marten boots and a denim jacket from his own collection with neon highlights.
I threw on a pair of Zara pants, an off Duty tee and some Prada shoes to take my seat on the front row and bring you the skinny.
This particular segment of Fashion Talks was billed as Henry Holland and Laura Weir in Conversation and that’s exactly what it was. The Pair have been firm friends for a long time and it showed, the conversation was fun and upbeat with Weir asking probing and considered questions giving thought to what the audience would want to learn about Holland. We learned how he began his career – he was actually rejected from a Fashion Design course and studied Journalism at University but hated it! We got to hear that his mum told him when he was younger that “We get eight careers” in our lifetime and he proceeds to talk about his early careers at now defunct Smash Hits and Bliss magazines. It raises a giggle from the audience when Holland talks about his iconic breakout tee collection and how they were borne out of a drunken conversation one night with friends. Hearing this makes the designer seem more real, more accessible and more human.
The pair laugh as they reminisce about those now infamous slogan tees, (FYI I’m the proud owner of Do Me Daily Christopher Bailey and Flick Your Bean for Agyness Deyn) and how a whole career was started on four rhyming couplets.
Holland talks passionately about that time in his life, saying that those tees were just the start of things, they “were like a football shirt or band T-shirt for the fashion industry” and gave people who “maybe couldn’t afford a Christopher Kane dress a way of supporting the industry” by wearing a playful Cum Again Christopher Kane tee, almost like making a statement that you belonged. Holland went on to talk about how these tees allowed him to create a “strong visual DNA” for the brand.
He tells the audience about his first time showing at London Fashion Week as part of Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East in 2006 and how he only realised it was an Autumn / Winter show moments before go time and his House of Holland collection was all short-sleeved T-shirts. He goes on to say that following this, he took constructive criticism wherever he could and went on to build a small team of staff and completed a full collection including eyewear, accessories and footwear.
It’s easy to feel like you’ve known the pair for years, watching them talk and joke with each other on stage is comforting, there’s no snobbery and when asked by an audience member if he feels that a University education is essential in order to break into the fashion industry Holland says absolutely not. He admits that it takes willpower and that he still encounters snobbery because he had no formal design training, but says that he wouldn’t change anything throughout his career so far and that he’s “happy to share his mistakes” if it helps others in their quest to enter the famously guarded fashion industry.
Holland has wise words for budding designers too, he advises ” Stay true to your brand, its DNA and what you are trying to say through your clothes.” the designer muses that he loves that people can personify with his brand and its message. He goes on to say that he admires what Paul Smith has created, “a quintessentially British brand that has absolutely retained its Paul Smith vibe”.
When asked whether he finds his role glamorous, Holland is quick to say “no”, he elaborates by saying that the celebrities he’s so often photographed with are his original group of friends since childhood and that celebrity is just a “side effect of their jobs”.
So what’s next for Henry Holland? Well the designer has recently moved into menswear and would love to open his own physical store in London in order to create a “curated environment” for the customer. He’s asked a great question by the editor of Darkus magazine: If he could give this part of his life a chapter name, what would it be? After a short pause, Holland smiles and says ” I think it would have to be, What the Fuck Just Happened?!” He goes on to tell us that there is actually a book on the horizon charting his life so far, if this talk is an introduction then this book is sure to make for an interesting read and is certainly something I’d read.
His last question is from a young designer in the audience who asks whether it’s important to base yourself in London as a designer. Both Holland and Weir are resolute in saying “no”. Although both admit that it makes things easier, Weir claims that being outside of London could actually work to a designers advantage “you already know your audience and market and don’t have the competition” that there is in London. Both firmly agree that the most important thing for young designers to have is passion and drive and a will to succeed.
The pair thank the audience for their involvement and with that they’re off all smiles and waves. Hats off to the organisers NE1, this was funny, interesting and engaging and the time flew by. The format absolutely worked and the duo left the audience wanting more, in fact some of the younger Fashion students were discussing those sage words of advice afterwards.
If Henry Holland hasn’t been on your radar, firstly, where have you been?! And secondly, check him out. At the end of the day as we discovered, he’s just a normal, down to earth guy with an insane amount of talent and some cool friends who happen to be celebrities. He’s got a really awesome story to tell and pretty soon it could be on a bookshelf near you.