HENRY HOLLAND x MAX WALLIS
Designer Henry Holland sits down with collaborator Max Wallis to discuss his MySpace inspired ‘Top Eight’ collection.
Northern-born designer Henry Holland started his career with a range of instantly recognisable t-shirts. These days, his brand House of Holland is a regular feature on fashion week timetables and his creations have earned him a nomination for Emerging Menswear Designer. As he prepares to launch his new Top 8 collection, which is inspired by Myspace, he sits down with poet Max Wallis to talk about their collaboration.
Ah, the MySpace Top 8. You must remember it? It was the cause of much awkwardness in your school canteen if your mate had shifted you down the list. It was the only true way that you could analyse your social status, and it was undeniably brutal.
Manchester-born designer Henry Holland says he pretty much “lived” for his Top eight. It was actually on the social media platform that he sold his first t-shirt for which he became famous for and what has acted as the foundations of his highly successful brand, House of Holland. These days, the brand is in a league of it’s own, with a front row littered with celebs, impressive reviews and even an impending Emerging Menswear Designer nomination as this issue goes to press.
For his latest project, he’s harking back to the past and paying homage to MySpace with his Top 8 t-shirt collection. The t-shirts have been created in collaboration with eight unique creatives including doodle artist Hattie Stewart, meme maker She’s Vague and poet Max Wallis, who sits down with Holland to talk about his latest project.
Max: Tell us about the Top 8 collaborations.
Henry: So I wanted to do something that really refocused House of Holland as a brand on our origins and our beginnings, so I think most people know that we started in T-shirts, but what most people don’t know is that the first place I ever sold one was on MySpace, with a copy and pasted PayPal link on my MySpace wall! So from that I kind of came up with this idea of doing something around the Top 8, which is obviously the main focus of your MySpace, which during a period of the early 2000s we all lived and died by. That’s why we came up with the concept of working with 8 collaborators [and] calling it the Top 8. [Then] I set about basically using social media as the main tool to recruit the top 8, so some of the collaborators are past collaborators of the brand. Max: Which ones?
Henry: Danielle Levitt has shot some of our campaigns in the past, Hattie Stewart has worked with us on several collections, Eddie Eddie by Billy Tommy has worked with us on menswear and then some are new collaborators, like yourself, that we’ve never worked with.
Max: So do you see it as continuing with different groups?
Henry: The great thing about the Top 8 concept is that you always have a Top 8…
Max: And you always change it!
Henry: And you always change it! [Laughs] So we’re going to have the exact same socially awkwardness of “sorry, you’re not in it anymore” so we’re looking to rotate. We’ll probably add in about three new ones four times a year and so it’ll be an ongoing concept for us. As a brand, House of Holland has always been very inclusive and very collaborative and I’ve always been quite vocal about the people that I’ve worked with alongside myself.
Max: What do you think is so interesting about collaborating with people?
Henry: Well for me, it’s about getting a new perspective. I’ve been doing this now for 10 years, which means we’ve put out like 25, nearly 30 collections and I think to keep things interesting both for me and my customers, it’s important to be open to collaboration and be open to new ideas. I just think it adds a new dimension to the project because it’s two people’s ideas coming together to form something new, which fascinates me.
Max: It’s interesting from my perspective. People always have this idea that poetry can’t exist everywhere, like that it’s just for pages or paper. My challenge that I’ve always tried to do, is how do you subvert that? How do you get it into places that people wouldn’t normally expect? The thing is you can totally understand why poetry would be on a t-shirt to be honest. I can anyway!
Henry: Obviously there’s so many t-shirts that people wear that could be considered poetry, depending on how you look at it. I think what you’ve managed to do over the past year with the Topman project, [which] was very much about putting it into a film construct, the thing that you’ve just done for Vogue which is about putting poetry on a different platform, and sort of to a different audience, I think is a really interesting approach to the medium.
Max: What’s interesting for me about all this, is the diversity of the people that you’ve chosen. For example the meme artist, She’s Vague, is fascinating. I’m interested as to how meme art will work in t-shirt form?
Henry: The She’s Vague thing I suppose is more of a commentary from me that people consider that plagiarism in so many different ways, because it’s just reposting of other peoples ideas. When you look at the curation behind those Instragram accounts, it’s putting forward such a focused point of view, and whether that be a period of time and fashion, whether that be a visual aesthetic, I think there’s a real skill to it. I think it’s funny, it makes me laugh. She in particular has highlighted a certain period in time which is so relevant to me that it’s very early 2000s when Three Little Women were a band, and really naff VMA Red Carpet outfits but they are from the period when I was working in that world and I was working at Smash Hits! Magazine and I had to write pieces about these outfits and do like STEAL THEIR STYLE. It just resonated so much to what I was trying to do in this project.
Max: For you as a designer, how does plagiarism work with these tees?
Henry: That one was more collaborative in terms of working on the design process, we sort of helped with what they looked like and we asked her to contribute some words and then we sort of worked them up in artworks, so there’s definitely an original element to them, it’s not just a posting of pictures. I’m a big meme poster, I just post things that I feel relevant to me at the time.
Max: Do you think social media matter has changed fashion? It must challenge how brands interact with people as well as what they produce?
Henry: It’s changed things beyond the language part, it’s changed the way people dress. People dress in a much more ostentatious, pea-cocking kind of way because they post a picture of it on their social platforms and they dress more for attention than they ever have before, because even if you’re not going anywhere that day, you can still post a picture of your outfit and thousands of people can see it. Also getting messages across through fashion has become so much more prevalent recently because so many people are so appalled at the state of the world.
Max: Does that pea-cocking mentality affect your design process?
Henry: No, it doesn’t because we’ve always been a very peacocky brand! We’ve always been very bold, brash and quite an obnoxious brand in terms of our aesthetic, so I think it hasn’t affected my design process or aesthetic in any way. It’s more just about the way people interact with your product. Previously where we might consider certain pieces to be more editorially focused and less commercial, there’s definitely more of a grey area between those two voids where more people are willing to buy something.
Max: Are people choosing what they’re buying more carefully now, or is it the opposite and are people consuming far more?
Henry: I think it’s the opposite. I think everybody is different, I think it’s very hard to say one thing but I think from a youth perspective, people are buying far more because it’s a bit like, if 20 years ago you were a newsreader, you wouldn’t go on the news in the same jacket twice, so you would work with a stylist or a dress agency to borrow it, whereas now, teenage girls see themselves in the same way, if they post it on their Instagram, it goes in the bin. So if they can buy a dress from certain online retailers for a tenner, get a great picture for their Instagram and never have to wear it again, job done! Max: What I find interesting is the changeability…
Henry: So the thing with this, and calling it the Top 8, it was only 10 years ago that I lived and died by my Top 8. Generational changes now happen as quickly as technology evolves, so you are identified to your generation in some parts by what social network is most prevalent to you at the time, so I have interns that work here who are and they don’t even know what MySpace is, like they’ve never heard of it. And Facebook is so not relevant to them, because social networks have become so identified to certain generations. Those generational changes are just happening so much quicker.
Max: With this being an online exclusive, is that a conscious decision as a result of it being inspired by MySpace?
Henry: It’s a conscious decision for us as a business and it just works into that strategy because I think we are looking to become much more digitalfirst as a brand and so a project like this lends itself to that perfectly. I’m really excited about it.
Max: Me too!
What most people don’t know is that the first place I ever sold [a t-shirt] was on MySpace, with a copy and pasted PayPal link
Launching in 2012, RON DORFF are a brand for the everyman. Amidst a rapid rise, manifesting in two stores; one in Paris and one in London, RON DORFF has become known for its sportswear revisits, adapting classics from the 70s and 80s to make pieces suited for all occasions.
Just in time for Christmas, the brand have launched their Cashmere collection — a range of winter warmers designed to be perfect for the gym, or for lounging at home. They’ve also collaborated with Man About Town magazine to create a series of sweaters in celebration of the publications 10th anniversary.
We sat down with co-founder Claus Lindorff to find out more about the menswear brand on the come up.
Tell us why it was that you decided to start a brand like RON DORFF. How did the brand come about?
At the time, my partner and I used to buy our sportswear in New York as we couldn’t find simple, classic sportswear in Europe. The cuts were often too big, too “American”, so we would have a great tailor in Paris to fix them, which of course cost a fortune. As is often the case, we created our own brand in order to cater to what we couldn’t find ourselves in the market: revisited sportswear classics for men upgraded with a contemporary cut using top-quality fabrics. We also wanted to integrate our origins into the design, thus creating a unique mix where Swedish functionality meets French style and sexiness.
You revisit sportswear classics from the 70s and 80s. Tell us more about this design process.
What works has very much already been created and exists out there. It’s more a matter of revisiting the iconic classics of the past in a contemporary version. We launched RON DORFF in 2012 with 5 iconic pieces from the 70s and 80s: The classic tennis shorts as worn by Björn Borg at Wimbledon, the heather grey sweatshirt and joing trousers of the early 70s, the black swim trunks as worn by Greg Louganis at the 1984 LA Olympics, and the rugby shorts as worn by players in the late 70s; short and with a slightly tapered fit. Since then the collection has expanded to include underwear inspired by the models developed by the Swedish Army, sports cashmere based on our now iconic models and a body care line: SKIN DISCIPLINE.
What are the big highlights of the brand over the course of your career?
I would say that a big highlight was when we launched and immediately got Paris concept store N°1, Colette, on board. They have supported us from day one and this has helped us tremendously in our expansion around the world, not least in Asia, and notably in Japan and Korea. Second highlight would be the day we opened our London flagship store in Earlham Street in Covent Garden. I think the interior reflects to 120% the RON DORFF universe and this unique mix of Swedish functionality with French style. Thirdly, the collaboration with MAN ABOUT TOWN for the magazine’s 10 year anniversary this fall. RON DORFF designed and produced limited edition sweatshirts and t-shirts used for various shoots with Mario Testino - always a nice thing for your ego! (Laughs).
Your head office is in Paris. How have the French reacted to RON DORFF?
Remarkably well! We were slightly scared at the time of the launch in France that a brand called RON DORFF and that used DISCIPLINE IS NOT A DIRTY WORD as brand motto might not fly very high. The French are not known for being big fans of discipline and the mix with a brand name that sounds slightly German, could have been a big no no. However, the French got the second-degree and our DISCIPLINE print has become the most popular one in France. What is also interesting, is that the French don’t necessarily wear our pieces only when doing sports. I often see our sweatshirts and T-shirts worn at fashion parties, in restaurants and bars, so it has very much become an all-round lifestyle brand worn at any occasion.
Earlier this year you opened your first store in London, what made you want to set up shop in the UK?
We had had a lot of traction from the UK on our online store and we felt that going into the UK market with a proper UK online store and a proper store in London was the logical next step after having succeeded the launch in France. Furthermore, London is very much THE happening capital in Europe (yes, despite a possible Brexit) and people come from all over Europe to see what’s going on here. Our London store is thus very much a shop window towards the whole of Europe and not only the UK.
The brand has a big market amongst gay men, why do you think this is?
As very often is the case, gay men are the first ones to pick up a new trend or a new brand and this has very much been the case with RON DORFF too. Overall, I think men are tired of big logos and loud, over-the-top colours. In the RON DORFF collection they are happy to find something more toned down, masculine and discrete but still with a sexy cut. Our no frills, no logo underwear has for example become the N°1 product in the London store and it is very much an item bought by “gay front runners”. Same thing with our swimwear: finally men can find simple, sexy cut models without mad prints featuring bananas, pineapples and palm trees.
Any projects coming up that you can tell us? We’re opening up permanent corners at Paris N°1 department store, Galeries Lafayette in January and working on opening up a second store in West London in a year’s time. Meanwhile we’ll be looking into a department store corner in London. In parallel we’re going full steam ahead in Germany, opening a store in Berlin mid-2018. So no rest for some time...