Inside the strange and wonderful world of Nick Holland.
Getting inside the head of men’s fashion designer Nick Holland is a bit like going down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland where nothing is quite as it seems. Hares brandishing shotguns, posed rats, napping cats and an alarming looking Jackalope creature made from parts of different animals are just a few of the many items of strange taxidermy lurking inside the work place of the Nottingham-born designer.
Alongside the weird and the wonderful sit decades of fashion items, including a leather jacket worn by Liam Gallagher, a remnant from his spell as creative director for Pretty Green. One of the most comprehensive collections of designer labels stretching back to the 80s hangs alongside vintage, uniforms and the utterly ridiculous.
But out of this fashion archive and unsettling staging flows a creativity and narrative that is redolent in the latest range from Holland Esquire, which marks a fundamental shift in direction. It also challenges the conventional approach to menswear.
“I’m moving to a more artisan product produced in small quantities for the people that really get it,” explains Nick. “It offers consumers something that they can’t get anywhere else which taps into their loves, hates and humour.
“The modern consumer would rather buy one high quality, unique piece with a strong narrative behind it than buy lots of ubiquitous things that are worn once and thrown away.”
The throwaway trend is something that the designer is keen to address by getting people to buy less but buy better. It also speaks to the wasteful consumerism and fast fashion that is becoming an increasingly toxic issue.
“Our industry is fucked up, pretty much from top to bottom - something has got to change,” says Nick.
The fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of all waste water, and consumes more energy than the airline and shipping industries combined. About 300,000 tonnes of clothes are dumped every year in UK landfills.
“Consumers are more educated about the product nowadays and they want to know the story behind something and see how it speaks to them.” - Nick Holland
“I’m not interested anymore in making high volumes and selling everything off at the end of the season at a huge discount. This model is not sustainable from either a business or environmental perspective,” adds Nick.
Nick explains why he is also stepping away from the seasonal treadmill and moving to a more sustainable model that works better for the modern consumer.
“The seasonal approach doesn’t really work anymore. Two reasons: the climate has all changed. Secondly, if you’re an international brand, it’s minus 20 in Canada where I have a couple of accounts, but it’s plus 40 in Thailand. So why are they going to buy the same thing at the same time? They’re not. The value lies in having the right thing at the right time.
“One of my favourite comedians, Billy Connolly, once said ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes’. I like that philosophy and it is reflected in my collections which adopt a non-seasonal approach.”
Much of the new Holland Esquire collection is purposefully narrowing the market for his clothes. Deliberately provocative, each range targets a certain type of person who shares one of his passions, whether it is dogs, the great British wildlife or, more prosaically, his fondness of the word Fuck.
It would be hard to argue that it is not a bold move for someone who has built up a strong following for his sharp tailoring and individual detailing on buttons or stitching that has acted as a subtle brand mark for his clothes.
“Consumers are more educated about the product nowadays and they want to know the story behind something and see how it speaks to them,” explains Nick.
“People are moving away from over-branded goods - it makes them look shallow. Non-branded or subtly branded is the way forward. I don’t need logos because my products have the detailing and the narratives behind them.”
The issue of throwaway fashion is close to Nick’s heart. It is fair to say that Nick does not like throwing many things away if he feels that they could be useful at some point in the future as either a source of inspiration or something that could be recycled.
Clothes dating back decades, every pair of trainers he’s ever owned, extensive magazine collections, ranging from the Beano to the Face and Loaded, along with all his childhood games add to the sense of theatre and experimentation and illustrate how the designer finds inspiration.
Many of these items, Nick explains, have contributed to the latest range of clothing that marks a shift in a number of ways from his previous ranges under the Holland Esquire label.
“Every item means something to me with a deeply personal story or they could just contain a detail that I can reuse in one of my new designs,” says Nick.
“One of my narratives is called Doggy Style, which, quite simply, celebrates my love of dogs. If you’ve never owned a dog, go out and get one. The benefits they offer to your physical and mental health are huge. They’re also great social vehicles and the glue in many families.”
Another one of the new collections is provocatively titled Fuck.
Fuck, a word that dates back to the 15th Century, has today become increasingly commonplace and is no longer such a taboo word.
“It’s my favourite profanity,” explains Nick. “This range is a celebration of that welcome shift and also feels appropriate in today’s world with its political pantomimes and environmental crises. The word is just a great way to help you deal with this fucked up world.”
The weird and wonderful taxidermy, which Nick started collecting a few years ago with ‘Aunty Beryl’s’ sleeping cat, has also proved an inspiration for his new Revenge of the Wildlife range.
“Another of my passions is the great British wildlife and I just liked the idea of it fighting back. I took my hare with a shotgun to a show in Italy and it caused a huge stir but it also allowed me to create a stage that tells the story in a quirky way.”
Targeting in such a way also deliberately narrows the market and has caused the designer to rethink his approach to sales.
“Being on the High Street means having to sell a high volume product. While I will still deal with a few independents, most of my clothes will be sold directly through my website. With my new ranges I am saying something very specific to a much more niche audience,” explains Nick.
What Nick’s next move remains a fabulous mystery but one thing is certain is that he will stay down the rabbit hole for as long as it takes to find the inspiration to keep innovating.
As Alice in Wonderland says ‘I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then’, which is true of Nick, but he will also keep delving back into the past to find a better way forward.
Interview by Martin Dunn.