We sit down with British fashion designer and the father of 'House of Holland', Henry Holland, as he releases his new collaborative collection with Umbro. A top-flight blend of streetwear style with football spirit, it's a fixture that will go down as a classic.
When you think of Umbro, what resonates? Was it a brand you grew up with?
"I think for so many people, Umbro is definitely a brand they grew up with. Both here and over in the States. I think over there they call soccer shorts “bro’s” but for me personally, I remember all my football shirts as I was growing up, having Umbro on them. All the Manchester United shirts from the nineties and then my school football shorts too. It’s definitely one I grew up with."
"I actually approached Umbro to do this project, which is something I’ve never really done before. We’re lucky in that we usually get approached by different brands so we go from there in choosing which ones are relevant for us as a partnership, but I’ve been wanting to do a sportswear line or collaboration for a while and I was thinking about who would be a good fit and I think Umbro is one of the last brands out there that hasn’t been given that lifestyle kick up the arse. It still felt very performance and although it’s obviously rooted in football, it hasn’t expanded outside all that much. You started to see a lot of that happen with Instagram kids picking up vintage pieces and it just felt like there was a bit of bubbling interest under the surface. The retro branding and all that sort of stuff, it just felt like the right one for me."
Have you a nostalgic soft spot for this brand and what it represents?
"Yeah I have. I think it fits really nicely in what is going on in the marketplace generally. Brands like Fila have done a massive thing with their heritage branding and similarly adidas too. Others like ellesse are obviously doing things too. So quite a lot of these sportswear brands have done a lot of heritage collections that really promote the branding they’ve always had and I just felt like Umbro were the next one that needed it."
There has been the Umbro Pro Training that touches on those elements, does this go that one stage deeper would you say?
"I loved the Pro Training stuff and I met the guys that did it as well. I think the way they shot it was really cool. The imagery and the creative was really cool but the product itself was very football. I think if you want to try and grow outside that, into much more of a lifestyle proposition, it’s more about fabric basis and approaching it from a different point of view. So I think the designers that created the Pro Training collection were also the designers that created the main Umbro collection for the UK. The benefits I have in coming into it as very much an outsider and having that point of view is that I very much see the iconic branding and the references points and I can put that out there in a collection that isn’t necessarily performance based - it’s much more lifestyle based."
You said the collection was one where you approached Umbro, how long has it been in the making and what was that trigger point that sparked your interest?
"I think it was people like J.T. Merry and the hand embroidery stuff he was doing on vintage Umbro pieces and seeing a lot of the core Umbro branded sweats, on Instagram, online and they kept popping up for me when I was doing research so it was just an ongoing feeling that it was time and that the brand was ready for it."
What were your main objectives with this collection?
"I wanted to play with the heritage because when I went to Manchester to meet with the Umbro team up there, they gave me a bit of a rummage through the archives so I saw a lot of imagery and archive collections. Stuff they had done with Kim Jones - that was the last time I remember them as a lifestyle proposition and it was through looking all of that I realised just how much heritage this brand has and equally, just how old it is. It started over 100 years ago making scouts uniforms and progressed eventually finding its way into football. So one of the main prints and stories we’ve got in the collection is this multi-logo print where we’ve utilised all of the logos they’ve ever had in their history and put it all together in one piece. So we chart the history of the brand through that product and again champion the heritage with the use of the oversized logos."
There’s a different story with each piece in the collection and like you say, a lot of history there…
"Yeah exactly. I think there’s not many people that have a favourite football shirt or a favourite shirt from when they were growing up that didn’t have the double diamond on. You don’t even think about it really, it’s never been the main focal point, it’s just special. Some of the football shirts from the past...I had that green and yellow United shirt with the lace up collar. Half and half, those are some difficult colours. They could only work together in football."
Blending lifestyle fashion and streetwear with performance undertones, the lines between respective genres is nicely blurred these days. Is that exciting from your perspective?
"I think so and I think it’s very much about the culture and the changing culture of the way in which people are dressing. People are now wearing performance wear as lifestyle pieces and the lines are very much blurred like you say. What is performance? What is lifestyle? And what is fashion? Everyone wears something from each to create something different. All this, kind of, wearing your gym kit to and from the gym is where it all started but I think it’s about mixing up those genres and playing with it as a fashion proposition that creates something much more interesting."
"I always think about Lev Tanju from Palace - all he wears are tracky bottoms but he mixes them with Gucci loafers. It’s mad, those two things couldn’t be any further apart but it just works on someone like him. I just think it’s about the way that people dress. Whether they pick and choose pieces from a performance brand or a lifestyle brand, they bring them together and that when something new forms."
When people see this collection, how would you most like them to feel and what emotions would you like to provoke?
"I’d really hope that it brings back those fond memories of Umbro as a brand they grew up with and that they remember and that it feels true to that brand. I want people to picture in their head some great memories. At the same time, I want to give it a kick up the arse to give it a more exciting and interesting proposition for people to put in their wardrobe as casual lifestyle pieces as well. I mean the multi-branded bomber jacket we’ve created, that’s something I can wear on a night out and not singularly as a sportswear piece. It’s a bit of everything. I just hope that it really brings that connection for people who have that fondness for the brand. There’s so many people that have those memories. I hope that this collection legitimises the brand as a strong one in the lifestyle space."
The audience of the football fan, player, appreciator is wide and mixed. This crosses boundaries in bringing the creative and football world’s together, wouldn’t you say?
"Definitely, yeah - it bridges the gap. We’ve done that snakeskin print football strip. I wanted to do a kit for the reasons of fabrication and shape and styles but I didn’t want to fall back into strictly football. So much of the Pro Training stuff that has been done before has been based on previous football strips. The brand owned the art work, they sponsored the teams so that’s how they played it. I wanted to take it away and put a fashion print on it but keep the fabrication and styles true to a football space but then put a print on it that had no relation to the game so that it took a shirt and put it in a different place."
How much of your character do you see coming through in this collection?
"Quite a lot I’d say. I think it’s quite bold and brash in some ways, especially for an Umbro collection. I think it’s quite different for the brand and it treads a fine line between our (House of Holland) aesthetic but keeps it quite true to a traditional set up as well. It was a mixture of keeping things quite simplistic and core in terms of shapes and styles in using the Umbro archive and existing products they have out there whilst ramping them up a bit with surface design and print. We also put our own specific techniques in there and I think it’s found itself a really nice balance."
Umbro naturally talk about the ‘heart and soul’ of football. They are a very genuine brand in that respect, how important is it to champion that integrity in such a competitive industry where fashion is concerned?
"I think it really depends what you’re like as a person. So many people build a brand but the person behind it is very faceless. So I guess it’s a little bit trickier to do it in that sense. The way that we have grown House of Holland with me at the forefront of it all, it’s been very much about my personality and my kind of authenticity that hopefully feeds down into what we do. I’d say the way we do things is very inclusive and is very playful. It’s very fun but we’re very knowing with our humour and the way we do things."
Football has crossed paths with what you do on a few occasions now. Notably your debut collection ― do you find yourself constantly inspired by the game?
"Yeah I do. I mean I’m always looking at a lot of different sub-cultures. Lads from the terraces through to mods of the 70s and with my debut collection it was my first so we went and looked at all these different movements from the UK over the past fifty to sixty years and drew out all those things we saw as relevant to our customer. I think football has such a strong image and can be such a strong reference point - it’s very much in fashion and still is for sure."
The Umbro x House of Holland collection launches December 15.