There are some seasons when a House of Holland collection just gets under your skin. Maybe it's the in-jokes; maybe it's the proliferation of printed puns and wonky seams; maybe it's just the sense that everything on the catwalk feels like a lacklustre preamble to the shindig afterwards, the show itself just an excuse to net more licensing deals. Maybe it's also the simple fact that Henry Holland likes to poke fun at something lots of people take very seriously indeed.
That said, there are seasons where it clicks, and Holland chimes in with just the right note of tongue-in-cheek chic. A/W 2011 was one of those seasons. The inspiration this time was bingo halls, heritage cloth and country living. But you got all that from the first outfit, a Harris tweed Miss Marple sheath over bingo-ball print blouse and racy lace-trimmed slip (hanging an inch or two out of the hem of the skirt, naturally). This season, Holland went Sloane Ranger, reinventing fashionable frumpiness for the twenty-first century.
Maybe a Royal Wedding got Holland thinking back to Princess Diana's Dowdy Di heyday in the early eighties, or maybe he was just feeling the bookish, tweedy get-up of the Old Fogeys. Whatever it was, it worked. Holland reworked Harris tweed in his primary tones of orange, mauve and blue, in pleated skirts, leather-buttoned trenches and neat little blazers - one tucked under the legs in a spiffing tweedy leotard, complete with patent revers. Grannyish crochet patchwork came printed onto silky slip-dresses or studded with Swarovski crystal for evening and worn with knee-high support hose, while the Sloaney staple of the pearl choker was reinvented as giant hooped earrings , or embroidered across tweed prom frocks, a clever twist on evening perfect for Tatler debutantes to make a splash at Ascot. Maybe that was what was refreshing about this House of Holland collection - it felt clever, thought-out, genuinely witty rather than a pun-packed tabloid-pleaser of a fashion show. It was fashion proper, without being prim or po-faced and, for once, it was also easy to imagine customers outside of Holland's loyal front-row fan-base hankering after the label's offering this season.