A Conversation with Holland & Holland Designers Stella Tennant and Isabella Cawdor

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Founded in 1835 by tobacconist Harris Holland and bought by Chanel in the late ’80s, London-based Holland & Holland has been a staple for British hunters for more than 150 years. Initially known for its high-quality shooting gear, the ready-to-wear line aims to offer functional garments to an adventurous customer base, which explains why the brand never really considered itself a fashion one (and how its collections have remained on the discreet side)—until now. Recently, Holland & Holland sought out the eyes of ’90s supermodel Stella Tennant and stylist Isabella Cawdor, to reinterpret its styles for a modern time. While working on their Spring/Summer 2019 collection, CR spoke with the creative duo about their inspirations, design process, and new lives as designers.

Where does the process of designing a collection start for you?
Tennant: Hopefully looking at our look-book you get that sense of travel. It’s always exciting to bring back something from being away. Your house becomes rooms full of the memories.

So travels are your main source of inspiration?
Tennant: It’s very, very helpful for us to imagine the color, the landscape, and also the fabric selection, too. As we design, we have a whole lot of pictures up on our wall—it gives us something to bounce off of. When we went to Mongolia to shoot our Spring/Summer 2018 collection, we saw some beautiful things that we brought into the next season. A beautiful cashmere woven blanket, some furs…

Cawdor: The eagle hunters and the texture of their fur coats—how eclectic and hand spun they looked—really inspired us.

Tennant: We brought back these colorful bracelets from Argentina as a way for us to capture some color…

The brand in its core has a history of being for hunters. How do you work with your inspirations in a way to which the loyal customers of Holland & Holland can relate?
Tennant: Holland and Holland stands for quality and purpose. We have been given an incredible opportunity to create the clothes that we want to wear for the lifestyle we have. Part of our work is about finding more lightweight, functional fabrics—especially for outerwear. To have something that’s really quite light that you can wear on your bike through Paris or on the hill in Scotland. The pieces translate well from one place to another.

Cawdor: And then it becomes your own style. We don’t want to make clothes that throw personality onto people. We want to have clothes that allow for personalities to come through, so that people can style it however they want.

Tennant: You know the expression „You want to wear your clothes, not have your clothes wear you.“ In many ways, the clothes are very classic. We don’t expect them to be out of fashion because we’re not really in fashion!

Was Holland & Holland’s strong heritage a challenge for you when you joined the brand?
Tennant: Not really. The first collection was relatively easy because we had a lot of ideas of the outfits that we wanted to put together. There is the core of the brand that really is for the shooting customer, but there’s always a place for a good tweed and the best Scottish cashmere. True British style is immune to fashion trends, and for that many of us put comfort and quality above trend.

Cawdor: We both feel that it is a brand that travels, so we imagine who it is that wears or will wear H&H and where they would like to go in reality or in their dreams.

And how is it working together on such a big project?
Tennant: Luckily I was wise enough to know that I was not able to do something like this alone. It’s very much a team job, and Isabella and I complement each other in a very good way. She has so much more experience than me with the whole process, it’s been a very steep learning cure for me in the past few years but really fun and interesting and challenging.

Cawdor: I mean sometimes I get very tired and can’t move anymore and Stella takes over. It would be impossible to do this, unless it was both of us.

Tennant: As we say it’s a conversation, we’re very much looking at things like „I like this, do you like this?“ and „What should we do with that?” You have to make decisions about every detail and it’s much easier to do that with two people.

Cawdor: People say that you should never work with friends, but we’re not friends, we’re really, really good friends. It’s different isn’t it?

Tennant: I would hate to work with someone who wasn’t my friend. Why would you do that?

Stella, how has your career as a model influenced the way you approach your work?
Tennant: Comfort is important for this brand, and for me… I try all the clothes to make sure they “feel” good and move well. The quality of the fabric is as important as the design. I’ve worn a lot of clothes over a career of 25 years. All of that experience feeds into the collections Isabella and I are putting together.

You seem to have mastered the rare art of balancing a peaceful life in the countryside and your career as a model, muse and now designer.
Tennant: I’ve been incredibly lucky. Modeling turned out to be the best possible part-time job while my children were young. My husband has been a huge support and has been able to hold the fort while I’ve travelled.

What’s the secret to that lifestyle?
Tennant: We have eight children between us—they’re almost like cousins, they’ve very much grown up together. We’re very strict about our time and we know when we have to finish things by.

Cawdor: And we have perimeters in mind. You just have to. You have to put a sharp blade in between and never step over the other side, because you could carry on another two weeks doing this.

Tennant: As a model, you just have to be available so I have been so available for a long time, and now I’m learning how to set down some boundaries of time that is absolutely sacred family time. It’s about making a decision. And Isabella has taught me so much.

Cawdor: And if we were here too much and working on it too often we’d make too many changes so that would be very expensive and inefficient, so we have to be very decisive.

Tennant: It would be maddening for the team!

Stella, you know Carine from your modeling career—how did you first meet?
Tennant: We met when I was 23 and had just started modeling. I think the first job we did together was with Mario Testino. They cast my leg in plaster, while I tried to catch the eye of the assistant, who is now my husband!

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