Westholme School hosts Henry Holland fashion show

Exclusive: One of Britain's top fashion designers used his sister's school and her classmates to launch his latest collection. Emma Mayoh reports<br/>PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

Most 15-year-olds might cringe with embarrassment if they discovered their big brother was coming to their school. But for Alice Holland, a pupil at Westholme School, it was a bit different.

Her big brother is Henry Holland, the internationally renowned clothing designer, and he was coming to the Blackburn school to put on a fashion show.

It would showcase the latest designs from his H! by Henry Holland range created for Debenhams, and it would be the first time they had ever been shown on a catwalk.

Afterwards Alice said: ‘I wasn’t embarrassed. I was excited. To me he’s not a celebrity or really famous, he’s my brother and he’s great.

‘My friends feel the same way too because they have grown up with him being around. It was fantastic being on the catwalk and I think everyone had a lot of fun.’

Alice, who has worked as a model in a handful of shoots for national newspapers, was one of around 35 girls at Westholme School who put together the exclusive show.

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Along with help from teachers Alison Dagnan, Olivia Chapman and Yvonne Herrick, they came up with ideas and organised this major event at just a few weeks notice. It was Vivienne Davenport, the school’s development director, who first approached Henry’s mum about the show.

Auditions were held for models - around 60 girls turned up hoping to get one of the 20 places - and others helped to promote, choreograph and work backstage for the prestigious event. They also organised a question and answer session with Henry which took place on the night of the show.

There were a lucky few who got to spend time choosing outfits for all of the models for the show.

Olivia Hunter, 16, one of the girls who went to Debenhams in Preston to make the selections, said: ‘It was really exciting but it was also really difficult trying to pick outfits we thought people might like. Customers saw us putting the outfits together though and they thought we were professional personal shoppers and were asking us for help.

‘We had a lot of fun, it was fantastic and Henry said he was pleased with how we had put the outfits together.’

Hundreds of people poured into Westholme’s theatre to watch the event, including several of Henry and Alice’s relatives.

The designer, whose quirky slogan T-shirts first got him media attention, has earned himself international acclaim for the designs he does for his own label House of Holland and the Debenhams range. But the fashion world should breathe a big sigh of relief because things could have been very different. They would be missing one of their shining stars if he had followed careers advice given to him as a schoolboy.

As a teenager he completed a jobs questionnaire. It didn’t suggest he should become an internationally renowned designer, nor did it mention he should showcase several of his collections at the world’s most prestigious fashion events. Edenfield born Henry’s perfect job, apparently, was to be a fishmonger.

‘I think it was because I said I liked being outdoors and talking to lots of people,’ said the 27-year old. ‘I’m glad I didn’t try and do that though.’

In fact Henry is at the top of his game. Celebrities clamour for his designs, his creations attract worldwide attention and he is a household name in the industry. But the former Bury Grammar School pupil, who also attended Oakhill College in Whalley, has not been swayed by his time in the spotlight and has his feet firmly on the ground.

He and his mum Stephanie were left open-mouthed when Sarah Brown, wife of the former Prime Minister, knew him by name when he attended an event at Downing Street.

Although he has not attempted to hide his love for London - he couldn’t wait to move there to study journalism at the London College of Printing - it is his Lancastrian friends who he keeps closest. There are few occasions you won’t find his childhood friend, Jessica Fletcher by his side, he met friend and supermodel-of-the-moment Agyness Deyn when she lived in Littleborough and worked in the local chippy and most of the people who work for him come from this corner of the country.

‘We just have lots of fun,’ said Henry, who worked in fashion journalism for teen magazines before his design career took off. ‘It’s important to me to keep people near to me who knew me before all of this happened.

‘I do really like London but I really miss the people back in Lancashire.

My childhood was what helped me to do what I have done. My family always encouraged me to go for whatever I wanted and that nothing was impossible.

‘That’s why I wanted to do the show. It was great to see the girls excited about it and I was really pleased to get involved. I had to check with Alice first just in case she didn’t want her embarrassing older brother comingto school.’

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