HARLAN + Holden (H +H) is a brand that sets itself apart from other high-end local clothing lines because of its pared-down, minimalist and ultra-sensible approach to women’s wear.
In just a few years, H + H has carved an impressive niche on the fashion scene by making clothes with clever structure and draping while using luxe materials.
Yet its simple clothes also speak of the necessity to significantly reduce the time a woman needs to get dressed.
Recently, its creators decided to go one step further and invited global style-setter Caroline Issa, chief executive director of the highly original Tank magazine, to study the brand and find out whether improvements are in order.
Issa, a former management consultant (she’s a Wharton graduate), blew into town last week and was the guest speaker at the H + H-sponsored discussion on branding held at Greenbelt 5 in Makati City.
The event was attended by fashion students from De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, the School of Fashion and the Arts, Slim’s, and the Fashion Institute of the Philippines.
Before this, Issa examined H + H’s clothes and how these were displayed in its stores.
She concludes that these are products that “reflect the beauty of simplicity in things.”
Not to worry
“You wear H + H, you know you look stylish, you know you look great. You can afford not to worry and spend a lot of time in front of the closet wondering what you’d wear tomorrow,” she tells Inquirer Lifestyle a day after the forum.
Clearly, the clothes already speak to the intelligent woman who wants to dress well, be taken seriously, and make it understood that she would always be more than the sum of her outfits.
But apparently, H + H president and founder Eman Pineda and managing partner Mia San Agustin were still looking for a little extra something.
Though there wasn’t much articulation, Issa quickly understood.
Now there is a marketing concept called branding. Simply put, it is one thing to develop a really good product, but it is another thing to make this product evoke a specific essence or message and for it to be understood.
In Issa’s case, her marketing background worked wonders for several global brands. She has helped formulate specific messages or campaigns for Vivienne Westwood (Content and commerce can intersect naturally.); Liberty (Not digital-savvy? Then create a magazine!) and De Beers diamonds (“Three words best whispered,” but no mention of rings, love or an engagement).
Issa is involved in creating products for L.K. Bennett, the London brand made popular by Kate Middleton, and her latest project is a ready-to-wear line for Nordstrom.
She also does product consulting for the Italian brand Tod’s.
In an exclusive interview, Issa says that H + H needed only a few “nuts and bolts” to refresh itself after about half a decade in the market.
H + H’s font, for example, “had a little too much flourish to it,” so Issa’s creative team recommended that it be replaced with a more streamlined one.
Display and packaging
San Agustin says this change would be evident in the store display and packaging this week.
“There are things you don’t even notice, but all these things boil down to a brand essence that can be articulated,” Issa points out.
There would be unfortunate times when the consumer fails to capture the essence, and so a project fails.
Issa believes that essence is sometimes the ability to create an atmosphere, a specific mood in a store—something intangible but known to the consumer.
“It is about the tone of your voice, the way you treat your customers, your store windows, getting the sales person to understand what you are thinking, even getting the people who do the floral arrangements inside the store to understand what kind of flowers make up an H + H bouquet,” she says.
Then there is the reexamination of H + H’s visual language guidelines. “What kind of photographs are H + H, and what are not? What is the color palette, the typeface on your press release … things you do not notice, but definitely every brand has these nuts and bolts to create an overall picture,” Issa explains.
Perhaps the most radical new thing introduced is the fig logo found in H + H’s merchandise and packaging. Issa says it was Pineda who insisted on a “symbol” to encapsulate H + H’s essence.
Issa notes that her creative team brainstormed several times on this request: “We recommended the fig because the fig leaf was the first piece of clothing that man ever wore. And the Buddha also sat under a fig tree. So across religions it has symbolism. And it is a perfect symbol of going back to basics.”
Issa adds that the word fig is an abbreviation of “figure,” which is “a really important term in the art world because it’s ‘Figure 1,’ ‘Figure 2’ like in London, for example, during the Frieze Art Fair.”
Issa, who is also Tank’s fashion director, says that working with a relatively new brand like H + H requires a certain level of prudence. Unlike a heritage brand whose history can be highlighted by marketers, “the biggest challenge in working with a young brand is to create a focus when there is so much choice on what you can do,” she notes.
“Sometimes too much choice is as bad as not having any. ‘What if we did this, what if we did that?’ It’s too overwhelming. But in the case of H + H, there was a real sense of purpose already,” she adds.
Harlan + Holden’s new Lines and Curve collection is available at the H + H Tent at Greenbelt 5 Fashion Walk between Greenbelt Chapel and Chateau 1771 Restaurant until today, July 19.