On the Cusp of Bad Taste with Holly Fulton
"It’s fashion and it’s serious, but there is always a tongue-in-cheek element to it."
Holly Fulton is excited about her upcoming spring/summer 2013 collection. “It’s based on two important things that happened to me this year,” she says. “One is that I went to L.A. and the other is that I met will.i.am.” The mind boggles. But this is what the London-based designer excels at and what she is known for – ideas that can push the boundaries of good and bad taste, yet manage to land perfectly between the two.
The Scottish designer took the scenic route to where she now finds herself, working on her eighth collection for her eponymous label. After university, she held a variety of jobs before pursuing a fashion MA in London. “Luckily I’m old enough that I did it just before everyone had to pay [to study]!” Following one season at Lanvin and several job interviews for other labels, Fulton began to realise that perhaps she was destined to work for herself. “They were all very much like, "your work is quite strong in itself" and I thought maybe I should do something myself and see what happens.”
What happened was a two season stint with Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East program (“I had six weeks to make a first collection, I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing”) and five seasons with the Topshop and British Fashion Council-backed Newgen scheme, both of which have helped Fulton to grow as a businesswoman as well as a designer. “It can go quite wrong with a lot of designers,” she admits, “because I suppose creativity and business don’t naturally go hand-in-hand. It’s been a steep learning curve!”
Fulton has scaled the curve, though, while retaining a sense of humor about the business. “My whole approach is that yes, it’s fashion and it’s serious, but there is always a tongue-in-cheek element to it.” A self-confessed advocate for “garish prints” and a fan of early Moschino and Versace, Fulton’s collections are bright, kitsch and even a little brassy. With spring/summer 2012, for example, she based the collection on the idea of Sharon Stone vacationing in the gaudy British seaside town of Margate. The result was skirts with embroidered coral patterns, shift dresses depicting the blazing summer sun (highly optimistic for any English holiday spot) and a lot of yellow and turquoise. “Yellow is a colour that people have a reaction to – a lot of people hate it and the turquoise. They’re not shy and retiring colors!”
“Shy” and “retiring” simply don’t feature in the Fulton-ethos. See above about the influence of will.i.am, the king of kitsch. “He fascinates me and he’s unbelievable at forming brands,” says Fulton, whose fantasy dinner table includes the singer, alongside Serge Gainsbourg, Stephen Fry, French actress Jeanne Moreau (“She has that slightly dirty French look that’s incredibly sexy.”) and Queen Elizabeth I. “She’s such a hardcore woman of the time,” says Fulton, “and her approach to dress even fascinates me. Again, that’s about branding.”
Fulton herself has built a brand that is bold, brazen and fun; one that has found a following in brave and audacious fashion fans. “It’s that cusp of taste that constantly fascinates me and when I do stuff I think ‘Is it just too bad taste? Is it on that line?’”
And if it is?
“You want it to be on that line! You want people to be thinking ‘I don’t know…’ At least they’re talking about it!”