Why did you decide to get involved with the show?
Rihanna was a massive reason. Someone of her calibre makes it easy to say ‘yes’. She’s such a force both in the music industry and the fashion industry. You don’t get anyone bigger. Also, getting to work with Nicola, who’s my friend, was an added bonus. Plus, I loved the idea behind the show. I really believe in it: giving that opportunity to those young designers is really great and I’m really happy to be a part of it. I found it fascinating watching their growth. As we filmed, I got more and more into it and became quite obsessive about it. It’s the sort of show I would watch.
Did it remind you of your early days as a budding designer?
Yeah, it did a bit, but on the other hand, this was very different to my experiences. It’s such an alien, unique situation. For a start they’re working together, side by side, which I think must be quite difficult because normally a designer works on their own creations with help from a team. So that must be hard to keep concentration. Plus, they’re working for particular briefs rather than refining and honing their own collection. So in some ways it did remind me of my younger days but I think what they had to do was a lot harder.
What will the designers take away from this experience?
It teaches them how fast paced the industry is. I would never have to produce anything in just three days as they did; but there again, they’re just making one outfit and I have to make an entire collection in just three months. So that’s something they need to get used to. Their journey is like a microcosm of the industry. Although as a designer you create your own collection rather than working to a particular brief, there are similarities because as a designer, you do always have a particular woman in mind when you are creating a collection, in my case the House of Holland woman. And we’ve taught them to be very thick skinned!
Why is that: did they face some harsh criticism?
In some cases, the artist found it hard to give criticism, while others were more direct. Speaking for myself, Lysa and Nicola, sometimes it was the case that we knew what they were capable of, so if we gave direct criticism then it was only to help them realise their potential. In the industry, you do get a lot of criticism, so that’s just realistic. You can’t please everybody all of the time, that’s an early lesson to learn. Even the greatest designers in the world get bad reviews. You put so much of yourself into your work, that it’s really hard not to take criticism personally. I’ve had some shocking reviews, where I’ve been torn to bits. I could probably recite to you word for word every bad review I’ve ever had, because when it happens, it hurts. But there again, I could quote every good review too! You have to take the good and the bad with a pinch of salt. At the end of the day, you have to just believe in your work because if you don’t, it shows. And anyway, sometimes you get terrible reviews from critics but the buyers completely disagree and really love your work. You’re not psychic so you just have to do what you feel is right, from the heart.
Is it true that Nicola Roberts is your muse?
I wouldn’t use the word ‘muse’ myself, that’s just a word that magazines love, but it’s true that she’s one of the women I’m very inspired by. As a male designer, designing women’s clothes, you have to reference your friends and draw from women around you. Nicola is a very stylish, interesting woman. I get inspiration just from being around her and seeing how she dresses and uses fashion. She uses it experimentally and as an extension of her personality. And she uses it for fun, which is how it should be.
Why do you get on so well?
She’s just a laugh! That’s pretty much the top and bottom of it. She’s got the same northern sense of humour as me. Her approach is really refreshing. She uses fashion as enjoyment, and to cheer herself up and to be playful and fun.
How did you first meet?
She came to one of my shows, and she was late: we had to break the doors down to let her in because the security guards wouldn’t let her past! So she ran in late, and sat on the floor for the show. For the collection it was a kind of mock wedding, and the last bride was a blonde. Afterwards Nicola came marching up to me and said ‘Why didn’t you have any gingers?’ I said, ‘I did, but you missed her, because you were late!’. That set the tone for our friendship, really.
Had you met Lysa before?
No, never. She is incredible, a real force of nature, and hilarious. I found it inspiring being around someone who has been in the industry for so long. The things she has seen! She has really fascinating stories. Her credentials are like a Who’s Who of fashion and music. Amazing.
How do the dynamics work between the three of you?
It works really well, actually, because Lysa’s really funny. Nicola and I goof about and sometimes Lysa joins in, sometimes she’s happy just to watch and laugh at us. We’re also all really passionate about the show. We’re not just doing this because it’s good TV: we actually care and invest in these people.
The judges with the contestants
How did you differ as mentors?
I must admit, I got a bit bad cop towards the end, because I was getting restless on set and wanted to ruffle some feathers! Lysa was much more specific with her criticism. But I didn’t like to do that so much, I preferred to offer more subtle guidance and try to steer them in the right direction rather than tell them what I would do.
Is that because you didn’t want to stifle their creativity?
Yeah, exactly, and also I didn’t want them just to copy me. I wanted them to work it out for themselves. Also, I didn’t want anyone to go home because i had told them to do something and it had backfired!
What’s the best advice you can give to any aspiring designer?
Just believe in yourself to the extent of being a bit pig-headed. You have to be very courageous in many ways. You have to believe that what you’re saying is worth something. You have to have that drive and that passion, otherwise it’s not going to work. In some ways that’s confidence; in other ways it’s stupidity!
Henry with fellow mentors, Nicola Roberts and Lysa Cooper
What was your relationship with Rihanna like; had you met previously?
Rihanna! I’d met her a couple of times briefly at parties and backstage at X Factor. She’s hilarious, and very laid-back and cool.
What makes her so special?
With any style icon, it’s about individuality, an intuition and a personal sense of style that you can’t teach someone. She has that. Also she looks good in pretty much anything, which helps. She has something in terms of style as well as music which you just can’t emulate. Plus, she’s very personable and really fun.
Styled to Rock is on SkyLiving, Tuesdays at 9pm