Driving through London en route to trendy Shoreditch High Street, it's impossible to miss examples of England's obsession with pattern and print. From the delicate floral façade of Thames House to Somerset House's artfully pitted stonework, eye-catching visual repetition abounds. Not surprisingly, Britain's most buzzed about emerging lifestyle brand, House of Hackney, has flourished here thanks to its reverence for this quintessentially English aesthetic while simultaneously updating it in charming, cheeky ways.
When I arrive at HOH's flagship, Frieda Gormley, who founded the business in 2010 with her husband Javvy M. Royle, is waiting on the lower level surrounded by stacks of fringe-trimmed lampshades and curtain panels covered with images of lush palm fronds and hookah-smoking sloths. The brand's East London home positions it at the current epicentre of U.K. cool. "We live in Hackney, which has become quite an influential place on the fashion worldwide map," says Gormley. "It has a high density of creative people, and fashion designers, both budding and established, living here. There's definitely something in the air."
Gormley wears a leopard-print silk dress from the fashion part of the collection, which includes men's and women's wear, ranging from pyjamas to platform shoes, created in collaboration with London fashion legend Terry de Havilland. It's no surprise that Gormley wears her frock with a pair of Vivienne Westwood's pirate boots. The madcap aesthetic that so many English design icons – Westwood included – have cultivated is evident in House of Hackney's own offerings.
"Our inaugural collections were very traditional British with a twist," Gormley says of the first pieces the brand produced. "We are really inspired by the great decorators of the thirties and forties who were really brave and bold in their choices, and did things with bright print and bright colour, and played with different scales." Gormley also notes that right from the start, prioritizing local production has been a key to their success. "We focused on our Made In England ethos and that carried through to the aesthetic, as we work with British manufacturers who go back hundreds of years."
This attention to craftsmanship has garnered worldwide acclaim. House of Hackney's housewares and clothing are carried by a growing list of retailers, including Vancouver's Goodge Place. Co-owner Emily McLean notes that, in addition to their maximalist motifs, the made-local focus is one of the most appealing aspects of the brand. She first discovered HOH while living in London. "Their designs are conversational," she notes. "People are really drawn to them." McLean highlights that though design-conscious Vancouverites typically favour neutral tones in their homes, the joyous palettes and unusual subject matter of House of Hackney's prints are starting to gain traction with her clientele.
House of Hackney's increasing appeal is also evident in their high-profile brand partnerships, including a line of Puma sneakers and a collaboration with Globe-Trotter. That brand's senior designer, Charlotte Seddon, says the union between the 118-year-old luxury luggage company and House of Hackney stems from their shared philosophy of "never compromising on the integrity of aesthetics, quality, heritage, design and innovation." Their 30-inch wheeled suitcase takes 10 days to handcraft in Hertfordshire and is an instant heirloom.
Though House of Hackney has been called one of the best boutiques in London and has its own shop-in-shop at the historic Liberty department store off Oxford Street, its place within the British design canon will be solidified by this fall's collaboration with the iconic English print company William Morris. Gormley says they were given "carte blanche" by the William Morris Gallery to help them "bring the [artist] to a new audience." By partnering with the museum, House of Hackney gained access to Morris's archives and subsequently created a range of updated textiles using new colourations and scale. They also created "quite a psychedelic [new] print called Artemis, as an homage to Morris," Gormley says.
The partnership is an obvious one to those familiar with both House of Hackney's work and that of Morris, one of the founders of England's groundbreaking decorative Arts and Crafts movement in the late 1800s. "William Morris – not just in terms of his aesthetic or his prints, but his ethos and manifestos – there are quite a lot of parallels between [us] and him," Gormley says. "Back then, he set up a wallpaper brand as a backlash to the traditional, boring French wallpaper of the time. He was a bit of a punk interior designer." And though at first glance House of Hackney's sumptuous collections may seem traditional, a rebellious spirit, as potent as the energy of their creative neighbourhood, is unmistakable.
To download the fall edition of the Globe Style Advisor iPad app, visit tgam.ca/styleadvisor starting Sept. 11.