Vintage Designer Bios: Holly Harp

Vintage clothing first came into existence as a collectible in the late 1960s, when the counter-culture movement came to the fore for the first time.  Those turbulent years were a time of reflection and whimsy for an entire faction of clothing designers, Holly Harp among them.

Her clothes are romantic, nostalgic, ethereal.  A Holly Harp dress might have an antique influence with reproduction quality lace (or actual Victorian lace), juxtaposed with angelic layers and  flyaway ruffles borne out of late 60s innocence.  Other designs by Holly Harp are glamorous in a classic way, apropos of a 1930s screen star.  You might say Holly Harp was America's Ossie Clark.

Holly Harp was inspired by all things vintage before the vintage clothing industry even began.  One early creation for singer-songwriter Dory Previn was a maxi dress created of an old table clothing, a green doily and a scrap of vintage satin.  Upcycled and fabulous, the look was shabby glam from the expert hands of a self-described "counterculturist".

After this ingenious (and forward-thinking!) sort of designing, Holly began her label in Hollywood where she opened the boutique Holly's Harp in 1968.  By 1974 she was driving Humphrey Bogart's vintage Cadillac and living in Edith Head's former estate.  Thanks to the influence of wealthy customers, Holly Harp's business burgeoned.  Her designs sold at ninety upscale boutiques and luxury stores like Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman throughout the 1970s.

Holly Harp at the studio circa 1978.

Those venerable names are a testament to the quality in a Holly Harp dress.  Not only are they exquisitely pretty, they're exceptionally well-made.  Hand-finishing, antique collars, intentionally burned hems were all ingredients in the escapist recipe of a Holly Harp design.  This kind of singular style, along with the heady nostalgia Holly Harp was known for make her designs especially exciting for a vintage clothing collector.

Holly's Harp closed in 1986, though she continued to create commissioned clothing until her death in 1995 at age 55.  She leaves a fantastic legacy of frivolous necessities in vintage clothing.

Holly Harp Dress @ Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles
1974 Holly Harp Interview
Holly Harp's Obituary
The Fashion Makers by Barbra Walz & Bernadine Morris