Born: Buffalo, New York, 24 October 1939. Education: Attended Radcliffe College; studied art and fashion design, North Texas State University. Family: Married Jim Harp, 1965 (divorced, 1975); son: Tommy. Career: Opened first boutique on Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, 1968; opened in-store boutique, Henri Bendel, New York, 1972; developed wholesale collection, 1973. Also designed for Simplicity Patterns, Fieldcrest Linens, and Hollywood films including Cabaret, Sleeper, and She Devil. Died: 24 April 1995.
Milinaire, C., and C. Troy, Cheap Chic, New York, 1975.
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"Holly's Harp," in WWD, 7 November 1974.
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Lynn, Alison, "Passages," obituary, People, 25 May 1995.*
I've been designing clothes since the late 1960s. I always try to remind myself that I am dressing a woman's soul as well as her body. Souls and bodies do best when they are relaxed, fluid, and comfortable. They love to play "dress-up." They love a good laugh as well as perfect quiet and softness. I hope my clothes reflect a woman's soul.
Many students are torn between the glamor of stage or film design and high fashion. Holly Harp was able to merge both her love of costume and fashion into a successful professional career that lasted more than 25 years. Harp went with an early instinct after designing sandals on a whim, and returned to college with her sights set on becoming a designer. She studied in the theatre department and worked on her fashion degree. Her style was dramatic, feminine, and refined.
Harp moved to the West Coast during the height of hippiedom in 1966. San Francisco hippies tended to borrow street styles and recycle clothing salvaged from the local Goodwill, while Los Angeles, where Harp set up shop, was more interested in marketing styles and trends in the form of new designs. The latter was more of a "rich hippie" look. Harp was inspired by the youthful street fashions and was referred to by the Los Angeles Times as the city's "doyenne of feathers and fringe." Her rock star clients had included Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, who loved Harp's wonderful batiks, feathers, and hand-dyed fabrics. Harp's clothes suited the tastes of the youthful population who loved psychedelic colors and melodramatic effects.
It was more than being in the right place at the right time. Harp began to distill her designs into her own personal expression. During the 1970s there was more emphasis on the body. The soft matte jersey Harp experimented with became a signature fabric along with chiffon. There was a continuation of using beadwork, flowers, feathers, and airbrushed designs but with a softer, refined touch. Harp used complicated draping techniques to emphasize feminine qualities rather than the prevailing minimal approach.
Harp became known for making fabulous dresses that attracted the attention of the Hollywood élite. Her customer list reads like a Who's Who: Liza Minelli, Jane Seymour, Lauren Hutton, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Jane Pauley, and Sally Field were just a few. Her clients also included a long list of famous male customers such as Ryan O'Neal, Jon Voight, and Jack Nicholson, who selected Harp's clothing for the women in their lives. Some Harp originals have appeared in Hollywood films as well. She successfully challenged the glitzy Hollywood image with nostalgically beautiful designs.
The ability to create clothing with both romantic and classic qualities carried Harp through the 1980s into the 1990s; by limiting her production and not overextending herself, Harp maintained the integrity of her designs. Whatever bright and trend-setting clothes were in her future, however, were cut short: Holly Harp died of cancer in April of 1995. She was 55.
updated by Nelly Rhodes