Holland/18"/mike1st/mark2nd

By FRANK SWERTLOW

Staff Reporter

There actually is a place in Los Angeles where a thorn-proof tweed jacket can be had for $750 as well as a $60,000 hand-engraved hunting rifle.

That place is the venerable British retailer Holland & Holland, which has been trying to sell such Old World goods out of its shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

The problem is that local shoppers haven't exactly been flocking. So the buttoned-down Holland & Holland, which was founded in London in 1835, is getting hip, sort of.

This week, it will undertake a month-long refurbishing, shedding the traditional clubby d & #233;cor of subdued lighting and dark woods in favor of brighter woods and lighting. Holland & Holland also has hired Jose Levy, a 34-year-old French designer, to recast its fashions.

Veronique Leblanc, general manager of the company's clothing and accessories, acknowledged that Holland & Holland's fashions long have been considered "the Volvos of clothing" hardly a model for success in Los Angeles apparel.

But reinventing Holland & Holland is no easy task. Levy can't disaffect loyal patrons, but he must appeal to a wider audience. To do this, he carefully studied the company, plundering its archives to create what he calls "a rough elegance."

"We must respect our roots, but we have to move into the 21st century," he said during a trip to Los Angeles earlier in the year.

Several fashion experts agreed that Holland & Holland misread the Los Angeles market, and that bringing in Levy is the right move.

"A lot of European companies don't appreciate the Southern California lifestyle," said Carl Louisville, manager of Scott Hill, an upscale men's clothing store on Robertson Boulevard. "Life is more relaxed and easier. These companies don't adapt their clothes to the weather. We are much less seasonable here. You buy your clothes to wear all year long."

Holland & Holland will still carry its thorn-proof tweeds, but the new line has lighter, brighter fabrics. And the muddy-boot look is definitely out.

"We don't want the heaviness and the smell," Leblanc said. "We are going to play with mohair in a funky way. We want to keep the traditional values and eccentricity of the English, and forget about the boring side."

The company's owners, the Wertheimer family, are no strangers to the fashion world (they also control Chanel), so any image reinvention likely will be undertaken with care.

"They are smart people," said Bill Kissel, fashion editor for the Robb Report, a magazine that chronicles the rich and famous. "Chanel understands the California market. They want to open up new markets beyond appealing to hunters. They want to translate their tradition to street clothes, and that is not something that happens overnight."

Holland & Holland is the latest of several old-line companies that have overhauled their image in recent years. Burberry, the British clothier best known for its tan trenchcoats, has added new colors, trench coats for dogs, and even Palm Pilot cases. Louis Vuitton, the luggage company, hired French designer Marc Jacobs to create a ready-to-wear line of clothes. Celine brought in another hipster, Michael Kors, to spice up its lineup. Lowe, the Spanish clothing firm, added Narsiso Rodriguez, who designed Carolyn Bessett's wedding dress.

"It all started with Tom Ford, an American designer who proved you can change a well-known label like Gucci. Now it's Jose Levy's turn," said Marylou Loper, editor of the International Fashion Syndicate.

Levy's new collection includes lightweight tweeds that are more adaptable to the L.A. climate. Once-bulky rainwear has been replaced by softer, lighter fabrics.

"They are not trying to be Gucci or Prada," Kissel said. "I don't think we will see Holland & Holland on the runway."

In keeping with the company's wildlife heritage, many items in the new line have woodsy names, like a Wren turtleneck cashmere sweater with mink patches that goes for $895 or a Falcon zip cardigan in merino wool at $365, or a pheasant feather and bridle leather handbag for $655.

Leblanc said the upcoming changes may initially ruffle a few feathers, but eventually shoppers will hopefully come around.

"There's a little danger some of the Establishment will not like everything," she said, "but we feel most customers will understand the evolution."

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