Skye Holland is a contemporary artist and founder of The Boudoir Portraits. Her artistic career has spanned 30 years, traversing between London, New York and South Africa, exhibiting and selling her own artwork, and combining business with art working as an art consultant for blue chip companies.
Here, she took some time out of her busy schedule to spend some time with us at House of Coco to chat more about her career and her plans for the future…
When did you launch the brand and what was the reason behind it?
A couple of years ago, my daughter Emmanuelle (then 24) came to visit my studio (on Eel Pie Island in Twickenham at the time) and asked me on the spur of the moment to draw her (naked as it happens!). She wanted it done in black and white with highlights of gold pigments as a special gift for her partner Jack’s 30th birthday. It took a couple of hours and was really expressive and contemporary but definitely her – and she whisked it off to the framer. He loved the gift and it was hung in their bedroom, aboard a Dutch barge in Canary Wharf. It was a bit of an “aha!” moment – I just saw the amazing intimacy and uniqueness of that gift. Nothing could be more special could it? A business idea was born and after amassing almost 40 “case-studies”, which were portraits of women and friends and friends of my children to draw and upload to my website, The Boudoir Portraits was launched in March, 2014.
Since launch, I’ve had an array of exciting commissions from a wide age range, each one unique. From a baby bump, wedding gift, landmark birthday gifts, “just because I’m worth it” gifts, couples to each other & special occasion luxe gifts. I’m hoping to attract the gay market as well
Whats your background?
I trained in Fine Art (Printmaking) at Central St. Martin’s School of Art in London in the late 80’s acquiring a 1st. Directly after graduating, I was elected onto a graduates scheme at Cranfield School of Management and my Art & Business career was launched. During the 90’s I spent 10 years living and working in South Africa with my architect husband and our young children – an incredible time watching the Rainbow nation unfold and Mandela win power. I worked in education and as an art consultant as well as making and exhibiting my own artwork. I sign-language interpreted Mandela’s election process for the SABC and was privileged enough to meet him in person which was incredible! We returned to the UK in 2000 and I spent sometime reinventing myself, getting divorced, getting the kids through exams and eventually off to Universities. I re-launched my art career with an exhibition in 2008 and have since been showing at international art fairs including Miami, New York as well as London.
How many people are involved in the company and what are their roles?
Only me at the moment! But I’ve had some self-development and business coaching (with the awesome Michael Serwa!) and I outsource some of the social media. Plus my grown up kids have been and still are my trusted business advisors – helping me with communications and strategy. My son manages my Instagram account from Sydney, Australia where he now lives and works! I am in a place now where I need some part-time BD assistance as I want to get on with the creative part of this business which I love. I recently attracted a government StartUp business loan and I will be assigned a mentor who’ll help me take the business forward – really exciting!
If you could start over with the business, would you do anything differently?
I think with something as niche as The Boudoir Portraits, it was never going to be as straightforward marketing exercise. I’ve had to reach my audience through awareness building and I’ve started blogging. Word of mouth is ever powerful and referrals are my best friend. At the end of the day, I ensure that every single client is delighted with their portrait. It’s an incredibly bespoke experience. I invested in great PR which has definitely paid off, I attracted some great media coverage. So the answer is not really, it’s always about learning and being adaptable!
What is the hardest challenge you have faced since you started the company?
The knowledge that the butt stops with you, you are on your own with all the decisions, the risks, the challenges. It’s quite scary and isolating sometimes, especially as I’ve invested so much time and resource into this and it’s down to me to make it work. But equally, I’m not ready to kick back on the golf course and am really hungry for this to be amazingly successful and a global business.
Tell us one fact about you that people wouldn’t know?
I am the only hearing ‘child’ in an all deaf family. Until 3 years ago, when my deaf brother got a cochlear implant, and now he can hear! It’s amazing and incredible!
2016 is here, where do you plan on taking the brand?
2016 is all about creating sustainability and a bigger and more diverse audience. I will keep building the luxury brand and I’m afraid to say my prices will go up as demand increases! I will always however want to accommodate young professional people who love this idea and want to commission me. I am developing a separate package to fit their pockets.
To date, what has been the highlight since launching?
Drawing Liz Jones for You Magazine in my studio, along with her camera and makeup crew. She did a brilliant 5-page feature about her experience and unexpectedly, lots about me and my family! But it has to be said, I get a thrill when I finish a drawing and my model is joyous and emotional. I’ve been described as “the woman who makes women fall in love with themselves”!. That’s quite something isn’t it?
Which city do you feel most at home in, London, Paris or New York?
I haven’t lived in New York or Paris, only London. So I have to say London where I definitely feel at home. But I love all three cities for different reasons.
Three beauty products you can’t leave the house without?
Ok, that’s easy! 1. A good compact powder bronzer & a little brush, I use Guerlain or Mac – great for touch up healthy glow if you’re out and about all day long & into evening 2. A little tube of Clinique tinted anti-blemish solutions – for those little imperfections. It’s been a lifelong friend & my daughter has her own! 3. A great neutral lipstick e.g. Mac ‘A Sprinkle of Magic’. Bobby Brown is also great.
Another tip, if you’re in London all day and have an event in the evening, take the trouble to make friends with the stylists on the beauty counters in a good department store e.g. Fenwick. They’ll happily give you a makeover if you book in advance. You might need to buy a lipstick but it’s worth it!
Being comfortable & confident in your skin – at any age. Knowing what makes you look good. Staying classic and elegant with flourishes of daring & amazing & interesting accessories. Being able to walk with great poise. Mixing high street with designer and developing your own signature look but understanding what’s happening on the catwalks. Never be a fashion slave. Good hair.
Best thing about London to you?
Multicultural & eclectic (anything goes – more or less)
Statement shoe or statement bag?
I fall in love with one pair of boots each winter – usually knee high, flat & suede. It’s been Geox this winter! I have some lovely shoe-boots too, Geox & LK Bennett. I don’t like spending a fortune on statement & bling bags. For me, the understated, fabulous quality Italian leather, unbranded tote bags are the most desirable & stylish. I was given a Chanel in powder blue which I hated at first. Now I absolutely love it, so pretty and feminine. So there you go!
If you had to, what piece of clothing from your wardrobe would you wear everyday?
I recently bought a pair of wonderful quality legging pants with gold zips down the sides from Rag & Bone. They are so versatile, you can wear them with boots and a layered look, or on their own with some heels and a little blouse for a much dressier look. They’re so stylish.
Favourite love song?
Oh that’s hard… there are so many!… I love Sade’s Your Love is King and straight out of art school and my 20’s – perfect!
Best place for a coffee?
I’m a member of Soho House – so often use it and Shoreditch House as an office on the move. I get to have a great coffee in lovely surroundings whilst I work and feel like I’m amongst other people working for themselves or in Startups.
Most memorable piece of advice given to you?
Just one? Recently a friend who is a celebrity photographer posted on Facebook an article written about the crisis of middle age in a Guardian article a few years back by Miranda Sawyer…. And she concluded “Midlife or not, in the end, or in the middle, these are the days of my life. And the thing to do – is to live them”. This resonated with me so much as my youngest chick has recently flown the nest. I spent a while feeling hugely downcast. And then a few days passed and a few things happened, and I realized jeeez, just get on with it, there’s so much to do!
Erm well that has to be my girl crush on Nigella and her indulgent behavior in the kitchen! And spending a fortune on a pair of Wolford luxury velvet opaque black tights or holdups. Nothing else will do.
If you could spent 24 hours in anywhere in the world, where would it be?
In a luxury bushcamp like Sabi-Sabi in South Africa – a 5am game drive, breakfast in a wild location, back to camp, a swim, snooze & watching game at the watering hole or a walk. Then out again for a night drive & supper by an open fire. Nothing better or more amazing.
In future, how do you plan on expanding the company?
Organically and taking the brand into other partnerships, for example a luxury lingerie brand & top end Wedding event companies.
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