Mark H... curiously eccentric, OR WOT!
To say that Mark is an unconventional designer would be something of an understatement. In possibly our most unusual StyleCurious story yet, OR WOT! founder, Mark H, talks about his extraordinary journey - and the brave new venture that aims to help make Britain great again.
Mark started working life as an actor, starring for three seasons in the Onedin Line. By the time he was 22 he had his own theatre company, employing eleven people, where he directed, lit and wrote the shows, as well as building the sets himself. Then he was approached by a friend, who had set up a company called Smallbone Kitchens, with an offer he “didn’t really understand”, to run the interiors side of the business. A stable job was an attractive proposition for a young and newly married man, so he took up the offer, combining the role with an evening course in cabinet making at the Chelsea School of Art.
When he was eventually made redundant, Mark found employment at advertising agency, WCRS, which he explains “was lucky, as I was the only person they could find with a suitable knowledge of East European cinema”. He was there for three years, but during this time was diagnosed with MS, which changed his life. He decided to return to the world of interiors, where he made pieces for the likes of Anouska Hempel, New York based Home, Takashimaya (in Singapore and New York), numerous rock stars, film people, top British department stores and HRH The Queen Mother.
Mark’s wife also worked in the creative world and, eight years ago, he agreed to buy out her business partner, taking on the running of a swimwear factory in Nuneaton, along with a company that employed 60 people. But, what seemed like a good idea at the time turned to disaster, with the rapid demise of clothing manufacturing in the UK. Mark was eventually forced to make all the employees redundant, losing around £2 million in the process. Mark says, “given that I truly love making things, and the sadness of having to deprive all these women of their livelihoods – it’s ironic that the whole episode turned out to be creatively inspiring.” The upshot of everything was OR WOT! – the bizarre mix of creative disciplines that is his latest venture... And now a selection of OR WOT’s beautifully handmade, curiously charming accessories and things for the home is available exclusively at ShopCurious.
For the past five years, Mark has scoured England for the finest materials that are still made here, along with the most talented and skilled craftspeople he could find. He's discovered and used knitted elastics, supreme stretch fabrics, hand embroidery in precious metals, a rope that was made for Houdini in 1903, upholstery for a family business in Birmingham that made crocodile interiors for Aston Martin, faux Astrakhan from Yorkshire and armament mesh that he puts to far less dangerous use. All of the OR WOT! products are branded using Ecomark reconstituted inks - cutting edge technology that’s also ecologically sound.
Mark is curious to know how people will make their living in ten years time. “Will there be 80% unemployment?” he asks, “I 've seen the loss of so many specialist suppliers during the last 30 years, it’s heartbreaking… and where will it all end?” And he adds, “all my inspiration is based on what is left of the finest supplier base that remains.”
Mark’s ideal client is anyone who is prepared to pay the price for the skill, craft and love that goes into OR WOT’s products – “not just the money-nurture, but things that are made to last and can be passed on to the people you love.” In addition to Soho, the East End of London, and St John’s Wood, where he still just about manages to live, Nuneaton has become one of Mark’s favourite places. “The industrial heartland of our country is now a skeleton of its former self, but if you listen carefully and look around you, you'll hear a siren call and detect a strange echo of beauty.”
Mark, who once had dinner with Tennessee Williams, would love to dine with Tom Stoppard, to try and convince him to write a play about our manufacturing heritage, "before it all disappears." His dream is to set up small boutiques/workshop spaces in Mayfair, Paris, St Tropez, Milan and New York, “full of beautiful things from twenty quid to a grand… all made in England.” Meantime, he’ll continue working on OR WOT’s new swimwear collection, which he describes as “technically ludicrous, but with a very particular voice.”
Finally, Mark’s answer to what the future holds is:
"Death OR WOT?"
Mark, many thanks for giving us plenty to think about... and wishing you the very best of luck in your efforts to help keep our English manufacturing heritage and the British economy alive...
Are you curious, OR WOT!