Sue Ellen Jares
February 21, 1977 12:00 PM

I’m not a tailored person,” says Los Angeles’ trendiest fashion designer, 37-year-old Holly Harp. The same goes for her late-afternoon and evening wear (preceding pages)—draped, clingy styles which Holly admits are “fantasy clothes meant to be posed in” and, of course, worn braless. “Why deny yourself something sensual and colorful?” she asks. “Fashion is about options. Members of African tribes paint their bodies.”

Harp’s regular customers—paying $300 to $800 per item—include such laid-back Californians as Jane Fonda, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Bar-bra Streisand. Her clothes are also available at stores like Henri Bendel’s in New York, Neiman Marcus in Dallas and Martha’s in Palm Beach. “Not many people do things that are new, but Holly does different cuts,” says Harper’s Bazaar senior fashion editor Elsa Klensch. “Her clothes look designed by someone who knows how to get a man to seduce you.”

That may be, but Harp, formerly Holly Speller, took a lot of liberating. She grew up in “very Republican” Buffalo, N.Y. and dropped out of Radcliffe in her sophomore year because of anxiety (“I was thought of as, and thought of myself as, weird”). She eventually wound up in Acapulco, where she started designing sandals and making clothes from “funny old Mexican fabrics.”

When people complimented her efforts, Holly headed for North Texas State to study art and costume design. She married her English professor, Jim Harp, and accompanied him to Los Angeles where she and a friend, Nora Prieto, opened a tiny boutique in 1968. Far-out touches like feathers and fringe soon won her a rock-star clientele. Holly’s Harp, as she calls her Sunset Boulevard shop, has since transcended the counterculture market. But Holly still insists on originality (for which she has been nominated for two prestigious Coty Awards). “If I read the latest trend in Women’s Wear Daily I cross it off my list. I’m down on trends,” she says. “I need to put my own juices in what I do.”

Now separated from Harp, who still manages the $1.5 million business, Holly lives in a plant-filled West Hollywood house above Beverly Hills. She goes to a psychoanalyst four times a week, works out at fashionable Ron Fletcher’s and insists on time for social life. “We all have a need for intimacy,” she says. “I’m finding that men are interested in me—age doesn’t matter.”

In her view, California is the best place for her creative spirit to bloom. “We don’t have a fashion establishment here. New York has rules. California isn’t tainted by that,” she says. “I want to hang onto my more personal primitive vision—and just keep winging it.”

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