There are few fashion titans who can command a global business empire at the same time as making quips and offering tips with the warmth of a friend. But accessories designer Anya Hindmarch is one of a kind. She combines various quintessentially British characteristics: she’s understated (‘I prefer my clothes not to shout,’ she says); she has a self-deprecating manner; and she is endowed with a very lively, creative spark. She also has a fervent passion for design; most specifically, she cares deeply about the craftsmanship that goes into her accessories. ‘If you find the perfect craftsman, a bag will sing,’ says Hindmarch, who has been in the fashion industry for 26 years now.
It’s an ideology that makes her bags highly covetable – this in an industry where bags jostle for shelf space and where for a long time the ‘It’ bag, with strident logos, ruled. ‘I’m not obsessed by designer names,’ says Hindmarch, who designs her bags at her brick-walled studio in the heart of London’s Bermondsey. ‘I am, though, obsessed by craftsmanship.’ That obsession led Hindmarch to Italy, where most of her bags are now made. Her attention to detail is legendary. The bespoke bags take her craftsmen a day to produce. She has pockets for mobiles and pens. She uses butter-soft leather, shagreen inlays and even costume jewels as part of her designs. ‘I love working with old-fashioned techniques, but interpreting them in a modern way,’ she says.
Hindmarch was brought up in Essex, to the north-east of London. Her love affair with accessories started young, when, aged 16, she was given her mother’s cast-off Gucci bag. The bag (along with her mother’s wardrobe) has been a major design influence. ‘I think design is subliminal. I remember my mother in the 70s. She was a fashion individual. I vividly remember the moment when she gave me that old Gucci handbag. I remember the excitement, and how a bag can make you feel.’
Hindmarch launched her business shortly after that, at the tender age of 19. She started by placing an advert in Harpers & Queen (now Harper’s Bazaar), then ploughed the £7,000 sales straight back into the business, and Anya Hindmarch the label came into being. In 1993 Hindmarch opened her first store in Chelsea. Over the years she has manoeuvred some clever marketing coups that have increased the label’s global audience.
These include the famous 2007 ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ ethical slogan that changed the way we shop in supermarkets; the witty Fashion Week Survival Kit bags (filled with headache pills, water, candy and Band-Aids) that are sent to fashion editors before fashion weeks start; and the launch of a bespoke service in 2009. Of the latter, Hindmarch remarks that ‘people have become disconnected from how things are made, and actually that’s the interesting part. Real luxury is about understanding how something is made specifically to your requirements.’
Today Anya Hindmarch is a modern, global luxury brand, albeit with a cottage-industry spirit – Hindmarch’s team has been with her for years and is deeply loyal. Her most famous clients include the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Moss, Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne and Caroline Issa. She works alongside her husband James Seymour, who is finance director of the company, which has close to 60 shops worldwide.
Clearly, she is a much-respected businesswoman: in 2001 she was declared accessory designer of the year at the British Fashion Council awards; she received an MBE in 2009; and in 2012 Veuve Clicquot named her businesswoman of the year. She is a trustee of the Design Museum and the Royal Academy. She is also a UK trade ambassador, appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Business accolades aside, a key part of her brand is her sense of humour. Her first catwalk show, in 2012, featured the fabulous Quality Street collection with bags designed to look like old-fashioned British Quality Street sweets and chocolates. The autumn/winter 2014 combines the everyday with a sense of high luxury and includes a Kellogg’s Coco Pops clutch, a chain bag shaped like a crisp packet and a Swan Vesper match box bag.
Part of the success of Hindmarch’s so-called cottage-industry success has to be its London base. What does she think makes London so special? ‘It’s an incredibly exciting hub of creativity, that translates globally,’ explains Hindmarch. ‘London designers take risks. And actually it’s this risk-taking and sense of adventure that probably contributes to success. So many of our talented designers either set up their own label very young or work for some of the most prestigious houses globally – so our exports are something we are incredibly proud of.’
And London is proud of her too, for putting the city’s accessories scene firmly on the map with bags that are admired across the globe. As I leave Hindmarch’s house, a slogan emblazoned on the wall catches my eye: ‘everybody needs a handbag’. Perhaps that should read ‘everybody needs an Anya Hindmarch handbag’.