From bags to riches: Anya Hindmarch on mad shows, maternity leave and Madison Avenue
Her luxury brand started life as a one-woman show, run from a kitchen table – now the 45-year-old mother of five is one of the UK’s most successful designers
Anya Hindmarch at London Fashion Week in February. Photograph: Dave M Benett/Getty Images
Fans of Hindmarch’s bags include Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. Photo: Stuart Castle/wenn.com
Claudia Schiffer’s Anya Hindmarch bag, personalised with a photograph of her as a girl. Photograph: Antony Jones/UK Press/Getty
David Cameron describes her as “awe inspiring”, Tommy Hilfiger thinks she’s an “incredible” designer, and Jo Malone says, “She’s the woman I would like to be, and I think lots of women would say that.” Anya Hindmarch is the creative power behind one of the UK’s most successful international handbag brands. The 45-year-old is also a mother of five, holds an OBE, is a UK trade ambassador and has won multiple awards and recognitions.
Ahead of her third visit to Ireland next week, to speak at Look the Business, in Dublin, we meet at Hindmarch’s headquarters, in Battersea. In a converted stable that was, in another life, part of an old brewery called the Plough, her spacious atelier is accessed by a narrow staircase, its walls lined with effusive letters and photographs from family, friends and fans. Alongside a handwritten note from her youngest son, Otto, asking the tooth fairy for £10 are ones from the Prince of Wales, Cate Blanchett, Martha Stewart, Elle McPherson and Manolo Blahnik, to name but a few. There’s no doubting her popularity, or the success of a business she built from scratch over the past 25 years and which now has annual sales of £45m.
Hindmarch’s latest collection, which was shown last month at Westminster, in a purpose-built planetarium, during London Fashion Week used an imaginative seven-minute aerial display with acrobats to showcase her new super lightweight bags. The Out of This World event – and she is planning more – “is a wonderful snapshot of what we are about in terms of brand communication, energy and ideas,” she says. “It builds a [marketing] tool kit that is there for the season.”
She brings out an oversize grey Ebury (one of her best-selling models) with a vibrant yellow lining, explaining that the new process involves bonding high-tech polyurethane with leather to make the bag lighter.
So what does it weigh? Surprisingly, for someone who describes herself as a “total detail freak”, she laughs, admitting she doesn’t know. But a heavy bag “ruins a beautiful jacket”, she says, and lightness is a real luxury. Details matter: if something about a bag is annoying, like a sharp handle, she says, “You don’t think why, but you don’t use it.”
HINDMARCH HAS BEEN in the news recently for controversial opinions about maternity leave. She told MPs that “suffocating” laws and “overregulation” could force employers to hire men over women. She currently employs 50 women in her headquarters, and two years ago 13 of them had babies. What sort of regulations she would prefer? Women wanting to have children and be at home is important, she says, and that their welfare should be promoted as much as possible. “But it is [about] not being too PC about it. [Regulations] can go too far,” she says.
“I could go on about this for hours,” but she puts her head down and further discussion of the subject is politely brought to an end. Although friendly, engaging and warm, there is steel in Hindmarch’s eyes.
Last year a Qatari investment group bought a 38 per cent stake in ASHS, the holding company behind the Anya Hindmarch brand, in a deal that brought its value to £70 million. Hindmarch remained chairwoman and chief creative officer of the company, and in September she opened a flagship store on Madison Avenue, in New York – “a huge investment, a terrifying amount of money” – designed by Ilse Crawford, the London-based interior and product designer and founder of Elle Decoration. “I like working with strong women like Ilse, and as our customers are mainly female, I wanted it to have that warmth and welcome. Today we had 116 through the doors,” she says with pride, adding that at the end of November she will open in Harrods with the same shopfit.