There’s no doubt you know Anya Hindmarch’s handbags. They’ve been seen in the perfectly-manicured hands of the stylish set, from Claudia Schiffer to Kate Moss to Jennifer Garner. And her “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” canvas tote started an international frenzy of round-the-block lines for the limited design. During New York’s most recent Fashion Week, the accessories maven arrived in the city to preview her spring 2010 collection. The London-based designer met with Elite Traveler Style Editor Tanya Dukes in the brand’s Meatpacking District showroom to discuss her latest passion project, the Bespoke Collection, an entire range of customizable accessories.
ET: You famously started your company at the age of 18 from your family’s kitchen table with one handbag design. Did you always plan on becoming an entrepreneur?
Anya Hindmarch: Well, I think I came from a good business background. Everyone in my family had their own business. My mother gave me a bag when I was 16 and I remember how it made me feel—that handbags were so mood-changing. And one of our school’s [alumnae] returned to talk to us about being a fashion student. I was quite excited by that idea. Then, I started my year off before going to university, and I went to Florence because I knew I wanted to be near that world of leather craftsmanship. It really started from there. It was just a natural progression because everyone in my family was doing it.
ET: Did you know immediately that it was the right choice? You never second-guessed starting your company so young, foregoing university?
Anya Hindmarch: No. I’ve always loved it. It’s a great thing because I think I’ve done probably 20 different jobs within the company. As it’s grown the needs change so I’m having a very varied career despite the fact that I’ve always done this. I absolutely love what I do.
ET: When in that evolution did you feel like it was more than a lark, like you were at the helm of a major company?
Anya Hindmarch: (Laughs) I’m still not sure I do, to be honest. That’s a weird one, isn’t it? I don’t know. At my first meeting with the accountants I didn’t even know what an invoice was. I suppose there’s a point when suddenly you’re sitting in front of a board and you’ve got a group of great people and you’re discussing you know…cash flow projections, and you realize you have learned a fair amount about running a business. It’s been 20-something years now. But I’m not sure you ever feel grown-up in life, do you?
ET: What is a day in your life like and what are your main responsibilities?
Anya Hindmarch: Obviously, design is my passion but I’m also CEO, so I run a business. And my year is really split up between traveling and being in the office. And then my days in the office are split up between doing what I call “outward-facing” days when I’m meeting with journalists or customers or I’m out at the stores, and then “inward-facing” days managing my team. It’s a very different ebb and flow throughout the year and I like all the aspects of that. Sometimes the traveling is quite hard. It does get a bit tiring but it’s still quite exciting.
ET: Did you ever have a muse in mind when you were developing the line?
Anya Hindmarch: No, not really. I think my mother is sort of a constant theme. I think everyone’s influenced by their mom. I was brought up in the seventies and I think that era and its fashion influences me. I always try to design what I want to wear—not because I am my own muse, but because I am my own harshest critic. And if it works for me—as someone who travels, who’s busy, who has kids and loves beautiful things—then it tends to be a success in stores.
ET: Did you ever look at other companies as models to emulate?
Anya Hindmarch: No. I there are lots of people that inspire me. I think by seeing what other people have done it makes you realize what you also can achieve. When we didn’t have any stores in Japan, I looked at Paul Smith. He’s an English brand and—who knows how many stores he’s got there—a hundred?! It makes you realize what things are possible.
ET: Can you pinpoint the thing that really brought your brand to global prominence?
Anya Hindmarch: I think the “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” project gave us a huge voice. We did a project prior to that called Be a Bag for charity where we’d put [a client’s choice of] photos on a bag. That was quite popular. And along the way there were certain designs that got a lot of attention, like when Angelina Jolie was photographed wearing a Cooper bag. There have definitely been spikes [of attention]. But I think that really what happens is people get to know a brand through a slow building in their consciousness. You get these spikes that take you to another level. It’s hard to know exactly which gets into people’s consciousness.
ET: Between Be A Bag and the Bespoke Ebury designs, you’ve slowly introduced elements of customization into your line. Was the response to those the seed for the new Bespoke Collection?
Anya Hindmarch: Yes, absolutely. Ever since I started at 18, I’ve always done things so people could put on their own monogram or initials. And then we launched Be a Bag, which is really about having your photograph put on something, and the Bespoke Ebury bag that allows you to engrave a personal message inside it.
I wanted to have an umbrella for all those personalized projects, which is a very tough thing to do because it’s quite a different management structure. But I wanted to go back to things that are specially made for the customer. I think there’s been too much about brands and not enough about customers. So I’ve had the idea [for the Bespoke Collection] in my head for about 10 years and have been working on it actively for the last two-and-a-half. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve done in my career. So, absolutely, those earlier projects did prompt the idea.
ET: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Bespoke Collection product line?
Anya Hindmarch: I think that the best way to describe it is as the ultimate present store. I think it’s very hard to find presents. I love to give presents and I wanted to have a store where you really were inspired to make things that last: things that have your name on it, not my name, and things that are very personal. It’s really all focused on that. There will be lots of products centered on that idea. And we’ll have a craftsman in the store actually making things there.
ET: Will the new Bespoke Collection be available at the new boutique exclusively?
Anya Hindmarch: Yes. There’s only one store in the world. Our new store is on Pont Street [in London]. It’s actually our original store, which we’ve made into the Bespoke Collection store. We will be launching it online in about a month in a very careful, beautiful way. But I just wanted to do one store. I didn’t want to have a whole international roll-out. The whole process is the antithesis of fashion.
ET: Did the economic climate have any impact on the collection’s launch?
Anya Hindmarch: Not at all, because I’ve actually been working on it for two-and-a-half years. I think this is probably the most un-commercial project you’ll ever see. I’m not sure if it’s really about making money. It’s about something I really want to do. It’s scratching a creative itch for me. It’s entirely a selfish project. I feel like a kid in a candy store.
ET: You recently met Queen Elizabeth when you were awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire).
Anya Hindmarch: She’s truly an amazing woman. And the welcome at Buckingham Palace was absolutely unbelievable. It was a lovely honor and a real surprise. And it is lovely to feel valued by her. It’s just a really special day and it meant a lot to my parents as well.
ET: Since you’re a serious traveler, are there places or hotels that you love in particular?
Anya Hindmarch: Business-wise, I absolutely love the Park Hyatt Tokyo. It’s one of the most romantic city hotels—completely brilliant and immaculate. I also stay at Soho House Hotel [in New York] since it is right opposite my office and I love it. It’s like having your own apartment with huge rooms, and they’re incredibly accommodating. They’ll leave you alone if you want to be left alone. A good business hotel is very different from a holiday hotel. With a business hotel you want efficiency, a good location. And holiday-wise, I would rather be far way away on an island—preferably without staying in a hotel. For a holiday, I would rather rent a house and have privacy. We go a lot to Mustique. That’s a real treat. That’s where I relax.