Few designers can bridge the gap between fashionable and fun – and do it with style – but that is exactly what British talent Anya Hindmarch has become known for.
Whether it’s her now iconic golden crisp packet bag (it’s literally in the size and shape of a Walkers Ready Salted) to her whimsical but seriously luxe stickers for grown-ups, and the inspirational ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ tote that was a good decade ahead of its time, few in fashion have the power to make us smile quite like Anya.
In 2012 Anya sold the business she founded only to buy half of it back seven years later – a bold and brave move in the business world. It’s paid off and the designer has just launched a village, yes an actual village – well a collection of five neighbourhood stores on London’s Pont Street – and they are injecting that quintessential Anya charm into the area. There’s a retro-looking hairdresser; a stationers (inspired by the designer’s love of organising); a pop-up space; a Plastic Store paving the way for sustainable and slow fashion; and at the heart of it all, a playful bakery serving up cakes and treats that have been given the Anya treatment – think googly eyed iced buns and monster cakes covered in buttercream ‘hair’. It’s all fabulously fun, utterly Instagrammable and just what the area needs after three desperate lockdowns.
Somehow amidst all of that the mum-of-five managed to write a book too. If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair is a manual for life with expert advice on subjects far weightier than the frivolous title might suggest. So it’s safe to say Anya has been busy, well she’s never really stopped, but she found time to tell us all about her new bricks and mortar venture, talk us through those incredible cakes, how lockdown brought change and to share her business savvy. Here’s what the ever inspiring designer had to say…
First of all, congratulations on the launch of The Village. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. How did the idea come about?
I had in mind a really creative place that is ever changing and fun for everyone, especially with the Anya Cafe. It’s a place for breakfast, lunch, tea or early evening drinks. I hope it is somewhere that you can feel the creativity and humour of the brand through the most delicious food, somewhere that will become a really special takeaway cake shop or where you can find the most delicious gift for someone special.
What else does The Village have to offer?
There’s The Village Hall, an ever-evolving concept space where we can showcase our latest projects – we launched with a pop- up salon to celebrate my book, If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair, which has just been so fun. Then there’s the Bespoke Store, which sits on the site of my first ever store so is very special to me. Everything is made with your name on it and not mine. And anything that you can write or draw can be embossed into pieces for men, women, home and travel to make the most perfect, memorable gift.
The Plastic Store is the home for the I Am A Plastic Bag collection – a collection made entirely from recycled plastic bottles in a bid to keep some of the material out of landfill. Then there’s The Labelled Store which is the home of my love of organisation where everything has a place and everything is in its place. Heaven for me!
Five stores in one place, from stationery to cakes, it’s pretty whacky! Where do you get the inspiration for something like that from?
This is the realisation of a long-held dream for me. I wanted to create somewhere where each store could really focus on and represent the important parts of the brand. I love the idea of a place where I can pour all of my creative energy and one of the real joys is that it is local to me and my team. I can stop by regularly, help bring the windows to life, meet people – it really is my sweet spot. I have been planning this project for over two years and it really feels as if I am going back to my roots on Pont Street. It just feels really right.
How did you come up with the idea of the amazing cakes and who designed them?
I worked with my long-term collaborator William Norris on the design of the menu. We have been working together for many years and he has always worked alongside me at all of our events at London Fashion Week. We both had so many ideas for the menu and it has been such a huge pleasure to bring it to life together. We also have an onsite pastry chef who makes all of our cakes.
You’re a mother of five. How do you find the balance?
There is no magic answer here, but good communication is crucial. My children know that they are the most important part of my life, but they also know that I am rubbish at homework. So, my advice would be not to try to do everything but to bring what you are good at.
You started your bag business in your teens. What have been the biggest life lessons?
I am often asked what my best piece of advice is for a busy woman and I almost always reply with ‘if in doubt, wash your hair’, which became the title of my book. It is an answer that almost every woman seems to understand. On the one hand it is flippant, almost trivial, but on the other hand it speaks to the fact that we are all, and possibly women more than others, plagued by doubt. Life throws all sorts of challenges at us and I have faced plenty along the way and am sure there will be more to come. Know that the path is not always a straight line and that it is part of the process. Enjoy those few minutes in the morning to wash your hair – it helps me feel ready to face the challenges of the day ahead.
What are you currently reading, watching and listening to?
I don’t have the time to read nearly as much as I would want to, but a special mention has to go to Lorraine Candy’s new book, 101 Things Only Mothers Of Teenage Girls Know. I am sure I could have benefitted from much of this empathetic insight and would recommend it to anyone with teenage girls.
Listening: I have had a lifelong passion for music and love the rich sound of male voice choirs so choral music is constantly in the background in my house.
And watching? I don’t have a huge amount of time to watch much at the moment, but I loved Bridgerton. I mean, who didn’t?
Many of your designs evoke childhood memories of quintessentially British things, from crisp packets to Quality Street and those famous matchboxes. Your designs create feelings, not just fashion. Has this always been a conscious decision?
I design what I love and what I believe to be useful or something to make someone smile. I am thrilled that this translates into evoking feelings for others.
Your ‘I am not a plastic bag’ design was revolutionary and way ahead of its time. How are you continuing to support an ethical and sustainable future?
We have 10 years to fix this climate crisis and it is something that I am acutely aware of, both how fashion can impact in a negative way but also in a hugely positive way. Fashion can be a fantastic platform for communication and change. The I Am A Plastic Bag project utilises and keeps in circulation some of the 8 billion tonnes of plastic that is currently on the planet. Lots of projects that we have worked on, and are working on, are trying to make sure that we do everything that we can to do our bit and to make a difference. Our mantra is ‘progress not perfection’ and we are working on some exciting projects to continue our journey.
I design what I love and what I believe to be useful or something to make someone smile - I am thrilled that this translates into evoking feelings for others.
Apart from The Village of course, where do you love to hang out in London?
I live locally so I am usually found in and around the area. I love the farmers’ market in my local square on Saturday, the creativity of Worlds End and the Chelsea Arts Club where I am a member, the Chelsea Physics Garden and a morning walk with a girlfriend along the river to Battersea Park. Colbert is a staple for breakfast and lunch and I love Peter Jones, the Conran Shop….I could go on. I love this part of London and I am very lucky to be able to call this home.
Where will you be holidaying when things return to normal?
Lockdown has made me realise that I don’t need to travel as much as I used to, particularly in my working life. That is not to say I have not missed the feeling of sand in-between my toes and there is a special place in the South of France that we have often holidayed to in the past with great friends. But I could not possibly tell you the name of the beach, it’s a secret!
How has life changed for you since the pandemic?
Life has changed in so many ways for all of us. We spent much of the lockdown period looking forward and planning The Village which gave us all something creative and social to look forward to. We are all now much more adept at working remotely – it actually led to the design of some new products including the cycling bag and work from home tote. I have also been lucky enough to spend some wonderful, quality time together with my family.
Your designs have been worn by everyone from royalty to pop stars, but who do you see as the ‘Anya woman’?
I don’t think there is a typical Anya woman but rather she is someone who has a great sense of fun and a love of craftsmanship. I love spotting my designs worn by women when I am out and about, that gives me a real sense of achievement to feel that I have helped bring a little joy – or sense of organisation – into their lives.
What’s your go-to wardrobe at the moment?
I do have a few outfits that I can pull out of the wardrobe that I know will instantly make me feel myself. I love simple shapes and classic colours – a great pair of wide-leg jeans, the perfect white shirt and a trench coat is my go-to.
What are your top five beauty products?
I have been researching products to try and make my bathroom as plastic free as possible – these are my top finds so far:
1. Salt of the Earth natural deodorant: long lasting and kind to the skin and the environment.
2. Faith In Nature shampoo: the grapefruit and orange is my favourite wake up fragrance and puts me in a great mood. The bottles are all made from recycled plastic and are refillable.
3. Aesop’s facial oils: so hydrating and have the most divine smell of jasmine.
4. Tabitha Eve reusable cleansing pads: made from organic cotton and bamboo.
5. Beauty Kubes beauty bars: zero waste body wash with natural and organic ingredients.
What advice can you give for working from home?
Our changing habits during lockdown have led to the design of some beautiful new pieces, including the working from home bag I mentioned. It helps keep me organised – it has an inbox and an outbox, a place for your laptop, your stationery and it is all labelled. That helps me feel organised and in control for the day ahead.
You’re known first and foremost as a creative and a designer, but you’ve got an incredibly business savvy head. How did you learn that part of your job?
I grew up with business as part of our family language and culture – I think I helped my father write some of his invoices as a child. I love the creative and business sides of the job with equal measure.
Lastly, favourite Anya bag? If you could ever choose!
It is like being asked to choose a favourite child! In truth, it is usually the next piece that I am working on, but if pushed to choose I always come back to the crisp packet – it takes 10 moulds to make and it really is like a small work of art. So that one will always be very special to me.