Fiona Sanderson interviews designer Anya Hindmarch at the Conde Nast International Future Luxury Conference in South Korea, about the future of the luxury industry and about how technology, sustainability and creativity will play a big part of business in the coming years….
How do you manage to design for both your traditional customers as well as the new upcoming millennials, who might want something very different?
As women, we have so many roles – at the weekend, at parties, in the boardroom – and we’re all too busy and need to be organised, and so our bags need to be super organised too. But I think they also need to be quite fun, with “bits” attached to them. I like messing with things, but they are all based out of really grown-up, beautiful things that are made up in a beautiful way. As long as you have a combination of the old fashioned and the new, and the sensibility of something that’s beautiful and timeless, you can appeal to all generations.
What about virtual reality – how do you marry the creation of luxury pieces with the online world?
There is no reason why I can’t design something from Marrakesh and then take my customers into that world through virtual reality, so they can see the creation process, see the tannery, and be given a really immersive experience. We currently do that with our films, showing you where and how the bags are made. The digital future is rapidly changing, so everything will become more experiential. We have just done a collection on the theme of “Is Digital Design Art?” and I believe that it is absolutely art; it’s a state of mind, an experience. Digitally, art gives you so many more tools to play with, so it’s very exciting.
Where would you like to see the brand in 20 years’ time?
I would like to think that we would stay true to our values, craftsmanship and personality. We have made a huge investment into our next phase, we are growing very quickly at the moment and what I think we will see is a lot of distribution growth, new category growth, and I hope that we will do some surprising projects. Not in a formulaic way, but we have done some quite exciting bursts of madness over the years. I hope that keeps going – it’s what keeps us young.
Why does British luxury seem to be very much in the news? How would you describe British uniqueness?
I would say that irony is a British invention, and there is a certain irreverence to things. When you think of the nutty fashion that comes out of London, it is certainly fun, submersive and eccentric – think Vivienne Westwood and some of our music. It’s at the core of our psyche but I think it will grow. There will always be some brands that are uber chic and some are minimalist – I think you have got to find out who you are and then your customer finds you. That lovely Oscar Wilde quote, “be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – you have to do what you do. At Anya Hindmarch, I think we are pretty clear on who we are and what we like, and it seems to be working. We are super proud to be British and proud to be based out of the UK, but we are now very much an international brand. We have as many stores abroad as we do in the UK and if you take our whole distribution, we have certainly spread. There is a currency to being British and we are very well located at a good time. But I think there is this design confidence which comes out of our great colleges and there is history that we can learn from, plus that incredible cutting-edge art, dance, music, all sorts. It’s a very stimulating place, really.
Tell me about your Entrepreneurship Scheme?
I do a lot of work for the Government as a business ambassador and there is a project that we are doing on 18th May where 40 entrepreneurs are speaking at the same time at 6pm across the country. It’s a simple idea. I remember the most inspiring thing for me in business was to hear other people’s stories. It may not be industry-specific; it’s just about hearing about the problems and challenges in business and I think for the country, we need as many as we can get in front of these speakers because mentorship and inspiration are more valuable sometimes than having money in the bank – the more people you put together, the more that happens ultimately.
Who has been your mentor? Do you still have them?
My father has been on the board for some time and I suppose he is unofficially my mentor. I call him my harshest critic and he can be tough but he’s absolutely brilliant – the most honest man I know. We also have on our board Stefano Sassi, CEO of Valentino, and we have some really interesting people who are very supportive. We keep it very small, we feel our way and are very close-knit team and sit and discuss everything, and that works very well.
Why are there so few women at board level in Britain?
I think there are quite a few women now but perhaps in certain sectors, it feels that they are very male-orientated and whilst I am against quotas or forcing the issue, I think in 20 years we will probably find women running most things. It’s not going to be a problem for long.
We have heard that technology will soon pave the way for customers to use tools to establish how luxury goods are made, where they come from and how sustainable they are. Is this a good thing for the industry?
The world is divided into those who just want it and don’t care, and then more and more people who think it’s not right to carry on behaving like this. I know I feel like that, and my kids really feel like that. Everyone is becoming very sensible and aware and not only because it’s become trendy to care about the environment, but genuinely it feels a bit ugly to keep taking a plastic bottle and not re-cycle it. People are very lazy so we need to find solutions which are very quick and easy. It has come a long way, though – the message is coming through.
Could you give a glimpse into some of the products that we may see from Anya Hindmarsh in the near future?
The theme for our last show was inspired by pixels and whether digital art is art, using a combination of pixelated snake skins, beading, early graphics, and layers of richness – that’s what’s coming next in store in May. We started doing coats, with lovely mink and cheery pockets, keeping it fun. Also beautiful cashmere with mink pockets, so it’s quite luxurious and lovely. The quality is very special. We have a technique where we bond the suede to the leather behind – very cutting-edge techniques with old craftsmanship.
What advice do you have for the next generation of designers?
Find a gap – it’s really fun starting your own business and getting going, but it’s about listening to what your customer is saying and driving it forward from there. You also need to lower the barrier to the internet these days. You can source much more easily, you can sell a lot more easily – it takes the headache away.
What do you still want to achieve?
So much. The reaction to our coats was amazing – the order book was beyond our wildest dreams. It shows us that there’s definitely more categories for the brand to go into. We are just building our teams and keeping to what we do, but doing it in more depth. I think we are building a nice confidence – we just need more hours in the day!
For more information about Anya Hindmarch, go to www.anyahindmarch.com.