Charlotte Metcalf speaks to Anya Hindmarch about overcoming doubt, staying organised and how she built her accessories empire.
Conversations at Scarfes Bar: Anya Hindmarch
Looking out from Scarfes at the early morning sunshine, Anya Hindmarch is regretting she hasn’t had time to go for her thrice-weekly walk. It’s a habit she recommends as one of several routes to happiness in her new book If In Doubt, Wash your Hair. Alex, our photographer, compliments Anya on her hair so we laugh about how relevant this is to the book’s title. I ask Anya how she found time to write a book, given she is a mother of five and only took back full control of her company in 2019 and then opened The Village on Pont Street, off Sloane Street, late last year.
‘I’d resisted writing a book, but when I bought back my business, I realised I knew more than I thought I did,’ she explains. ‘The book’s not a memoir or about me, but about all the things that preoccupy women. I wanted to share very honestly what I knew to help women feel better about themselves, become more confident and realise that it’s OK to doubt. Most of us doubt ourselves daily, which is why I used it in the title.’
It’s difficult to believe that Anya has ever had a moment’s doubt, given her career as arguably Britain’s most famous bag designer took off in Florence when she was just 18. ‘I’ve always liked the sculptural aspect of handbags,’ she says, ‘and still remember my mother’s classic square zip-top Gucci. But I loved the Italian girls for their distinct style and they were carrying these nonchalant, elegantly practical drawstring duffle bags.’
Anya found an Italian factory to make 500 duffle bags to her own design, returned to London and sold the lot via Harpers & Queen, making a profit of £7,000. It put an end to any thoughts of university, but she had zero regrets: ‘I’d never thrived at school anyway. I come from an entrepreneurial family, and this was Thatcher’s Britain, the age of start-ups like Pret.’
The Italian factory was soon making more of Anya’s designs, which she started selling in King’s Road boutiques. It wasn‘t long before American outlets like Saks and Bergdorf Goodman came calling. Anya’s beautifully crafted, playful takes on branded cereal boxes and baked beans became her trademark, and many are now museum pieces. ‘It’s the artful side of not taking things too seriously and making the everyday extraordinary,’ says Anya.
Yet her bags go way beyond being decorative accessories. Anya has a self-confessed obsession with organisation, a topic she explores in her book. ‘I hate scrabbling in my bag or those kitchen drawers full of odds-and-ends. I like a place for everything, from lipstick to phone charger.’ Today her bags are cherished for their efficient compartmentalised systems, and she has an entire ‘Labelled’ shop dedicated to these must-have organisers.
Anya’s first shop opened on Pont Street in 1996 and 26 years on a visitor would be forgiven for thinking an entire stretch of street belongs to her, with five ‘Village’ outlets and the Belisha beacon at the zebra crossing bearing a pair of Anya’s signature cartoon eyes. The Village comprises the ‘Bespoke’, ‘Labelled’ and ‘Plastic’ boutiques, a retro café with outside terrace serving homemade wittily iced biscuits and cakes, and The Village Hall, which is constantly changing. So far, the Hall has been a hair salon, Christmas grotto, dry off-licence and is currently a nail bar. It’s about to become A Houndmarch, a doggie butcher shop.
‘I’ve felt such a surge of creativity since I’ve been back at the helm,’ Anya says. ‘We had 65 stores round the world, and that didn’t feel modern anymore, so we shut most of them. I wanted a more direct, personal link with my customers, who want to touch, have experiences and be local again after two years of screens and being online. I love the idea of my customers paying a pilgrimage to The Village, just as I used to go to one little shop in Paris for my glasses.’
Anya’s also well known as a passionate campaigner against plastics and environmental damage. Her ‘I Am Not A Plastic Bag’ tote, launched at Sainsbury’s in 2007, had 80,000 people queuing for it. Her latest project is her ‘Return to Nature’ bag that’s been tested for two years in laboratory conditions. All of its parts, from leather to fastenings, are designed to decompose and add nutrients to soil, nurturing rather than depleting the environment.
‘I’m so lucky to have a fashion platform from which to fight climate change,’ she says. ‘Fashion can have a purpose and be such a force for good – it’s about eco not ego now. We talk about helping Ukrainian refugees, but things are going to get way worse if we don’t act to save our planet.’
Mother, wife, wise friend, campaigner, entrepreneur and unstoppable creative force – I wonder she has any time to wash her hair at all.
Penthouse or Cottage?
As I get older I crave fewer people around so we’ve just bought a tiny cottage to escape to.
Cat or Dog?
I’ve got five kids so I don’t need a pet.
Michelin Star or Country Pub?
Country pub all the way – I like The Salutation Inn near Castle Combe.
Killer Heels or Flats?
I’m too busy for heels – I’ll never wear them again.
Theatre or Gardening?
Both, but I’ve started designing a garden and it’s really happy-making.
Portrait by Alexandra Dao
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