'Fashion is about self-expression'

The handbag designer Anya Hindmarch, whose new shop opens in DIFC, Dubai, next week, talks about her life and influences in fashion.
"I think handbags are quite mood altering and they can really make you feel great," says the designer Anya Hindmarch.
"I think handbags are quite mood altering and they can really make you feel great," says the designer Anya Hindmarch.

My mother gave me a Gucci bag when I was 16. I still remember how that bag made me feel. It was the reason I started designing handbags more than 20 years ago. Back then, you probably only had a black and a brown handbag, but there's been an exciting shift and bags are now such a part of fashion. I would really rather wear a black dress I already own with a fantastic new handbag or pair of shoes than buy a new outfit.

They always say an actor doesn't get into his role until he puts on the shoes of the character, and I think you project how you feel through your handbag. A woman has so many different roles today and a handbag is a great accent to all of that. Bags are amazing because you don't have to be a particular size or height to wear them. I think handbags are quite mood altering and they can really make you feel great.

I've always loved fashion. It's not just a silly, frivolous thing; I think it's about self-expression, confidence and showing the world who you are. As a child, I used to make lots of miniature pockets and wallets out of paper. I loved organising things and I think that's what handbags are about: putting things in different areas and editing what you actually need to take with you, so you are never caught short.

I've collected vintage bags forever. My favourite has lots of little compartments and is beautifully made. We did an Anya Hindmarch Vintage collection, but every time someone wanted to buy one I couldn't bear to part with it. When I design, I'm my toughest critic. If I'm travelling with a sample bag and I find that it is starting to cut into my arm and drives me mad, then it's going to do the same for my customer. So I tend to use myself as a good starting point.

My favourite bag is currently our black crocodile Bespoke Ebury that my husband gave me, inscribed with a secret message, which makes me smile. I often use it when I'm travelling or away from home. I'm also enjoying wearing the Apple, which is a large daytime clutch with lots of pockets and compartments. It's a very cool modern bag. My mother's style has had a huge influence on my collections, because a lot of what I design now has that 1970s feel. I don't think style is something you can buy into, and I think many mothers teach their daughters about style. Sometimes it's not what you wear; it's the way you carry it off with confidence that can be so bewitching.

When I was about seven, I remember spending hours deciding what to wear for a party. I finally wore a long tartan skirt, amazing platforms and a lacy top, which I thought was a great combination. I remember very vividly my mother looking horrified. As a teenager, I shopped at Hyper Hyper, Fiorucci and Kensington Market in London for winkle pickers and denim jackets, plus men's overcoats from Oxfam. Very New Romantics. The first extravagant thing I bought was a Kenzo dress when I was 18.

I've now reached an age where I know what works for me. I've learned to hang on to favourite pieces and I invest in clothes I really love. I'd rather have a few good pieces, such as my vintage Chanel tuxedo jacket, that I'm really loving wearing again. I buy a lot of vintage and I wear Marni, which I think works for me. I also buy Comme des Garçons and I recently bought a beautiful YSL smoking jacket. For weekends and workouts, I go to James Perse.

I think I could be quite minimalist and I have a medium-sized wardrobe of clothes. I like to have things I wear. Waste frustrates and bothers me terribly. If there's something I'm not wearing I archive it and come back to it later. I also archive all the Anya Hindmarch pieces I've used over the years, as they are great design references. I've always said that the It-bag phenomena is the most un-luxurious experience of all time. The idea of queuing and being on the waiting list for the same bag as everyone else is unexciting and not about luxury. A great design is ultimately about having something specially made for you. I think it's something that you truly love that is made by someone you have an affinity with. The thing that is disgusting about It-bags is the waste; that feeling that if you had last season's It-bag it's no longer "it" - it's rather stupid, isn't it? Our customer is brighter than that.

When a woman buys one of our bags she's buying more into herself than into the brand. The brand is important, but we've never been a big, blingy, initials-on-the-side kind of brand. I think our customer is confident in her own style and that she has an appreciation of craftsmanship and beautiful quality. We have a lot of customers from the Middle East in our worldwide stores and they are very savvy shoppers. The Dubai shop will be very similar to our other stores and Villa Moda is a brilliant partner for us; they have great style and a massive eye for what works. I've worked with Sheikh Majed al Sabah since I first started my business, so we go back a long way.

The only time we used the It-bag formula was for the "I'm not a plastic bag" project to raise awareness, which we achieved beyond our wildest dreams. We succeeded in creating a major change in supermarket policy that's been fairly global. It was a real surprise being awarded a Member of the British Empire for that project. The Queen has a Bespoke Ebury, which I made for her and I think she's an amazing woman and has immense style. I'm a big fan of the Queen.

Published: March 8, 2009 04:00 AM


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