Inside the World of Accessories Powerhouse Anya Hindmarch

An interview with the icon behind Lady Di's "cleavage bags."

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A large part of the drive behind my sartorial choices is reimagining and seeking out the things that I loved and wanted to wear when I was a teen, but I didn't, because I was too young (lingerie slip dresses, power suits), or it was too expensive (anything Prada LOL). My main inspiration is becoming the woman I imagined I could be when I was younger, if you will.

And so it is inevitable that I am drawn into Anya Hindmarch's accessories much like the way I imagine kids lose their shit when they walk into an FAO Schwarz. She appeals to my often-youth-leaning style tendencies, which favor bright colors and fuzzy textures over whatever "black is the new black" outfit I should be wearing. Walking into her store on Madison Avenue, for example, makes me immediately wish I was one of those kids that won that "run around Toys 'R' Us with a shopping cart for a minute" contest in the '90s, except I would just pile my cart high with leather totebags and cross-body bags and backpacks in all the colors of the rainbow, featuring a mad array of characters like pixel monsters, emojis, smiley faces, and my weirdly favorite obsession — a fried egg.

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The British designer started her label in 1987, after inspiration struck while on a post-high-school trip to Florence, where she fell in love with leather and craftsmanship and a little leather duffel-bag style she knew all her friends back at home would adore. Not long after, Princess Diana became a fan. Lady Di would drop into Anya's shop in London by herself to buy her little "cleavage bags," because she used them to cover herself up while getting in and out of cars. By the mid-aughts, when Hindmarch's "I'm Not a Plastic Bag" bags were as ubiquitous as, well, actual plastic bags, she had already become a woman behind a global empire. What I'm saying is, she knows what she's doing.

The best part is that underneath all the fun, there is an unwavering commitment to craftsmanship and luxury. This is particularly evident if you happen to go into the second floor of her Madison Avenue store, which is a bespoke workshop where artisans can engrave whatever your heart desires on leather, or even create a custom carrying pouch for any bizarre combination of objects you deem essential. Last time I was in there, there was a little bag made for carrying condoms and other sensual essentials that was just SO charming and immediately got me thinking of what highly specific item I always carry with me and needed a leather carrying case for — pencils? Tampons? Lipstick? All of the above?

I first met Anya last year, exactly two days after the election, at a dinner she had organized in her store where she turned her second-floor workshop into the coziest little dining room. My feelings of hating literally everything were heightened, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend a night around "fashion people" talking about God knows what or pretending that the world wasn't about to fall in flames around us. It was a rainy night, and I was the first one to arrive. Anya and I immediately bonded over the aforementioned fried-egg obsession. Because Anya was so inviting, I ended up feeling pleased when the conversation made its way to the Twilight Zone–like episode that we were currently living through: we talked about Trump and Brexit and so many other real-world things. Then we sat around a long table, where, in between bites of the most heavenly shepherd's pie, we played a ridiculous game of unwrapping a present and wearing crazy wigs and masks. It was the first time in at least 48 hours that I had laughed and remembered what being a human was again.

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So I knew that I would want to talk to Anya again, this time as an official Lenny interview. We talked over the phone a few months later about striking out on your own, London, and why you should pretend to fire yourself every day.

Laia Garcia: What is your earliest fashion memory?

Anya Hindmarch: I think my earliest fashion memory [involved] my mother. I remember her vividly. She was wearing a very thin belt, which was half-gold and half-silver leather. It was a very '70s look, with quite high-waist wide trousers and a skinny ribbed turtleneck jumper tucked in. I remember that belt being something quite appealing.

LG: So you always had an interest in accessories.

AH: I guess so. I guess the leather was enticing to me.

LG: You started your company when you were very young. Did you come from an entrepreneurial family, or were you just a bold teenager?

AH: I think it was two things, really. It's because I come from a family where everyone has their own business, so it's not unusual. It wasn't a strange idea for me to start a business, and my family also has a design background. But I think it was also a specific time here in the UK, that moment [in 1987] where there was a sense, and a momentum, a movement for starting businesses that was very much like "get in there and take control." But I think I was also really passionate and quite serious for an eighteen-year-old.

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LG: What was your family's response to your idea of starting this business?

AH: They were very supportive, which is quite surprising, because I had ditched going to university. They were like, "Give it a go, why not?" And actually that's all you need, isn't it, really? Someone that just supports you and gives you a chance.

LG: When you mention "ditching university," were you taking a gap year, or did you always know what you wanted to do and didn't think college would play a part of it?

AH: I think I always knew that I was going to get going on my design idea and start my own label and not go to uni. I just wanted to get started, to get immersed in the world of leather and craftsmanship, and university felt more like treading water to me at the time.

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"Fire yourself every night and come back the next day as your successor."

LG: Did you have a mentor when you started?

AH: My father, and he's still now my mentor, at 75 or however old he is [laughs]. He sits on my board today.

LG: Now that you've been in business over twenty years, do you find yourself mentoring other people?

AH: Yeah, I'm really passionate about that, actually. I'm passionate about passing on what I had. I'm also on the board of the British Fashion Council, and we organize mentoring programs, because a lot of creatives aren't necessarily business people, and we want to help them take their creativity and turn it into a business. So we work a lot on that.

LG: Why do you think that London is so known for nurturing young designers?

AH: It's a very creative city. There's lots of talent here, and we have lots of art and design colleges, so creativity really rules here, and I think that's very exciting. Secondly, I think organizations like the British Fashion Council are really important. It's very easy as a young creative to get swallowed up in the grit of the business: the customers, the agreements, the warehouses, and all the stuff you have to do when you run a business, and we try to hook them up with advisers and business support. It's quite a hothouse situation, but it works, and that means that the talent here can really grow. So I think it's really a part of the city and the fact that there are structures in place to support it all.

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LG: Your husband, James, works as the financial director in your company. Did you ever have trouble separating your home life from your work life?

AH: I didn't even know we had a separation! [Laughs.] I mean, I love it, it's like going to work with your best friend every day, it's really fun. We're on different floors, because we work in different parts of the business, so we're separate throughout the day, but it's great because we can just drop in to each other with questions. For me, though, this company is so close to my life, so it makes sense, I quite like it.

LG: What is a constant source of inspiration for you?

AH: You have to feed your brain during the year. I don't think you can — I mean, obviously you can go out and walk around and go to a museum or whatever — but I think my brain works when I just feed it over time and I am just always looking and seeing and traveling. I have a quite curious personality, and strangely my brain is never out of ideas, even subconsciously. [Laughs.] When I'm thinking about something, and that something relates to other ideas … so for inspiration I can just go for a walk and then let my brain digest everything.

LG: Going back to when you started your own business, what was the hardest part for you?

AH: When you start a business, or at least when I started my business, you often think that you are only going to be a designer, which you are. But the reality, you know, a year in, is that you're not spending a lot of time on design, and you are spending so much time doing all this other stuff — and some of the other stuff isn't even really for the business — but it's just all the noise that comes with growing a business. I think the hardest part is fighting through all that noise so that you can grow.

Someone once told me, "Act like you fire yourself every night and come back the next day as your successor," and I love that expression. If you do that, you would take all those bits of stuff on your desk that actually aren't doing anything at all, and put them all in the bin, and then just go straight to dealing with the main thing, finding a new direction, you know, whatever. It's hard to keep focused on the big issues, and just trying to push all the distractions aside, with all the stuff that comes up week to week, and all the unexpected things that happen when you start a business.

LG: Now what's the most important part of your business?

AH: It's always, I think, about great people. I feel very lucky with the fact that we have a team that's been here since the beginning and we've all grown with the business. Having brilliant, talented people, getting them into the business, and then keeping that talent. You want to keep challenging them, so they will grow with you.

LG: You're known for your sense of humor. You combine these wild concepts like pixels and emojis — and my personal favorite, fried eggs! — with your very high-end luxury product. Was there ever a time when it felt like maybe that wasn't a good idea?

AH: We've always been irreverent. A bit of irony is really key to who I am, and I can't bear the idea of ever taking myself too seriously. What I am deadly serious about is having the best craftsmanship, and that's how I [ended up] starting the business in Florence, you know, that's my absolute passion. For me combining the best in world-class craftsmanship and the best leather with something that is a bit irreverent is a pleasure. I don't want to take myself too seriously, or become obsessed with the people that are sort of wearing beautiful things to look like they're really of the moment, or perhaps like they're really wealthy or trying [too hard]. The thing that I care about the most is how things are made and then having a bit of a laugh with it. There's a confidence that comes across with that, in a way, in that sort of dressing, and it works. If it's not authentic, it doesn't work, but for me that combination, the right humor, is a real thread through all that we do.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Laia Garcia is the deputy editor at Lenny.

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