Incredible Women

Podcast guest Anya Hindmarch on having fun with fashion and championing social change

In an extract from PORTER’s chart-topping podcast series, Pieces of Me: My Life in Seven Garments, designer ANYA HINDMARCH talks to SARAH BAILEY about the sartorial memories that put a smile on her face – from her very first creation that launched her career to the iconic bag with a momentous environmental message. Here, we give you an insight into Hindmarch’s life and career through fashion

“I always like a bit of a smile, because why wouldn't you?” says designer and founder of eponymous label Anya Hindmarch. “I mean, that’s a really nice outcome of fashion. It should make you feel confident, put a smile on your face or give you a memory. Those things are important.”

Hindmarch has entrepreneurship running through her blood: “I think my mother was typing out an invoice for my father’s business when her waters broke,” she laughs. “I was that baby in the cot under the desk.” So it’s easy to see how a childhood passion for organizing and making (she would craft little purses with tiny compartments; “paper and sticky tape were my medium!”) turned into a desire to start her own business, designing and making accessories, when she was still a teenager.

Hindmarch went on to sell her first bag – a leather duffel inspired by a trip to Florence – through the offers page of what was then known as Harper’s & Queen magazine. “I think we sold 400 bags. I made £7,000 profit!” A restlessly innovative businesswoman, it seems only fitting that she should have been one of the very first designers to sell her collection on NET-A-PORTER, at the birth of the site in 2000.

Beauty, craftsmanship and materiality of fashion are Hindmarch signatures; not to mention why her pieces (be they a clutch bag moulded in gleaming steel, like a piece of modern sculpture, or a witty evening purse heavily beaded to resemble a bejeweled chocolate bar) are keepers. However, it is the galvanizing spark of invention and ideas that drives her. Which other designer could drive a global reduction in plastic-bag usage by creating an ‘It’ bag (as she did in 2007 with her iconic project, I’m Not A Plastic Bag), then bring the conversation full-circle in 2020 with a line of sleek wallets and totes made from upcycled plastic bottles? Whoever said that creative thinking was a sort of “smile in the mind” could well have been inspired by the mighty Hindmarch…

The Italian duffel bag that inspired my first design

Hindmarch, pictured here in Florence in 1986, with the duffel bag that inspired her first design

“When I finished school, I knew I wanted to start a business designing handbags; so I went to Florence, knowing it was very much the home of leather, the home of markets and factories and beautiful design. It was a time when there weren’t any budget airlines and people didn’t travel as much, so the way the Italians dressed was really different and they were all wearing these drawstring duffel handbags. I remember thinking that maybe I could find a way to design a version… And so I decided to find a factory, which was quite difficult because I was young and my Italian was not great; but I did – literally through the Pagine Gialle – the Italian Yellow Pages.”

My lucky sweater

Hindmarch wearing her lucky sweater in 1993

“I have no idea who made the sweater, but I was on a shoot and it must have been a couple of years after the Florence photo because the business was up and running and I was asked to be in the magazine. At the very end, the sweater was on the rail and the photographer suggested I wear it. There was some nice light coming through one of the windows and he took that shot, which is pretty much an outtake, really. But they actually ran that photograph in the magazine, and my now-husband saw that photograph and clocked it for whatever reason… So I always call it my lucky sweater, because it was the first kind of connection with my husband of 23 years.”

My Anouska Hempel wedding dress

Hindmarch wore a dress by Anouska Hempel on her wedding day in 1996

“I didn’t really want to feel like the nerdy bride. I’m not very good in a big puffy thing; it’s not my thing at all. So I went for a dress by Anouska Hempel, who I just love for her very clean, almost architectural, lines. It was very simple, actually, and very me. I think that’s the point about a wedding dress: you have to just be who you are. And I think if you’re not comfortable in a really big thing, then you just need to be the best version of yourself on that day and wear something that makes you feel comfortable. Then you can forget about what you’re wearing and just enjoy what is a pretty important day.”

The ‘I’m Not A Plastic Bag’ bag

The iconic I’m Not A Plastic Bag launched in 2007

“I was approached by Tim Ashton, an amazing advertising man, who was working with a social-change organization called We Are What We Do – and they had brought out a book called Change the World for a Fiver. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me: I suddenly realized that we could use our platform in fashion, and we could slightly exploit the ‘It’ bag formula to communicate this awareness. So we set out to design a reusable shopping bag.”

The Crisp Packet clutch

Hindmarch’s Crisp Packet clutch was a big hit in 2014

“A crisp packet, if you strip away all the graphics, is a beautiful thing. It’s sort of very liquid; the way it moves and reflects light. So for SS14, we cast one to create a beautiful clutch bag. Then, in 2016, architect Zaha Hadid sent me a note, saying – in her very Zaha way (ie, straight to the point) – “Anya, I love that bag. Send me one.” So I sent her one and, the next day, she sent it back and I was a bit upset. I asked her what had happened and she said, “It doesn’t fit my phone.” So I actually commissioned another set of moulds – it’s made of 15 different moulds – for a new-sized one for Zaha. The absolute tragedy is that, before we got to deliver it, she died – which is just so heartbreaking for me because I always think of it as Zaha’s bag.”

My celebratory Ozzie Clark dress

Hindmarch pictured wearing the Ozzie Clark dress she wore the night she celebrated buying her business back in 2019

I have three Ozzie Clark dresses that I spent a lot of money on. They were vintage when I bought them, but they are pieces I go back to again and again and again. I wore one for the dinner to celebrate buying back my business, which was an incredibly special moment for me. We had sold part of our business a few years previously. I missed running it and wanted to get my arms around it again – it was a really big challenge to achieve. And this was a really special moment to celebrate. So I gave a dinner in a room full of like-minded women. I wanted to thank them, actually, because I think that girlfriends are so incredibly important.”

The djellaba – my ‘time-off’ uniform

During her 2016 weekend party in Marrakech, Hindmarch asked all her guests to wear the same djellaba

“This celebrates a moment in time for me. In 2016, we had a lovely weekend party in Marrakech; very small – just family and a few close friends. I asked everyone to wear djellabas for dinner, which takes away any competition, if you like. It just levels everyone. What was special about that night is that everyone was in the same djellaba and that just kind of gave a uniformity to the evening, which sort of had different consequences and was quite fun. It was a very happy, easy, natural, uninhibited moment; one of those evenings that was just pure happiness for me.