Anya Hindmarch has spent 30 years injecting irreverence into the handbag category, bypassing muted tones and subtle shapes in favour of electric blue Tony the Tiger totes – part of a Kellogg’s collaboration – and crisp packet-shaped clutches, one of which went flying in the notorious Solange and Jay-Z elevator altercation. (Shortly afterwards, Hindmarch posted a mocked-up advert on her eponymous label’s social media channels: “The crisp packet clutch: worth fighting for,” read the tagline.) Her bags exhibit the same wry humour that imbues her latest offering: three scented candles created in collaboration with perfumer Lyn Harris, titled, “Anya Hindmarch Smells!”
“I came up with the name myself,” says Hindmarch, sitting at a table in her Battersea office, flanked by newly minted chief executive Francesco Giannaccari, who joined the company from Etro in March. The candles are on display beside her. Cartoon-like faces emblazon their boxes, and their casings are embellished with pairs of shifty, googly eyes. “And now every screen that I pass is people working on the graphics ‘Anya Smells!’”
The candles are Hindmarch’s first foray into the lifestyle accessories sector, and are fittingly irreverent. “They are to do with memories, and the feeling you get from a smell. So one was inspired by coffee, which is: Wake up! Can do! Let’s do it! You light that one, and it puts you in that mood. And then there is the Sun Lotion one, which is the smell of holiday. You know, when you have that slight smell of skin when it’s had a little bit of sun on it, when you’ve had a warm summer’s evening,” she explains. ”And then there is the one which I love. It’s inspired by the smell of baby talcum powder, you know, the smell of a baby’s neck when they have just come out of the bath wrapped in a white towel, which is probably as good as it gets.
And that’s not all. “It’s very much the beginning,” she says. “We have lots of really quite odd ideas that will come out.” Both she and Giannaccari remain tight-lipped as to the specifics, but they have been at least partly enabled by Qatari investment firm Mayhoola. The firm has owned a chunk of the company since 2012, and recently pumped in an additional £10 million to thrust its expansion into other countries, categories and projects like this one.
The expansion of Anya Hindmarch is shadowed by a slumping pound, and the hazy implications of Brexit. How does she think the prevailing political uncertainty will impact her business? A self-defined Thatcherite, her answer is fittingly pragmatic. “There’s some good and some bad. I would say that the good is that people are flooding into London. The pound is cheaper,” she says. “Everyone is feeling a bit uncertain. It’s not what I wanted. But I have to say I am sort of thinking there will be some positive things to it. And either way, it’s going to happen, so let’s make the best of it.”
Rather than leaving the EU, it’s the internet that the duo see to be simultaneously the biggest obstacle and opportunity for their industry. They are determined to capitalise on the sweeping changes it has induced. “I actually think fashion is being unbelievably old-fashioned right now,” says Hindmarch. “Think about how Apple reinvented the music business. I actually think we have got to think really differently.”
“Agility is very important now,” continues Giannaccari. “The pace is so quick that you really need to be more proactive than reactive.” Take, for example, the recent ramping up of their footwear and ready-to-wear offering. A few years ago, Hindmarch sent models down the catwalk in skeleton suits. For her last show, they wore kitsch, Seventies-style pastel coats, whilst her website sells a selection of sneakers, extravagantly furry slides, and clothes, including zany roll-necks and sweaters stitched with whimsical cloud motifs. Consequently, there have been mutterings that the label is looking to fan out fully into fashion.
This does not chime with their strategy, though, which is based on something of a paradox. To expand, Anya Hindmarch needs to stay small and lithe, so it can nimbly navigate a new order, where brands take on a less didactic role, focusing instead on immediacy, the internet and communicating with their customers. “It doesn’t need to be ready-to-wear. It can be three coats,” says Hindmarch. “Why not? Give customers what they want.”
This a fluid, explicitly modern way of working, undoubtedly abetted by the balance the brand has struck between the strength of its niche, upbeat identity, and its size. It can take risks, fast, because it’s lean enough to skirt the sluggish chains of bureaucracy that might stifle larger brands. Three decades of working, and Hindmarch is very much astride the wave of the zeitgeist. “I am about fun and invention and discovery and playfulness. And I think in some ways this less traditional route gives you more agility. You can surprise and delight your customer, and do something a bit off the wall. You’re not tied into these huge structures. Which is kind of cool, actually.”