As her first ever fashion show launches at London Fashion Week, designer Anya Hindmarch discusses having tea with Margaret Thatcher, getting an MBE, and what Kate Middleton does for British fashion.
Who is the ultimate Anya girl and why?
Margaret Thatcher! The Queen! Give me an oldie. The thing about our brand is that it's not over-labelled, my customers don't wear high heels on a beach, they're not that kind of person. They probably read The Spectator rather than Grazia. It's more Private Eye than Hello!
I joke about the Queen but I love the fact she has her own style and she's nailed it. Amanda Harlech I think is deeply cool, but they're not it-girls, they're just people who are cool, have their own style, and for me they're a bit more interesting. They have more layers to peel away.
Margaret Thatcher inspired your Pont Street store windows. What is it about her that you admire so much?
When I started my business, she was very much there saying "get out there and get going". I was a '70s child going from the three day week depression and sense of 'eugh' to suddenly this 'get out there and go' [feeling]. To me, she created that and so she's a huge inspiration. She said anyone can do it - let's embrace the new, cut our losses, and I find that very, very exciting so I'm very grateful to her.
Being the first female Prime Minister's kind of cool, isn't it? I'd love to have her picture on my walls - I think she's a bit of a legend to be honest and I've always said that, which is quite an unfashionable thing to say. I just wanted to pay tribute - she had her office very close to ours so I used to see her quite a lot.
Did you ever meet her?
Yes, I had tea with her about two years ago. She's just amazing - at the moment, she's just an old lady in a drawing room and then just suddenly there are those blue eyes and she's Margaret Thatcher - she's fascinating. That's why she's my hero - perhaps not aesthetically but anything can happen!
Speaking of strong women, how do you prepare to be given an MBE by the Queen?
It's the most wonderful honour and it's such a lovely day, they make you feel so welcome. They pretty much say "here's your palace, enjoy it for the day" - they're charming in the way they do it. You can be there with a civil servant and a lady who volunteers; it's really quite humbling. You arrive and wait and do your bit and they teach you what to do and then you process for miles through the palace in high heels. You're told how to do it step by step and then she talks to you as she pins on the ribbon.
The Queen said to me, "I gather you've had bad news" and I couldn't think for the life of me what it was, and I went "oh, really?" And she said "you know, all the robberies you've had?" She'd been very well briefed. She was absolutely adorable, and just amazing - standing up there for hours on end and she's not a young woman.
Kate Middleton is an amazing pin-up for British fashion
What is the best bag to take you from day to night?
I tend to have a bigger bag and inside that bag - like Russian dolls - I have a smaller bag. The smaller bag is like the guts of your bag with your phone and purse, and then the bigger bag can hold your spare shoes and things like that. The Gracie bag, one of our bestsellers, I love because it's got a chain and feels quite pretty - you can definitely wear that in the evening and it's great during the day. I think you can also get away with a big leather day clutch like the Huxley, those are really lovely.
If you could only carry one handbag for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Probably my Bespoke Ebury, which is a bag that I just think you could have at 80 or 20 years old. You could wear it on a plane, wear it to work, you can strap it across your body and work it a more slouchy way. It'll always see you right - an investment bag. I'm considering whether we should rename it Thatcher rather than the Ebury! There's also the Valorie a sparkly evening bag in myriad colours. What's great is you can wear jeans with it but it just pops in an outfit.
If you could design a bag for anybody, past or present, who would you choose?
Joan of Arc! With a Valorie! She'd be rather cool. There's some beautiful women like the Audrey Hepburns and the Grace Kellys but in a funny way, it would be a stronger woman like Joan of Arc.
Kate Middleton carries your bags - what kind of impact does that make on your business?
It's a real honour and I think she's an amazing pin-up for British fashion. She's a beautiful girl. I love that she's not too high fashion - it would be a nightmare as she'd only be looked at for her clothes. The world's eyes are on her so it absolutely makes a difference to the business. If you're talking to a department store in the US, they may have seen that she has worn one of your pieces, so it's a lovely recommendation and a visible compliment.
ABOVE: Anya's beautiful bags: Huxley Woven tote, £995; Nevis Shopper Tote, £595, harrods.com
Where do you find your inspiration?
I recently did a talk at Oxford University and afterwards we had dinner in the hall at St John’s College, which was really exciting (I thought please pinch yourself and think about this) and I was asked the same question. I was sat there and I found myself subconsciously clocking this beautiful fireplace with this ornate marble and I said “I’ve clocked that visually, and that’ll come up somewhere.” You feed your brain and you don’t think about it immediately, but somewhere there’s always a reference to something; that’s kind of how a creative brain tends to work.
You’ve decided to put on your first show at London Fashion Week. Why is London so important to your brand?
It’s very much our year and London is a very international city, whereas other European cities feel a bit smaller somehow. I think we have a sense of history and humour and that combination is quite exciting. I’m passionate about being British and I love business and starting businesses, especially in the creative industries.
I also feed back a lot to the government about some of the frustrations of starting a business and how it can be made easier, so that’s a two way thing. The British Fashion Council have done a really unfashionable but quite brilliant thing, in my opinion, of saying ‘let’s really focus on a group of designers and get them some senior industry mentoring.’ London is properly motoring now but with a proper foundation; I think it’s got something now that will build and build. In turn, I would never leave London because I’m so grateful to it.
This interview is taken from the new issue of The Review, available to read here.