Anya HindmarchSINGAPORE – Anya Hindmarch is literally a beacon for female empowerment. Her success story is nothing short of amazing and very inspirational. The story goes like this: She left London to go to Florence, Italy in 1986 at the age of 18 to pick up the art of bag-making and learn Italian . There she designed her first bag, a leather drawstring bag that she managed to convince Harpers & Queen magazine, today’s Harper’s Bazaar, to feature her bag as a readers’ offer.

“I was always really excited by bags and I felt the home of handbags was Florence, Italy, so I just had to go there. It was like a calling, almost,” recalls Anya of her decision to just pack her bags and go.

Fast forward to 2013, and Anya Hindmarch is still doing women proud. Not only does she have to juggle her family of five children, she also has her burgeoning bag empire – there are 54 Anya Hindmarch shops worldwide and an annual turnover that exceeds £20 million (S$38 million)  – to run.

You would think with all of her success – Hindmarch has won numerous awards like the British Fashion Awards in 2001 and 2007, as well as her latest trophy, the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award last year in 2012 – she would be an intimidating person to talk to.

However, when I met Anya Hindmarch in person earlier today, she’s in Singapore for the preview of her Autumn Winter 2013 collection entitled Cascade, she was warm and welcoming. We chat like we’re friends and she jokes that her bags with all their separate internal pockets are a result of her OCD-like nature.

She also tells me she never stops working: “When I’m not working, I’m researching or I’m thinking, London is a very stimulating place with all its museums and exhibitions. I think it is important to feed your brain, because later on I’ll find inspiration – like a tassel I’ve seen on a horse.”

One of her all-time inspirational figures, the late Margaret Thatcher, seems an unlikely choice for a fashion designer, but it makes absolute sense when you think about it. Both Hindmarch and Thatcher are women of influence – the Iron Lady in the field of politics and Hindmarch in the field of fashion – and are closely associated with the word, ‘handbag’. Hindmarch was so enamoured of the former Prime Minister that she once sent a bespoke bag to her bearing the inscription, “From someone that you inspired”.

I met Anya Hindmarch for a quick chat to find out more about the woman behind one of Britain’s top luxury bag brands.

HWP: You started your career really young. What motivated you to leave your home to head to Italy?

AH: When you’re young, you’re very brave. Travelling to Italy seemed so exciting to me then. Now when I look back at it, I realised that I was actually quite young. But there’s no better time to just get up and go, because when you’re young, you’ve nothing to lose.

HWP: It must’ve been hard in the early years. What kept you going?

AH:  It was hard work. There was a time where I was doing everything, from going to the factory, to choosing the leathers, to typing invoices, to designing the bags and doing the PR work but I really love designing and it is really all about passion. Even now, before a show, I get this feeling of total terror mixed with excitement, but then again, that’s really addictive and I get a huge rush from finishing it. I’m very lucky to do what I love.

Anya Hindmarch Cascade

HWP: Your latest AW13 collection, Cascade, takes its inspiration from board games like backgammon and dominoes. Tell us more about it.

AH: We played with the idea of a cascade of colours, for example three different shades of red or blue on the same bag. We also did more with the tassels by making it really graphic and bold. Basically, the whole collection plays with repeated colours as well as backgammon and domino graphics.

HWP: So what is your favourite piece from the collection?

AH: I love the Bathurst bag, it is almost like a bag that my grandmother would have given me. It is very old-fashioned and very beautiful and has this bright strap that you can wear cross-body. It has that contrast of wearing something quite old-fashioned but is still stylish.

My absolute favourite bag of all time though is the Ebury bag with the double zips, one of the bags I designed 20 years ago. I like pairing it with a smaller clutch with a tassel dangling just on the outside of the Ebury.

It’s very hard to choose a favourite, it is almost like choosing a child.

HWP: How has the Anya Hindmarch vision evolved from your very first leather drawstring bag to what you do now?

AH: I started off by being fascinated at how handbags made you feel so that was the coolest bag at the time in Italy, and my initial aim was to make a bag that would let women feel good. And now it is all about an exploration of creativity, there’s so much to consider about the artistry and work that goes into making a bag.  

HWP: So right now, any plans of recreating that drawstring bag?

AH: I can’t say much but for SS14 we just did a drawstring bag inspired by that moment in time. You’ll see in November when the collection launches.

HWP: Can you describe the typical Anya Hindmarch girl?

AH: She’s someone who loves fashion, but feels confident to be different. She has to have a sense of humour, not take herself too seriously and have an appreciation for quality. She’s a cool girl who has a brain, and not fascinated by labels for labels’ sake.

Anya Hindmarch is located at Level 2, Takashimaya Department Store. The AW’13 collection will be available in stores from August.