The HH collection is so extensive and when I went into their Greenpoint boutique last month for their weekly IRL, I wondered how two people ( Toni and Ben) could possibly design such fabulous items and so much of them! We are talking bags, cuff bracelets, shoes, dresses, luggage and on and on! I left feeling exhausted at the thought of having that much creative design juices flowing at all times. I get tired now thinking about it! So, I wanted to get inside the head of the designers to find out how they started, their journey down their success filled road and also, what's to come.
Kickin Kate: I want to know how HH came about, can you tell a little story? I know it’s on your web page, but anything you could tell us about the birth of the line that people may not know?
Toni: Ben and I were having breakfast on April Fool’s Day in 2005, when I sketched our initials together inside a circle. That’s how the logo and the beginnings of Hayden-Harnett rumbled into being. Our colors, black and yellow, came from a strange stayover at Ben’s Aunt Diane’s home (an old swiss goatherder’s house) in Roslyn, NY. We were upstairs working on HH “stuff” and heard a loud BANG outside. I went down to see what happened and saw a black and yellow feather lying in the doorway. I picked up the feather and walked outside to investigate further and a huge clutch of gold and black balloons had fallen into the front lawn somehow…so odd. I went upstairs and worked the colors into our logo.
KK: What was the first item you sold under HH?
T: Our Erol canvas tote. We launched with a small collection of canvas bags in July 2005.
KK: If you were to go away and could only bring 3 things from HH- what would they be? Which also leads into my question; what are some of your favorite pieces?
T: My essential three HH pieces that I cannot live without are my Ibiza flight tote, Madeleine boots, and Wyeth tote. Some of my favorites from Spring 09 are the Athena tote, Koko mini bag, Pandora tunic, Havana hobo in eucalyptus, Iskia link wedge, and the Mercury wedge.
KK: Did you always plan to have such an extensive collection featuring not only fabulous clothes but also travel gear and accessories galore? You really do have something for everyone!
T: We didn’t plan to have such a large collection, but it seemed to just happen really organically over the past 4 years. We launched our first bags in July 2005, then apparel in Spring 2007. Shoes and swimwear launched for Spring 2009…the travel collection grows each year to include new styles and colors. I do hope that we offer something for everyone! I want visitors to our stores and website to really find at least 1 thing that makes them really happy or is exactly what they’ve been looking for.
KK: As someone who works in the PR industry, specifically emerging fashion, I cant help but notice all of your press. Congrats on that! Did editors find you; did you pitch them or a little bit of both? I always like to know as do fellow PR folks.
T: In the beginning, we were solo. We started working with Bradbury Lewis PR in Spring 2006 and it was such a great fit. Patrick Bradbury focuses on small emerging designers and has such a great sense for finding what’s next. I love that we’ve grown so much with Bradbury Lewis and we have a very casual, friendly, and open relationship. They’re brilliant.
KK: I know many designers get inspired by travel and where they live. For your Spring 09 collection, was there a specific theme or idea behind it? And for Fall 09?
T: Our Spring 09 collection was inspired by muses, Memphis Design, and the 1981 film Xanadu (love you 4-ever, Olivia!). For Fall 09 I was inspired by the concept of Cargo Cults…I wanted to design a collection that had totemic, symbolic meaning through prints, shapes, color, and hardware. The collection was designed around an imaginary cult of girls who live in the Chelsea Hotel, leaving at night only to buy trashy novels, junk food, and to steal beautiful clothes, bags, jewelry, and shoes.
KK: How are you guys doing during this economy storm? Are the stores doing OK, getting enough traffic? I know you recently opened the Elizabeth Street location, looks great btw!
T: This has been a huge season of learning for us…we’re having to really rethink the many aspects of our business as so many retailers are struggling right now. Both large and small retailers are just really having a tough time. Our direct to customer business (web site, stores) is doing really well and business is up (surprisingly), but wholesale is down quite a lot. The good thing is that Ben and I have no idea what we’re doing! It’s a blessing because we don’t really work “traditionally”…we have no pre-conceived notion of what’s right or wrong in running a fashion company, so we do what feels right and what works for our customer. I think that’s the key as to why our direct to customer business is still growing despite the downturn. We exist to please our customers, not to please someone’s bottom line or department store margins.
KK : One of the things I think you guys are great at is bringing awareness to your website. It’s hard because there is so much out there, but you guys use Twitter and also really know how to get your consumers to become part of the brand, like the IRL. Tell me a little bit about how that came about?
T: Ben and I both basically live our lives online, so we know and understand that many of our customers do the same. We love the direct interaction and contact with our online customers…they’re really the best source of immediate feedback and are so great about letting us know, very honestly, what works and what doesn’t. IRL came about one day as I was reading through comments about Hayden-Harnett on The Purse Forum, a really tight knit online blog group devoted to handbags and a great source of feedback for designers. I loved that the TPF members would also say “so have you seen that bag/dress IRL?”. I decided to offer our customers, fans, friends, and employees the chance to come into the store and style a look entirely their way using pieces from their own wardrobe (or not).
It’s really interesting to me that 6 different women can wear the same dress and absolutely make it their own and style it so uniquely. That’s what real fashion is all about to me. Of course everything looks great on models, they get paid for that skill. It’s very important to me how items translate beyond the “fantasy” of the collection. I want to create pieces that can seamlessly work into an existing wardrobe and be worn for years to come. I especially love items that can be worn both casually or dressy, uptown or downtown.
KK: I assume now that Spring 10 is well under way- any hints on the flavor of that??
T: We were inspired by desserts, nomads, lava, and falconry…I think I will leave it at that for now. Look for some great new swim items and a wonderful kaleidoscope print that we’re working on.
Find Hayden-Harnett online at www.haydenharnett.com or at their two locations: Greenpoint, BK and Elizabeth Street, NYC!