Anya Hindmarch has never been one to do things by halves.
Londoners may remember Valentine’s Day in 2018, when her namesake brand, known for witty humour and playful designs, flew giant heart-shaped balloons over the city’s key landmarks. Or when, in September 2019, it turned a Soho carpark into a giant red maze.
Now, Hindmarch is bringing the same creative flair to her new London retail project: The Village, a cluster of five permanent locations on Pont Street, in London’s tony Belgravia neighbourhood, built around the brand’s first-ever store, which opened its doors in 1996.
Each store will have its own identity. The “Plastic Store” will sell Hindmarch’s “I am a Plastic Bag” line, which launched last year and is made from recycled plastic bottles and windshields, while the “Labelled Store” will house the best-selling “Labelled” organisation-focused collection. The “Village Hall” store will host a rotating roster of pop-up concepts. (To start, it’s transforming into a hair salon serving up blow-dries, cocktails and personalised bottles of shampoo.) The “Bespoke Store,” the original brick-and-mortar location, will stock the Anya Hindmarch’s Bespoke collections and continue to offer personalisation services. Finally, the Anya Café will sell pastry cakes and biscuits with the sort of playful twists the brand is known for.
The project is an evolution of the brand’s unconventional marketing strategy. In recent seasons, Hindmarch has replaced traditional catwalk presentations during fashion week with whizz-bang consumer-facing experiences. Ticketed events like The Chubby Cloud (an enormous beanbag at London’s Banqueting House) and The Weave Project (a giant, interactive hand-netted tube installation) sold out, attracting 3,000 and 4,000 guests respectively. While the new “Village Hall” store will serve as the main concept space, the “Labelled” and “Plastic” stores will also host events and installations.
Hindmarch’s vision was to create a hub “where we could pour all of the creative energy that we have traditionally been pouring into fashion weeks and into pop-ups and so on,” she said. “It becomes my blank canvas for projects that we care about, causes that we care about. It’s a place where we can talk really directly to our community and to our followers and to our customers. And, it can be ever-changing.”
It’s a place where we can talk really directly to our community and to our followers and to our customers.
It also marks the next step in a broader turnaround plan for the London-based brand Hindmarch founded in 1987. In March 2019, Hindmarch partnered with Iranian-born entrepreneur Javad Marandi and his wife to buy the brand back from long-time majority investor Mayhoola for Investments following a challenging period of restructuring. At the same time, the designer was also appointed managing director, taking back the business helm for the first time since relinquishing her chief executive title in 2011.
The company is still finalising its accounts for 2020, but preliminary figures for the year show it broke even, the brand said. In 2019, it recorded an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) loss of £8.2 million, public filings show.
Since taking back the reins, Hindmarch has doubled down on streamlining global retail operations while continuing to invest in her online business. In 2019 the brand closed over a dozen stores, including Madison Avenue in New York and an outlet in Oxfordshire’s Bicester Village. Today it has five directly operated locations, and one franchise, across London and Asia. The plan is to reach her international fan base via e-commerce, bolstering the brand’s presence in key markets via strategic partnerships with wholesale retailers and pop-up concepts.
“We don’t feel we need to have this massive store network all over the world. Partly because I don’t think for us it was very easy to do; it didn’t feel very personal and didn’t feel very special,” she said. “If [physical] retail is to exist, it needs to be special. There needs to be a reason,” she added.
If [physical] retail is to exist, it needs to be special. There needs to be a reason.
Cadogan Estates, the family-owned firm that manages much of the property in Kensington and Chelsea area, has been in discussions with the brand on the Village project for a few years now, said Claire Barber, the Estate’s asset management director.
“It’s fantastic to see it become a reality at a time that the creativity and innovation she brings is more vital than ever,” she said. “With the trend for online shopping obviously set to continue, there must be multiple reasons to visit and engage with a brand physically — ease, enjoyment, experience all come into consideration.”
Hindmarch’s big bet on experiential retail, debuting May 17, will coincide with the opening up of London after months of lockdown restrictions continue to ease. Kyle Monk, director of analytics at the British Retail Consortium, anticipates a “short release of pent up demand” in consumer spending once non-essential retailers are allowed to reopen on April 12.
Of course, the retail landscape remains highly uncertain, not least due to the unpredictable nature of the virus. The broader shift to shopping online is set to continue, and it’s unclear how long it will take for in-store footfall to recover in the wake of the pandemic. Many safety-conscious consumers are likely to remain cautious, said Mintel retail analyst Chana Baram. Going forward, brands will need to stand out by “really offering something else: fantastic customer service or some sort of incentive to bring people in stores … really just make customers feel that bit more special,” she said.
Hindmarch’s new retail set up is likely to appeal to those consumers looking for something fun to do — regardless of whether they can afford to splurge on one of the brand’s £900 ($1,251) bags. Friends can book in for a Covid-safe blow-dry at the “Shampoo and Therapy” hair salon, before heading to the cafe’s outdoor terrace for an Anya Hindmarch pastry cake.
“It’s a bit like buying the lipstick from a [luxury] brand,” Hindmarch said of the sweet treats. “Anyone can have a little piece of the brand and enjoy it or gift it. It’s a really fun way to play with the brand actually.”