When Emma Hill left Mulberry, the British house lost much of the creative energy it had become known for under her direction. Thankfully, that energy has returned to London Fashion Week via Hill & Friends, her new label, which made its debut with an accessories presentation at Claridge's Hotel in London Sunday.
The Emma-isms that she bestowed on to Mulberry were back. For starters, the staging. Thanks to a great relationship with Claridge's, the hotel — for the first time in its history — changed its exterior sign to "Hotel Hill and Friends."
"To honor it, we put up a sign in the same style as their logo," explained Hill. "That was a big moment for us, and I guess, yes, it was historic. I suppose it was one of the many reasons I got a bit teary."
Inside, the presentation was just on the right side of cloyingly sweet. Bacon and eggs were served in the shapes of biscuits along with pink milkshakes. Then out came the models: bell boys in burgundy, carrying the bags on trolleys and trays over their beefy arms. It wouldn't be an Emma Hill production without a live animal or two, so two Shetland ponies helped close the show. "Claridge's were quite cool about the potential poop factor," she noted. "Thank goodness the ponies went to the 'toilet' before the show, but we had big pink horse scoopers at the ready in case there was a mess on the actual catwalk. Luckily, that didn't happen."
The main "Friend" in Hill & Friends is CEO Georgia Fendley, the former brand director of Mulberry. But, says Hill: "We called it Hill & Friends because no brand accomplishes anything on its own and of course, there are legions of people behind us — past, present and hopefully future — that made this whole thing work. The friends also include the loyal customer, who are the joists in the whole structure."
Now let's talk about the bags, a number of which went on sale online right after the show. The 48 of them were unwavering in quality – all handmade in Somerset and from the finest calf leather, goatskin, suede and calf hair. The hardware came from Italy, and consisted of smiley face details, a wink twist lock and a smiley padlock. Sizes ran the gamut from large satchel bags to small cross-bodies, and the palette was, in their words "happy". There were candy colors (bright green and black licorice), bi colors (oxblood and pink) and some sure-to-sell-out leopard print pieces. The company is quick to point out that the bags are at a marketable price point — anywhere from £495 ($767) to £1,995 ($3,092).
The question is, will a woman who can afford to pay over $3,000 on a bag want a girlish happy face detail on it? The answer is, well, yes. Hill has proven it before with Mulberry, but we will let her do the explaining: "I think that the bags are actually quite conservative in shape, and it takes a minute or two to understand the wink or smile detail. I think my body of work has always been about the high/low factor and this is just a representation of that."
Hill also points out the practicality of the bags: "Like most women, I am busy – kid, career, life, the lot. So that bag has to work from work to school run to dinner, and I think these are the hardworking bags that can do that."
And before the elephant in the room — namely, fellow British handbag designer Anya Hindmarch's affinity for happy faces and stickers — was brought up, Hill subtly pointed out her brand's differentiation factor: "I don't have tons of stickers or anything like that on our bags. Ours are just little details that you have to look for, and they add a bit of warmth and a tiniest touch of kookiness."
We were still left wondering when will Hill & Friends might release a line of ready-to-wear. "We will do it definitely when the timing goes our way," Hill says. "It definitely is in the grand plan – we just need to get there, and do it absolutely right. Otherwise, there is no point really."
See more of the line in the gallery below.
Homepage Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images