Over the last few years, Hayden+Harnett has become one of the hottest new names in handbag design. They’ve developed an incredibly loyal following, and with good reason – HH bags have that magic blend of hip style and functionality that women are always after. The line has become so popular that HH has recently launched a fabulous ready-to-wear line as well – and that’s just the beginning. In anticipation of the release of their gorgeous fall line, we sat down to chat with founder Toni Hacker to talk about her background, her style, and her skills with a hula hoop.
The Daily Obsession: After reading a little bit about you, I get the feeling that handbag design was sort of an accidental calling for you. Can you tell us a little about how that happened?
Toni Hacker: Definitely an accident, but a very serendipitous and happy one. My formal education is in industrial design with a strong studio arts background in sculpture and metalsmithing. I’d always loved fashion, but had no intention of becoming a fashion designer. My first “real” job was in industrial design, but I didn’t feel super challenged there. I posted my resume online and a fashion accessory company approached me to join them as their design director. I learned so much there about developing accessories in all types of fabrications. This is where my interest in fashion really combined with my product design background and things just started to click.
Becoming an accessory designer was a very natural and organic transition for me…the interest had always been there, but I definitely approach accessory design and product development thinking foremost of the end-user…how will the product work into their life, how can you improve upon products that are already in the market, and how can you make something that is aesthetically beautiful but truly useful. That’s exactly the ethos behind Hayden-Harnett.
TDO: What do you think really launched your company into the spotlight? Was it a specific design, an overall aesthetic, or just luck?
TH: I think that the timing was really great and that women were really looking for our aesthetic. Most handbags in the market seemed to sacrifice style for function (or vice versa). I felt there was no good reason to sacrifice either. We launched in November 2005 with 5 leather handbag styles that are still in our line and that remain as our best-sellers. All five bags combined great style, function, and quality… something that I myself had been looking for and had a really hard time finding in a handbag. The Havana hobo is really the standout style that is still our #1 selling bag and really works for nearly everyone.
TDO: I always think you learn the most from your mistakes. Any stories from the early days of your line that you’re willing to share with us?
TH: I think the most humbling thing I’ve learned from our mistakes is a really great rule of thumb for young designers getting started: If you’re working on something, the “flow” of true inspiration just isn’t there and you’re beating yourself up trying to get it sketched or sampled, then it’s probably not going to work out in the end anyway. I’ve learned that if a style or concept is meant to be, then it generally tends to flow pretty easily and execute simply. If the love isn’t there, then the concept isn’t going to translate well to the end user.
TDO: Hayden+Harnett has really developed a cult following in the last couple of years – you definitely have some very dedicated fans. What do you think makes your customers so excited about the brand?
TH: I think it’s because our customers can feel the love! Also, it’s sort of like our fans have really watched us grow and evolve so much over the last three years…they feel involved and we definitely read all their emails, check out their blogs, and listen to their suggestions. We’re not afraid to try different things or be a bit experimental because we know that if we’re looking for something, then it’s guaranteed that our customers are probably looking for the same. We really think foremost about what our customer needs or what could improve her life…even if it’s just a great print lining to make her smile on a blah kind of day.
TDO: Can you tell us a little bit about your design process in general? How and where do you work, and what do you have to have around you to get inspired?
TH: Hayden-Harnett is such an amazing group of intelligent and super-creative people…even the sales people really “do their own thing.” Working with the team we have now makes me so excited to get up every day and go into work. It sounds corny, but I’m totally serious…it’s like the most fun group of people ever. We just crack each other up and it’s really insane in the design office.
Other than the peeps at HH, it’s generally a specific song/album or a movie that I happen to see that sets off the “Eureka!” feeling in me. I’m also quite a magpie and tend to keep little bits, bobs, pics, fabrics, buttons, and scraps of everything on my office walls…it’s funny, but I really reference those little bits that fall into my life. Every piece ends up finding a home somewhere in the line.
TDO: It seems like your collection has really changed over the last season. The scope of the styling has broadened so much. Now, you have the boho looks I’m used to seeing from your line, but so many dressed-up versions as well, like the Bernardin and Clara bags from the fall line. I’d love to hear a little about that change – was it due more to a change in your personal taste, feedback from your customers, or just a change in fashion in general?
TH: I feel like the line is evolving due to my personal taste, but my taste generally (and luckily) turns up to be what’s on the fashion radar. As a line we’re definitely evolving quite a lot each season, but I also strongly felt that women were ready for more streamlined and clean looks. Our Fall 2008 collection is about the contradiction of nature and man…rustic bohemianism working with a highly polished and clean look.
TDO: What are some of the new trends you think we’ll be seeing in handbags? Styles, colors, shapes…I’d love to hear your predictions!
TH: Smaller bags are certainly making a huge comeback. It’s really refreshing to see amazingly detailed and smaller feminine bags after seasons of gigantic hobos. There’s something really polished and fresh about great vintage-inspired ladybags with mirrors inside. Also frame bags on a long strap are quite elegant right now…it’s nice to be hands-free. I’m loving the clean and modern lines of machinist era deco and dusky metallics are a great way to spark up the really dark palette we’ll be seeing this fall.
TDO: You’ve recently started branching out into ready-to-wear collections, as well as growing the handbag line quite a bit. Are you happy with where you are now, or do you see HH continuing to expand?
TH: I’m really thrilled with where we are now and what we’ve been able to accomplish, but I’m definitely the type of person who’s always ready to move onto the next thing and keep experimenting with new ideas. We’re launching shoes for Spring 2009, and I’ve been eating and sleeping this project for the last few months. We’re also working on a small swimwear capsule and expanding our travel collection for Spring 2009. Shoes, swim, and travel are all categories that I feel we can offer really unique items that feel fresh, useful, and exciting.
TDO: Who would you most like to run into on the street carrying one of your bags (past or present)?
TH: Philippe Starck. If this ever happened, I would seriously retire as there is nothing left for me to dream of.
TDO: What bag are you carrying today, and what do you love about it?
TH: For the past month I’ve been carrying our Paule Marrot Editions MOSAIQUE hobo in black. It just absolutely works with everything I own. It’s great for dressy or for the beach, holds absolutely as little or as much as I can stuff into it, and the red and yam colorblock applique on the front is exactly what my eyes love right now. It’s also a hip length bag, which I’m loving for now and for fall. The hardware and print lining are magnifique. It’s just a really unique bag with great personality and mood.
TDO: What are your 3 favorite items in your closet right now?
TH: I’ve been wearing taupe woodblock/thumbprint tonal print linen tunic from Zara until it has serious scared the entire office. It’s just proven to be my statement piece this summer and so easy to dress around. Also I’ve been wearing our Maggie May colorblock knit dress quite a bit as it’s easy to dress up or down. I’m never without a scarf, so our peacock scarf in “safari” fits the bill quite nicely…you never know what the weather or AC situation will be like in NYC. A great scarf in a unique print always makes you look a bit more polished and ready for anything. Scarves on bags are a nice thing to see again, if not tied in a bow or made to look too precious.
TDO: And, last but not least, what’s your favorite thing to do (1) to celebrate, and (2) to relax?
TH: To celebrate, it seems that the HH’ers all love to head to K-town for Korean fried chicken and Karaoke! We’ll use any excuse to go drink beer and sing badly (and loudly).
To relax, I like to cook a great dinner with Ben, snuggle into bed, and dig into a great book. If not that, then Ben and I will drive upstate to hang out in the trees and his parent’s garden. Nothing relaxes me like being outdoors in nature or having a good long hike.