The made-for-Instagram counter at the Anya Cafe, on Pont Street in Belgravia, is stocked with treats that look almost too delicious to eat. There are the alluringly lacquered “chubby heart” tea cakes, made of chocolate mousse and dunked in raspberry compote. “Caterpillar tarts” involve a slab of shortbread layered with vanilla custard and topped with a meandering arrangement of raspberries. Even basic biscuits and tea cakes have smiley faces and googly eyes, two signature motifs of the accessories designer Anya Hindmarch, who has dreamed all this up.
Despite the abundance of sweetness on the plates, the Anya Cafe itself displays a savvy design that nods to the midcentury-modern period. Slim, walnut-trimmed Formica tables are accompanied by sleek, leather-covered booths and chairs; the blocky branding seen on the menus and signage resembles something out of a distant decade. In many ways, the Anya Cafe encapsulates its founder’s winning formula—smart design with wide appeal that incorporates just enough whimsy to keep it interesting.
Hindmarch grew up in the county of Essex, in southeast England, among a family of entrepreneurs. She started her eponymous luxury-bag-and-accessories business in 1987, after discovering the romance of the leather trade during a trip to Florence. Hindmarch was only 18 years old when she got her start, and by the time she was 24, she had opened her first shop, on Walton Street in Knightsbridge. Soon her clients included Princess Diana (and, later, Kate Middleton, Madonna, and Gwyneth Paltrow).
Since the brand’s inception, the story of Anya Hindmarch has been punctuated by climactic moments, such as her 2001 Be a Bag collection, which allowed customers to print photographs onto totes, and the 2007 collection entitled I’m NOT a Plastic Bag, which drew attention to plastic waste. (A stampede at a launch event in Taiwan led to the hospitalization of eight customers.)
The Anya Cafe is only one element of “the Village,” a new, five-store development that occupies a significant swath of Pont Street. Hindmarch considers it to be an ever evolving laboratory where she can bring all her ideas to life. This summer, Anya’s Ice Cream Project has opened across the street from the cafe, and enthusiasts lined up to buy flavors derived from classic English brands such as Heinz Beanz, PG Tips, HP Sauce, and Lea & Perrins.
“The Village was a touch point which came at a time when we bought the business back, in 2019,” Hindmarch explains. At that time, she re-acquired a majority stake in the company alongside Iranian-born businessman Javad Marandi; she had initially stepped down in 2012, when the company was sold to the Qatari royal family’s fund, Mayhoola. By the end of 2017, financial losses had led to the closing of many of her 46 stores. By 2019, only five stand-alone boutiques survived.
In the past few years, under Hindmarch’s watchful eye, the brand has recaptured some of its former magic. These days, it is a family affair. Hindmarch’s husband, James Seymour, is also her business partner. Together, they have five children, including three from his previous marriage. (Seymour was a widower when he married Hindmarch, in 1996.) The family lives within walking distance of the Village, and they spend weekends and summers in North Wiltshire. Travel, says Hindmarch, is a constant source of inspiration, and so family holidays take them to far-flung spots such as Myanmar, Japan, Jordan, and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
Now that the Village is up and running, Hindmarch has refocused on online sales and envisioned a new role for her shops. “Almost the only reason for retail to exist in the next 10 years is if it’s something you can’t buy online,” she says. “The Village offers something that is inclusive and that can’t be experienced digitally.”
Hindmarch considers it to be an ever evolving laboratory where she can bring all her ideas to life.
After visiting the café, clients can then browse the Anya Hindmarch flagship shop across the street, or the Anya Hindmarch bespoke shop, which sells handbags and other accessories, next to “the Village Hall,” which serves as a gathering area and venue for events. “She’s re-inventing retail,” says Kate Reardon, Hindmarch’s close friend who formerly edited Tatler and is now the editor of Times Luxx. “It’s not modern to have huge flagship stores in every city when people buy the products online.”
If Hindmarch appears to be everywhere, it’s because she is. While many luxury-fashion brands show new products at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the year, she has a new project or concept every few weeks. There has been an Anya Hindmarch nail bar and salon to celebrate the 2021 publication of her self-help book, If in Doubt, Wash Your Hair, and even “Anya’s Grotto,” a scavenger hunt for children that led to Father Christmas. It became quite a thing during the December ’21 holiday season.
For Valentine’s Day, Hindmarch made her mark on the city when her staff placed large, red inflatable hearts all over London. During London Fashion Week in 2020, she closed all five of her London stores and filled them with 90,000 plastic bottles to help people visualize what eight minutes of landfill waste looks like.
For most designers, the goal is to sell merchandise, but for Hindmarch, this is a complicated proposition. “It feels incredibly inappropriate to be constantly buying new things when you think about how much waste we produce,” she says, preferring to focus her energies on creating unique and meaningful items. “For me, it’s about personal stories and making something beautiful. It’s got to be about a feeling, a memory.”
Eleanor Harmsworth is a London-based writer