Many fashion houses struggled with financial loss in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, yet Mulberry accessories designer Emma Hill is still sitting pretty. She joined the British brand as creative director in 2008; last year its profits rose by 54 percent, with Hill steering the accessories aesthetic from functional to fashionable with her clever use of celebrity tie-ins and outside-the-box campaign collaborations. The brand is now synonymous with style icons such as Alexa Chung and Lana Del Rey – Hill has named bags after both – and its pieces are often centre stage in the world’s most lusted-after wardrobes. We asked the 42-year-old Brit how to spot a fake and where she gets her inspiration.
How is a Mulberry bag made?
It’s a blend of old skills and modern machining. We tend to use the best skill set of particular countries – our ready-to-wear dresses are made in England, our knits are made by an army of Scottish grannies. But our tailoring is Italian because they’re better at it. The workers at our factory, The Rookery, are great – we really challenge them. Like this [she gestures to an intricate bag]: each of these is hand-beaded.
Presumably, using complex workmanship is a way of making counterfeiting more difficult? Mulberry is a very copied brand…
Oh yes. Definitely. The speed at which people are able to copy us is mind-blowing – sometimes it’s five weeks after the runway show. You used to do a runway show and wait a few days for [trade magazine] Women’s Wear Daily to come out, to see the review, and six months later the designs would be in store. Now [counterfeiters] can sit and watch the show on computer wherever they are, in real time, while sketching!
Can you spot a Mulberry fake?
My six-year-old son can spot them! He’s shamed a lot of girls in shopping malls. He’ll shout: ‘Look, Mummy, it’s a Mulberry – OH NO, IT’S NOT A MULBERRY.’ And you can see the girl is mortified. The best one
I saw – I was so stunned, I wished I’d had a camera – was at the mall again. A girl was coming down carrying a mix of four of our bags: the Bayswater with Alexa straps stuck on, and the Tilly buckle, and the Daria plaque. So someone has actually looked at my design and decided it would look better with a shoulder strap or a buckle!
At least they’re bringing their own creative vision to their counterfeiting now…
They do say you only need to worry when people aren’t copying you. You mention the music at your shows – and you’ve named your new bag after Lana Del Rey.
How big a driver has music been for you?
My office always has music blaring out – I have to listen to it really loud. Before we even had a show, we’d have parties in the store with Hot Chip, Friendly Fires, Hurts. The Del Rey thing came about because of my obsession with her home-made video [for ‘Video Games’], with the Hollywood film mixed in with funny little references to Road Runner. I was like: Oh my. I’m all over this! I’m in a fortunate position now where I can see someone and say, ‘I want them to be my friend. Can we meet?’ And we do!
How did the collaboration with Lana Del Rey work? She doesn’t strike us as… animated.
It wasn’t like with Alexa Chung, where she was carrying a man’s Mulberry bag and we took that as a design starting point [for the Alexa bag]. This was the other way. Lana’s very ‘Hollywood glamour’, not uptight, but controlled and ladylike. She was like: ‘I like white. And I like gold.’ The immediate thing to think of was a very structured bag, which isn’t us. That would have been so wrong. That’s why we came back with the Del Rey, which is structured but still soft and more representative of both of us.
Do you get inspiration from people on the streets as well as celebrity muses?
I don’t get out very much! I like people who put things together in interesting ways – I take photos of kids who look like they’ve had fun getting dressed up. I like people who don’t follow rules, who change the way they look.
The autumn/winter 2012 collection is available now at Boutique 1, various locations including Mall of the Emirates (04 395 1200).
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