Interview with Emma Hill in the Times today 8/12/10


Feb 17, 2010
Oh can't view the page as I'm not subscribing - does she say anything interesting? (on a different topic, heard that the times lost 80 pct of its online readers when they started to charge)


Jun 7, 2009
What turns a leather bag into a dream purchase? Mulberry’s Emma Hill, the woman behind the Alexa, shares her secrets
In the future, parents will sit their children on their knees and tell them that once, it was all so different: once, women weren’t very interested in handbags. “Too right,” says Emma Hill, the ebullient creative director of Mulberry, fondling a medium- sized bag that goes by the name of Margaret. “When I was in my second year at Ravensbourne College, Harvey Nichols set us a project to design a bag and I was like, handbags? Why would we ever bother with handbags?”
She’s about to tell me how she only took a job designing bags for Burberry back in 1992 (long before its glamorous makeover) because, in the depths of that recession, it was all she could get, when a lackey arrives bearing trays full of sandwiches and scones. It’s a very Mulberry proposition; the jolly, slightly self-referential Englishness of tea, (although not much gets eaten), served in the cosy grandeur of the Claridge’s suite that Mulberry has booked for our interview. The same Mulberry that makes bags in which women are so interested that its third-quarter results posted a 79 per cent jump in revenue. Tomorrow’s results are expected to make its shareholders similarly happy.
Unlike that of many luxury brands, Mulberry’s rude health doesn’t rely exclusively on the Far East, which has been relatively untouched by the financial crisis; its biggest market is the UK — 44 of its existing 82 stores (including the recently opened flagship on New Bond Street) are in the UK, as are 70 per cent of its sales. There’s plenty of room for growth globally. To complete an exceptional year, last night at the British Fashion Awards it was voted winner of the Accessories Brand of the Year category.
Women care very much about handbags. They care particularly about Mulberry handbags, so much so that it is hard to take a Tube journey these days without encountering a Mulberry or two along the way. This glib-sounding claim is actually extraordinary. These are not Topshop purchases but bags that sell for £395-£795, more for the exotic skins.
The most popular, the Bayswater, a sort of deconstructed, robust version of Hermès’s Birkin that costs from £695 to £2,000 for the snakeskin version, is that grail of which accessories companies dream: a bag that has become a classic, reconfigured each season in different finishes and aspired to by teenagers and their mothers alike. “Yup, Kate Moss has one and so does my son’s grandmother and that’s part of Mulberry’s success,” says Hill. “But also it’s like a stealth luxury. It’s not showy, but it makes you feel good.”
It wouldn’t be strictly accurate to claim that Mulberry’s long climb to It-company status is down to Hill alone, however. Ever since the reclusive Christina Ong and Ong Beng Seng bought out the original founder, Roger Saul, Mulberry has been on a steady assault on the fashion highlands.
For the company’s CEO, Godfrey Davis, “it’s about the product”. First, there was its collaboration in 2002 with Luella Bartley and Stuart Vevers, which culminated in the Gisele, the first bag to place Mulberry on the style pack’s radar after decades in which its slightly huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’-inspired scotchgrain bags were regarded with the affectionate disdain normally reserved for a smelly but sweet-natured labrador.
The Luella was followed by the Bayswater, designed in 2002 by Nicholas Knightley, the then design director. But it is the 40-year-old Hill, who joined the company as creative director in 2008, who has proved to be a one-woman hit machine (most recently with the Alexa).
Her arrival was not without drama, however. Two weeks after she joined Mulberry, Lehmans crashed. “Fantastic timing,” she notes drily. Her response was the Mitzy, a soft tote that weighed significantly less than the usual Mulberry product and that, perhaps as importantly, cost £390, as opposed to the normal £695. The Mitzy, with its lower, made-in-China price point was an important psychological marker for the brand that had hitherto prided itself on manufacturing exclusively in Somerset. The company now manufactures 70 per cent of its bags in Spain, Turkey and the Far East, not all of it through choice; the Somerset factory simply cannot cope with increased demand, says Hill. “We wouldn’t manufacture the £695 bags in China — that seems wrong. But I think if you’re paying £390 there’s an understanding that they probably will be made there.”
The Alexa was another flag-waver. Named after the tawny-haired Brit TV presenter-with-attitude Alexa Chung after Hill and her team saw a picture of her carrying an old Mulberry briefcase, it generated an online waiting list of 18,000, even while the press was reading the last rites over It bags. “The It bag was basically a press invention.” observes Hill. “And so was its so-called demise. Look what happened to the Chanel 2.55: it started out as an anti-It bag but so many people bought it, it became an It bag.”
The Mitzy, another Hill bag called the Daria and the Alexa proved to the industry that Mulberry — although still a minnow compared with Prada or Vuitton — was in the process of pulling off a double coup: sitting on a classic (the Bayswater) while minting new hits.
“When I got there the suits kept saying, isn’t it great, the Bayswater is 40 per cent of our sales, and I kept saying, oh my God, 40 per cent? That’s scary. What happens when people eventually stop buying it.?” As it was, the Roxanne, another of Mulberry’s early hits, had more or less died a death by the time Hill got there.The pressure was on.



Jun 7, 2009
Here's the rest:

This year’s successors to the Alexa, the Margaret (inspired by the late HRH) and the Edna (which comes in coral or camel, complete with detachable, charm -adorned straps that can be worn as a necklace or belt) are selling strongly, particularly in Australia, South Korea (“you wouldn’t believe how fashion- conscious they are”) and the US, a market that has hitherto proved stubbornly resistant to Mulberry’s slightly distressed appeal but where sales are now up 100 per cent on the previous year. “They like that two-for- one thing with the chain,” says Hill.
But the UK is still Mulberry’s biggest market. “There’s plenty of room for growth but you always want your product to resonate with the domestic market for it to have authenticity as a British brand,” says Davis.
Accordingly, Hill has remained true to Mulberry’s distinctively unblingy ethos while nudging the bags in a more feminine, decorative direction, with distinctive postman-lock hardware and a vamped-up mulberry-tree logo that she used as an all-over motif on one bag. It’s a skilful sleight of hand that shows Hill’s sense of playfulness as well as her practicality. She is, after all, the product of a maths professor father and an art teacher mother. “But in the end you can’t be too analytical,” says the self-confessed leather geek, who relishes hanging out in factories. “No one needs a small coral drawstring pouch: it’s hardly the height of practicality. And yet you see that shot of colour, you feel the squishy shrunken leather and you just want it.”
After her stint with Burberry in 1992, Hill hightailed it to New York, a city she still loves, which she says provides half her aesthetic sensibility. She was there for 15 years, starting at the mass-market Liz Claiborne, which hired her for her European cool. “But I was so European it freaked them out and they packed me off to tour the malls of the Midwest, where I just sat open-mouthed watching the customers ... let’s just say they’re quite large.”
From Claiborne she went to Donna Karan and then Calvin Klein, where the staff are emphatically not large (“I got very thin. Basically, no one eats there”). Even though her own taste (today she’s wearing red patent Martine Sitbon stilettos and khaki combats) is colourful and eclectic, she loved working in Klein’s minimalist world.
“I had a Hello Kitty pencil case and a Hello Kitty light that flashed on my pencil and they were all like, do you really need that thing? And I said if you want the bags, Hello Kitty stays. So they devised this early-warning system and whenever Calvin was coming down to our floor I would throw everything into a drawer . . . I adored working for Calvin. He’s such a visionary.”
She worked for Marc Jacobs, too, where she was responsible for the Stella, a multi-pocketed bag that was one of his early bestsellers and a game-changer, not only visually but because it proved that clothes designers could have just as much success with bags as more traditional accessories houses. Finally she was courted by Gap, which in two seasons she turned from an accessories desert into a destination for fashion editors and cognoscenti looking for cheap style thrills — until they fired her.
Even that shock wasn’t enough to send her back to London. But a love affair with a fellow Brit did, although they broke up while she was pregnant with their son, Hudson, whom she christened after the West Village street in which she lived. The name is tattooed on her ankle — a tribute to her son rather than the street, but she loves the energy of New York, and its exacting demands. “All those years Mulberry was struggling in the US, it was because the bags they were sending there were the heavy, vegetable-dyed ones. The straps were too wide to wear on the shoulder; the hardware, particularly of the Roxanne, weighed a tonne.”
Hill’s international outlook is undoubtedly invaluable to a brand that needs to keep its British identity yet appeal globally. As is her gender. “I can always tell when a man’s designed a bag,” she says. “It’s heavy, has too many pockets, or maybe the opening is too small or it squeaks or it’s just generally overdesigned and really annoying.”
Hill’s latest offering, the Tilly, has her trademark simplicity; a sort of updated Alexa, it launches on January 14. Now she is working on strengthening Mulberry’s ready-to-wear, which so far is sold only in its own stores. Why bother when the bags are so strong? “Because you can’t build a label these days without a complete vision and that has to include clothes,” she says.
So for the moment the brand looks unstoppable: a victor of the economic fallout. “What we do well is understated luxury, with a strong sense of heritage, which is important in a recession,” says Hill. “Sentiment moved with us. That image of people staggering down Bond Street decked out with the mega brands, it was a bit revolting, wasn’t it?”


Oct 23, 2010
Interesting the comment that only the cheaper bags like mitzy can be made in China! Methinks that is a lie! My husband loves Emma (well he would if he knew who on earth she is) as she has made him a tidy 3.5k profit on the shares.


Jan 2, 2010
Well after reading that I will forever think of her as a 'roxy murderer'! She has red vegetable juice on her hands, I think, lol xx
Jan 24, 2009
South Cheshire
“We wouldn’t manufacture the £695 bags in China — that seems wrong. But I think if you’re paying £390 there’s an understanding that they probably will be made there"

Oh wouldn't they!!!


Jul 16, 2010
Thanks for copying & pasting - I'm not subscribed to the Times either (refuse on principle!)

Hill has remained true to Mulberry’s distinctively unblingy ethos
That's unblingy like the hardware on Margaret, Daria and Mila, or the Champagne Metallic Tiger Bays Zip Clutch, or Champagne Moon Metallic Lily or Gracie ...

Hill’s latest offering, the Tilly, has her trademark simplicity
Quite the opposite IMO, with its strange third eye, overworked fastenings, fussy leather/chain shoulder strap and snakeskin-effect leather.