Bag designer Anya Hindmarch curates art for Sotheby's

British designer Anya Hindmarch selected the works of Thomas Ruff (left) and Anish Kapoor for Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale in London.
British designer Anya Hindmarch selected the works of Thomas Ruff (left) and Anish Kapoor for Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale in London. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

LONDON • Three weeks before the start of London Fashion Week, the majority of designers based in the British capital are back from their summer vacations and hard at work on their catwalk collections. Handbag doyenne Anya Hindmarch is no exception.

But this season, Hindmarch - mother of five, a British trade ambassador and trustee of the Royal Academy of Arts and the Design Museum in London - has added another job: guest curator for a high-profile auction house. She has selected 10 works to go under the hammer as part of the latest Sotheby's Contemporary Curated sale in London on Sept 20.

On a recent muggy morning last month, Hindmarch, 48, appeared unfazed. She sat against a backdrop of her edit of paintings, hung together for the first time on the walls of a glossy Mayfair gallery near Sotheby's headquarters.

"I found the process to be the most fantastically fun and useful research," said Hindmarch, an avid collector of British art and a sometime client of Sotheby's. "I am constantly inspired by art and architecture as starting points for my collections."

She is known for her irreverent designs, which have included bags inspired by candy wrappers and cereal boxes, as well as a more recent line of leather stickers embossed with cartoon-style graphics and smiley faces.

like to design accessories that are conversational pieces –handbags that really make people stop and just say, ‘Wow’. It is also how I like my art.


She started her business in 1987, at the age of 18, after a gap year studying leather crafting in Florence. More recently, backed by Mayhoola for Investment, a Qatari fund that also owns controlling stakes in the likes of labels Valentino and Balmain, her business has expanded to 56 stores in nine countries.

"I've always tried to be as heavily involved as I can in the art scene here in the United Kingdom simply because I find art so life-enhancing, particularly modern art," she said. "It is never just straight paint on a canvas. Like fashion, it is rooted in desire and self-expression, finding outlets for emotion and telling people who you really are."

Celebrity collaborations have been a fixture of the New York branch of Sotheby's since 2013, as part of its efforts to attract new audiences to the art world.

Recent stateside partners have included model Emily Ratajkowski, basketball player Amar'e Stoudemire and creative ambassador for Barneys New York Simon Doonan. The inaugural European sale took place in March and was curated by London designer Erdem Moralioglu, and the house has decided to give guest curators in London a bigger role in the selection process.

"I have never curated anything before, so initially I felt a little nervous about the process of editing my choices," Hindmarch said. "I worried it might be an impossible task, almost like picking which one of your children you love the most.

"But actually it was much easier than expected and a wonderful treat to work at such close quarters with such a variety of exceptional pieces," she said. "Unlike designing a handbag collection, where you tend to start with a single idea and then create a narrative that supports and communicates that, with this I was very spontaneous and went entirely, and often randomly, with the things I immediately loved and felt a connection to."

The works include Fairytale - 1001 Chairs, a carved wooden chair by Ai Weiwei; 23. Febr. 01, a moody splash of murky oils across a landscape photograph by Gerhard Richter; and an untitled work by Keith Haring featuring two dancing figures in black acrylic splashed across a neon-pink canvas.

Hindmarch, who recently unveiled her first men's collection, added that although it had not been her intention, certain parallels had quickly emerged between her day job and her latest creative pursuit.

"I like things that are loud, modern and fun," she said. "I like to design accessories that are conversational pieces - handbags that really make people stop and just say, 'Wow'. It is also how I like my art. You would never walk into a room and not be struck by these pieces. They make a statement, could alter a mood and could totally change the atmosphere in a room."

This playful and original approach to design made Hindmarch a natural choice for Sotheby's, said Ms Joanna Steingold, head of the Contemporary Curated London division of the auction house.

"I wanted a strong female tastemaker for this sale and it became clear pretty quickly that person had to be Anya," she said.

The average sale price per lot from the March auction was around £10,000 (S$17,900) and about a quarter of the pieces went to clients who had never bought art at Sotheby's before.

For her part, Hindmarch remains modest about any role her profile may play in encouraging more exploration of the art market: "Art appreciation is not a rarefied world anymore," she said, "and people aren't scared of it in the way they were 20 years ago.

"But I hope people look at my curation in the same way they would a music playlist. A playlist opens up a new way of thinking about music and I think it works for art as well. It has the power to make you look at a person, be it a curator or an artist, in an entirely different way."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2016, with the headline 'Bag designer Anya Hindmarch curates art for Sotheby's'. Subscribe