Designer Áine Hanson grew up in Sligo and was bewitched by her mother’s blue Singer sewing machine from an early age. Now, based in London’s hipster haunt Shoreditch, she is crafting handbags that wouldn’t look out of place on the arm of Victoria Beckham. The Irish Post meets the talented young designer.
Hanson of London may sound like as distinguished and well established as a Saville Row tailor, but it is in fact the moniker of a fledgling handbag business, which is the brainchild, or should I say lovechild, of Dublin-born designer and London dweller Áine Hanson.
These days her nights out are in the bars and restaurants of hipper-than-hip Shoreditch and Dalston, but it’s Sligo where her love of fashion, design and craft began.
“I suppose family influences started with my grandmothers. On my dad’s side my granny had her own cottage business knitting Aran jumpers.
“My other granny was always knitting, darning and crocheting too. I loved visiting her as a child and rummaging through her sewing box of buttons, spools of thread, pins, bobbins and ribbons.”
Her mum was a dab hand too, making her own clothes and adapting patterns, and some of Áine’s earliest memories are of watching her mum making outfits.
With the basics of garment construction mastered at a young age, Áine devoted her free time after school to studying advanced pattern drafting and tailoring, working in fabric shops and designing her own clothes.
When it came to choosing a career, there was only one thing she wanted to be – a designer.
After graduating with a degree in Fashion Design from Limerick College of Art and Design, it was straight to London, and Shoreditch has felt like home ever since.
“I fell in love with the diversity and excitement of the city – London to me is full of possibilities and opportunities”.
The biggest opportunity came after cutting her teeth designing leather collections and accessories for retailers and luxury brands and working at London Fashion Week with labels like PPQ and Boudicca.
About two years ago she started working on Hanson of London, and last May she opened for business.
The cornerstone of the business is traditional leather craftsmanship, which Áine says is a rare find today; even rarer is using these skills and techniques to create contemporary handbags, but it seems to be working.
The bags are not pretty, but handsome, beautifully crafted and most importantly, distinctive.
As her own boss, days are spent in the studio-workshop hand-making bespoke bags, meeting customers for private appointments, ordering materials as well as arranging photo shoots and updating social media (a short video on her website, which could pass as an outtake from Amélie, shows the intricate process involved in making every bag).
The video and website are both products of her East London collaborations, as she explains. “I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with exceptionally talented people…from photographers to film-makers and young graphic designers.”
The love of fashion and designer’s touch is evident everywhere, including on Áine’s back. Her personal style is a mixture of vintage finds and designer pieces, and she pays attention to quality, hunting out unique, well-made garments from markets, boutiques and looking for finds by young local designers.
The influences she cites for her own designs are as eclectic as they are wide-ranging – from old French couture houses to the shoemakers in Northampton and the tweed weavers of Donegal and Scotland.
“The mood boards in my studio have images of elegant iconic women, carpenters and obscure contemporary architecture references.” From mood boards to sourcing the right tools and materials, no detail is overlooked in her designs.
“I wanted to keep hardware discreet but of the finest quality, meaning months searching for the right solid brass pieces as well as visits to British tanneries to source the very best English bridle leather,” she says.
Not only does a young designer deserve kudos for staring a high-end, luxury handbag business in the bleakest economic times most of us can remember, but the craftsmanship, care and devotion that goes into the bags themselves is also laudable in society obsessed with disposable, easy-come-easy-go fashion.
It’s early days yet, but so far the reaction to the collection has been positive. The goal for now, she says, is to focus on establishing the label.
The business philosophy is still very much influenced by her childhood in the West of Ireland, where surrounded by weavers, tailors and family-run drapers, Áine witnessed first-hand the strength of having a personal connection with customers.
“I want Hanson of London to be a very trusted and intimate label that slowly gathers a loyal local and international customer base,” she says. Designer handbags may be long way from the Aran jumpers her grandmother knit, but there’s certainly no less love involved.
The Griffin: “For everyday use, it looks very compact but fits everything I need.”
The Golden Heart: “This clutch is perfect for a night out.”
For more information see www.hansonoflondon.com