If you enjoy tongue-in-cheek style, you already know — or should know — these clever designers. All British women, they have straddled the line between lighthearted playfulness and kitsch so successfully they now produce luxury accessory lines that have launched global fashion empires. We asked each what inspires the make-us-smile shoes and handbags.
"I find inspiration in anything and everything," says Anya Hindmarch, whose humor-laden handbags and accessories are sold in 57 of her stores worldwide for prices that start below $100 for a simple leather sticker to well over $2,000 for a tote. "People inspire me, as well as architecture, travel and chocolate." The food connection shows up in recent bags embossed with images of iconic food brand logos Tony the Tiger and the Kellogg's Corn Flakes rooster. A metal purse shaped like a packet of British crisps (potato chips) took 10 molds to create, she says.
Her spring 2015 line employs clever, interchangeable stickers inspired "by the idea of taking stickers that were my schoolgirl version of 'personalization' but making them beautifully and handcrafted in leather," Hindmarch says. "My idea was that you can 'sticker up' your handbag or phone or notebook and make it your own personal artwork. I love the combination of a grown-up snakeskin handbag smothered in leather stickers."
One of her best-known purses is the 2007 cloth tote bearing the environmental message "I'm NOT a Plastic Bag," which she made for the grass-roots social change movement We Are What We Do. A phenomenal global success — 8,000 customers lined up at a Japanese store hoping to nab one at its launch — the bag sold out all 90,000 pieces within days.
"Fashion should make you smile," Hindmarch says. "And I think being British helps — our humor is one of the things I love most about England. Laughter is our lifeblood [at Anya Hindmarch]. Laughter and cake."
In 2012, Sophia Webster started her namesake color-jammed shoe line, a quick hit out of the starting gate. Inspiration for her quirky styles — such as banana print slides ($350), angel-wing slingback heels ($480) and watermelon wedges ($460) — comes from her love for drawing.
"Drawing is my favorite part of being a shoe designer, and I think it's what I'm best at," she says. "So I try to find ways to bring that into my shoes very directly, such as printing and illustrating onto the uppers."
Take, for instance, the banana slide shoe from Webster's most recent collection, sold at fine department stores. "I wanted to do something unexpected and fun along with something that is very familiar, so I started layering little bananas onto the upper [part] like emojis, and it looked cute," she says.
Webster's favorite shoe from her current spring collection? "I love my Riko Mule, the colors are really vibrant and I was delighted to find they glow under UV light," she says, describing the high-heeled shoe in orchid leather accented with black suede and bubblegum pink zig-zags and woven aqua patent leather detailing.
Is all this lighthearted, confectionary-colored shoe play a diversion from the hard work she says it takes to build a global brand? "I think to be taken seriously as a creative you need to be the hardest-working person on Earth," Webster says. "So it's hard to find time for fun, although doing fun designs is a good way to brighten the day."
Charlotte Olympia Dellal birthed her Charlotte Olympia shoe and accessory line in 2008 and now has six stores, including one in Beverly Hills.
"I love collecting beautiful things," she notes, "and I translate this by transforming everyday objects into something wearable."
She also loves channeling "a bygone era of the '40s and '50s, a time rich in accessories and filled with glamour," she says. "Women used to dress in a classic and sober style. However, they weren't shy to be more playful with their accessories. You can be elegant and [also] have a sense of humor, but balance is important."
The designer's signature towering Dolly platform pumps (starting around $795) and her feline-faced Kitty flats (starting around $295) attest to her impish flair for fun, which this season is seen in Cinderella-pumpkin purses, cactus- and sage-embroidered wedges, taco clutches and a brightly colored donkey piñata bag. "I love to design pieces that make you smile," she says, "and depending on the piece, I sometimes like to play with the obvious, [but] in some cases subtlety works best."
Dellal, who admires cheeky early 20th century designer Elsa Schiaparelli, keeps her work's quirkiness balanced by color and construction. "I have fun with my designs but at the same time I know it's important for them to be glamorous. My materials and color palette play an important role as they help tone down an elaborate idea and keep it from becoming too kitsch. My approach is to keep things feminine and timeless."