Emma Hill and her covetable bags
Her passion for fashion started as a Saturday girl in Elys, and now her epic range of bags are sold in the Wimbledon department store. We find out more about how Emma Hill has come full circle
As creative director of Mulberry, Emma Hill made her mark on the fashion world with some of the most covetable ‘It’ bags around. In 2015, she branched out with her own label, Hill & Friends. The range has just launched in Elys, the store where Emma once worked as a teen, and she also credits the town’s School of Art as where it all started. We caught up with her to find out more…
Tell us about your time at Wimbledon School of Art:
I had long dreamt of going to Wimbledon School of Art (University of the Arts London), with its reputation as one of the very best schools in the country, and I was over the moon to gain a place there in 1988 to study for my one-year Art Foundation Diploma. It was an experience that I will never forget or underestimate, spending each day with creatively like-minded students, some of whom are still my dearest friends to this day, and being taught by a world-class faculty. It is also where I had the life-changing experience of being taught by the then Head of Fashion, Ken Walker, who became my lifelong mentor and cherished friend. I can’t speak highly enough of Wimbledon School of Art (now Wimbledon College of Arts), and the unparalleled educational experience it offers, and was incredibly honoured in 2014 to have been made an Honorary Fellow of UAL.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Kingston. In typical 1970s fashion, my brother and I were happy and independent ‘latchkey kids’ and I have very happy memories of endless summer days roaming around with all our neighbourhood friends. Some of my earliest memories include going to my local primary, Latchmere School; my obsession with my Brownies uniform; Friday nights going to the local library with my dad to choose that week’s books to read, followed by picking up delicious Indian takeaway, going with my nana to drink milkshakes at the ice cream parlour in Bentalls, winter tobogganing in Richmond Park and my brother teaching me to canoe on the River Thames.
“I had long dreamt of going to Wimbledon School of Art, with its reputation as one of the very best schools in the country.”
How was your time at Elys as a Saturday girl?
From the age of 16 I had always worked on Saturdays and over the holidays – both of my parents were not only teachers, but also Welsh, so a strong work ethic was pretty much non-negotiable! My obsession with fashion, coupled with my initial and ill-fated attempt at waitressing, meant that all things retail would become my employment of choice throughout my educational years, working at Habitat and M&S, amongst others. I spent the summer of 1989 working at the Miss Selfridge concession in Elys, which was fabulous in all respects except for the fact that I definitely spent way too much of my salary on the clothes.
Who were your role models growing up?
Many – they included: my older brother, Minnie the Minx, my dad, Debbie Harry, my nana Nellie and Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg, from The Avengers – I was named after her and to this day my friend’s nickname for me is still “Mrs Peel”!
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
When I was awarded my CBE in 2012 – I practiced walking backwards in high heels for weeks before the incredibly magical and humbling honour of going to the palace and being presented my medal by the Queen.
How do you describe your brand’s ethos?
We like to think that we have fused the quality, craftsmanship and desirability of a luxury brand with the democratic and emotional appeal of a brand created for people like us, with a brand motto of “Fashion Just Got Friendlier”! Frustrated by ever-higher prices, with no discernible increase in quality, our price architecture is carefully planned to fill what we see as a big market gap. We believe in ethically sourced raw materials, from the very best European tanneries, and 100 per cent of our collection is handmade in England and Spain. We are independent, female-founded and determined to put the fun back in fashion with our Hill & Friends ‘girl-gang’ inclusivity!
What are your plans next for the business?
To continue to do things differently and to believe that everything is possible.
Describe your perfect day off:
Hanging out with my 12-year-old son, Hudson, and our French Bulldog puppy, Bleecker.
What is your favourite fashion item you own?
My Hill & Friends Alphabet Monogram Chain Bag in black (obviously!) – it literally goes with everything and I am obsessed with its oversized metal cartoony letters!