Talking With Hayden-Harnett: On ‘Fantasia,’ Celeb Designers & the ‘Snood’

Last week I had the pleasure of crashing Hayden-Harnett’s north Brooklyn store/workshop as they geared up for their huge KAPOW sale (the last day of which is today!) while having just launched their latest collection, a line of bags and accessories inspired by Disney’s Fantasia.

The collaboration came about when Disney’s adult lifestyle brand Disney Signature (fine rugs, furniture, Stella McCartney jewelry and more) approached Hayden-Harnett last March about collaborating on a Fantasia collection and–being huge fans of the film–they enthusiastically agreed (it just so happened that Disney Signature was also rolling out a big Tron: Legacy line, and got them involved as well).  “The concept and development process has taken from March until now,” they told TheGloss, “We’ve been tweaking the line to perfection right up until the bags and cuffs were being sewn. There have been a lot of long nights, coffee, and love poured into this collection.” The Fantasia collection is broken down into four elements: Apprentice, Cathedral, Sorcerer, Alchemist, with each piece being an interpretation of those concepts.

Hayden-Harnett is the brainchild/baby of real-life couple Toni Hacker (the creative side) and Benjamin Harnett (the business side), and I found both on the floor of their charming Franklin St. boutique one evening last week. Ben led me back into the studio–adding sheepishly, “This is… where the magic happens.”–and we all sat down for a marathon chat about metal working, modern kids’ movies versus classics, totemic symbols, and a once-popular medieval garment called… the snood. With some wine and a vague focus on Fantasia, our conversation began.

So how was working with Disney?

Benjamin Harnett: We came into this having apprehensions about working with Disney on the corporate level, but they were really like, ‘This is your vision. This is your thing.’ And they’ve been very supportive of everything we’ve done and pushed the collection to be better.

Toni Hacker: I feel like they’ve really respected what we did and our interpretation for the collection. They give very good constructive criticism, they have really good people, they have a great creative team. They got me to go to a place where I wasn’t thinking of going.

That’s really surprising, though!

TH: They’re Disney. They’re the best. They’re known for creativity. They’ve given us such a long leash. And they have great taste!

So, Fantasia was first, right? Before Tron?

BH: They approached us with Fantasia. And, you know, I remember watching Fantasia in elementary school. It was something we were comfortable with.

TH: I always loved how spooky it was. And that’s the thing that I took away from it. It always had this weird deco and Gothic undertone.

BH: It’s sinister. And unsettling. And a little intense.

TH: And there was something to it, I feel, that given the time period was very Bauhausian in its thought process, because it was basically like, ‘Let’s bring culture to the masses, let’s get cultural music under the guise of a Disney feature film’ and I think that was totally the point and purpose of it. It was… psychedelic almost. It’s a retelling of the Pandora myth: the sorcerer’s apprentice takes his master’s venficus libri for the day and is like, ‘I can do this…’ and just unleashes all this chaos. And worlds upon worlds begin to unfold and it’s tumultuous and it’s beautiful and there’s great classical music.

BH: What’s interesting about it, too, it’s not an easy movie. It’s doesn’t pull punches. At some stretches it’s tough, and difficult, it’s not out to please you, which is actually… kinda nice.

That’s why I liked Fantasia. I think, uh, to use a phrase, ‘kids these days’ don’t get enough darkness or melancholy in their movies.

TH: Yeah! Everything’s just hyperactive and goofy and there’s nothing under the surface of it. I remember being entranced [by Fantasia] and even, like, scared of it. Growing up in the seventies, I loved Disney. I loved those old movies. Cat From Outer Space, The Black Hole, Tron! They just do a great job with getting across value under the guise of modern myth. And they were pretty heavy in the occult, in the seventies, which I totally loved. I was obsessed.

And now kids movies are kind of plastic. Growing up, I was really into The Last Unicorn, things that were gut-wrenching in a way. The Dark Crystal is a great example of this: everyone dies, it’s left very uncertain. And there’s something unsettling about watching Fantasia, which I assume you did dozens of times?

TH: I’ve always been such a big fan of Disney, it’s really odd that this whole [collaboration] crossed our paths. I think there is something weirdly intuitive about their team. They must have thought, ‘Oh… she must… like Disney.’ When someone asks you to do a project like this, you obviously see it from a certain perspective. I wanted [the collection] to be that… essential thing. I wanted to create items that almost seemed totemic. And representative. Things that give people a sense of magic.

I  know with the namesake collections, you have a muse, an abstract Hayden-Harnett woman, and you tell a story about her. How is it different with a collaboration, do you envision a woman who wears this? Is it an extremely different approach from what you’d normally do?

TH: Not… extremely. But I do feel that in the case, specifically, of the Disney collections, I objectified the pieces themselves. I wanted them to stand alone. I wanted everything to be very symbolic, very totemic. As a designer, what I really want to do is explore the storytelling aspect of collections every season. Basically every single season, I sit down and write a story. And that’s my inspiration for that season and it can be triggered by anything, a movie, books, music. There’s always some kind of weird soundtrack, too. Like, Fantasia is entirely, 100% old school Smiths. Completely. Over and over. Compulsively.

BH: These items don’t refer to the end user, they stand on their own.

TH: I feel like they’re the kind of thing that you can wear and you can relate to, but I feel like there’s something here for different aspects of a personality. The Apprentice pieces have more of a playful, simple feeling. There’s also a weird symbolism through the hardware. The Apprentice pieces are single locks, more simple hardware, more rustic. Then as you progress…

The Sorcerer is the most complicated…?

TH: The Alchemist! Because he synthesizes all elements. He perfected transmutation.

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    • K

      I get their opposition to “disposable” PVC bags, but I guess I’m not sure how leather is that much better. The chemicals that are involved in its production, the waste created by the cow farms–we shouldn’t pretend that these are a guilt-free, environmentally responsible alternative.

    • Ben

      Every consumer purchase, or non-purchase is a choice. It’s true leather is produced using chemical dyes, and that the farming of cows contributes to deforestation and global warming. Leather bags, however, are more durable and longer lasting, while PVC bags tend to wear for much shorter amounts of time, are petroleum based, and dyed with equally noxious chemicals. Most people aren’t aware of the downsides to PVC products and many times they are touted as animal-friendly (vegan) — possibly animal friendly, but not planet friendly.