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.
I think one of the strongest aspects of the collection is that it’s not a literal interpretation. It’s something that speaks to the movie on an elemental level, as opposed to just doing a hippo in a tutu on a bag.
BH: Not to be mean to people who interpret it that way!
TH: What I want is for [each bag] to feel like a relic. It feels old. It feels like something that’s very special. Sacred. I was really specific about getting the purple [lining], it needed to feel like that weird Bible velvet. I needed to have a sense of magic.
Did you know going into it what elements you wanted to focus on? Cause with Fantasia, there’s so many.
TH: It stems from different realms. Different places that you can travel to from this magical world. Dimensions of reality. That’s what we’re being shown throughout the movie, but we wouldn’t be there without the apprentice, making his mistake. I think it’s cool, a little scary, kind of a warning to kids, like, be careful.
This might be kind of an oddball question, but have you ever done any metal working? I read that you were really pleased with the hardware. How involved are you in something like that?
TH: Some of the pieces we were able to actually find. Some basic things, the d-rings. But yeah, I do have a metals background. Metal and leather. Metal and leather are perfect, better than peanut butter and chocolate. Leather is one of the oldest materials. It’s one of the first things. As soon as we ate something, we had leather. When we were like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been on earth seven days, I am starving. That ox fell in the fire, does that smell good to you?’
There’s character to the hardware on [HH pieces] and oftentimes that’s an afterthought…
BH: Well, not to denigrate anybody, but so many bags out there come like they picked out X number from Y book.
TH: Hardware is actually almost a starting point for me. I’ll have typically some kind of inspiration, like a shape, but first I’ll always sit down like, ‘This is the hardware that I need.’ It’s very jewelry-inspired. I’ve always loved metals and jewelry, so it’s great to be able to draw what I want and have it cast. When I can put it on this beautiful leather piece, then it’s even better… it’s alive.
So, your background informs the design?
TH: Yeah, I think that is one thing that sets us apart, having an industrial design background. Because it is understanding capability and technology and moulding, all of that really geeky stuff. I just love to make things.
BH: Not just things! Things that people use! Things that are functional and beautiful, yet every aspect is thought-out: how somebody is going to use this and carry it and feel it.
So you think of handbags as a practical art?
TH: If it’s not practical, what’s the point? I think that’s the pragmatic part of me. I grew up in Kentucky, that’s the realistic part of me, but I live here. We don’t have cars in New York. We have shoes… and we have really good bags. It’s amazing if you can take your bag, load it up in the morning, schlep around all day long, then take your dress out of the bag, get your heels out, put your flats in there and go to some fantastic place for dinner… and your bag still works in both instances? Like that’s it, that’s right. And it should last for the rest of your life.
Yeah! I’m not a girl who changes her bag with every outfit! I don’t know how some women do that.
TH: I’m like you, I have my trusty bag. It’s like, I get up in the morning, I go straight to work. I can’t be like, ‘What bag do I need to coordinate…?’ But we do want to make something that serves everyone, something that’s there for both.
Okay. So. Do you get a free pass to the Magic Kingdom for… forever?
BH: We’re gonna call them tomorrow.
You haven’t asked?!
TH [Wistfully]: No… We don’t assume things. But actually, after we did the presentation for Target [Go! International] and they liked everything and they approved… we totally went to Disney World. Yeah, we were just there, hanging out. [Even though] we don’t have kids. We’re weird.
Are there any other Disney films on which you’d be excited to do a collaboration?
TH: The Black Hole, I love that movie. Anything to do with outer space. Actually, Dumbo. I really like Dumbo. It’s totally heartbreaking… when they take the mother, I just break down every time.
That’s because you’re a human.
TH: And my favorite, Bedknobs and Broomsticks! That is such a great movie. And Mary Poppins! [If we collaborated on Poppins] I would do bags and incredible umbrellas.
What Disney princess has a style that is most representative of the Hayden-Harnett woman?
[They both answer:] Sleeping Beauty.
TH: She’s just totally… asleep and completely unaware. And lucky. [Laughter]
So, yeah, passive… comatose… these are characteristics of the Hayden-Harnett woman. See, I would have pegged you for Belle from Beauty and the Beast, who’s outspoken and independent and… loves animals.
TH: Let’s go with that. Okay, yeah. We say Belle.
That’s some revisionist history. And, what about villains? Who’s got the best style?
TH: The evil queen from Sleeping Beauty… Malificent! She’s so elegant. She has great style. And I love her snood.
There’s a name for that?
BH: I did not know that.
You made that up.
TH: No, a snood was a very popular medieval garment.
This is the title of the piece: What Is a Snood: And Other Questions We Asked Hayden-Harnett.
Do you think celebrity collaborations dilute the activity of designing? Or peoples’ understanding of what designing is?
TH: I think there are some people who defy that, like I think Gwen Stefani really is doing [L.A.M.B.]. And I really get the sense from her that she has a voice in it. But, yeah, for the most part it’s just signing off and collecting a paycheck. People just want to put a name behind something and in our day and age, celebrities have a huge amount of fire power.
It’s kind of grotesque…
TH: It’s everything that’s bad about mass consumerism, reality TV. Sign off on whatever, whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea. I think it was the [Kardashian] credit card thing that kind of put me over the edge. I was like, that’s just… horrible.
TH: And the Attorney General has to step in! He has to step in because of the interest rates they’re wanting to charge?! Honestly, I’m a much bigger fan of concealing a bit, preserving mystique.
And Kim Kardashian is not someone who preserves any kind of mystique!
BH: Actually her mystique is probably about one inch of her I haven’t seen.
Nah, she was in Playboy.
BH: Oh. Okay. Good.
Just Google that inch away.
BH: A good celebrity collaboration is going to be something where that person has their own style and it’s not something put together by a stylist, it’s something that’s actually them and they come at it with initiative and actually want to collaborate. They bring something to the table and [a brand] brings something to the table. I mean, the Disney thing is sort of a ‘celebrity collaboration’…
That’s why I asked!
BH: But Disney’s bringing a lot to the table. They’re bringing a whole retinue of stuff they’ve created. A celebrity collaboration works [when] there’s something real behind it.
Okay, on the opposite end, what about Lanvin for H&M?
TH: I love that. Now, that, I think is perfect. What you’re doing is bringing high-end design to the masses. I think every designer should have to do that! It’s a good mental exercise, it’s a good way to be grounded.
BH: And it is different because [Alber Elbaz] is a real designer. It’s not at all like taking a celebrity name and attaching a whole bunch of stylists to it and trying to sell it to fans of that celebrity. It actually has value.
Did you get a sense of this when working with Target? Did you get that ‘mental exercise,’ as you described it?
TH: Yeah, but I think that we’re pretty practical anyway. It’s not like we’re going from $3000 gowns to $19 t-shirts.
BH: Hayden-Harnett is already for a very broad swath of customers. I think we try to be there for people. Even if the price points are a little higher, the stuff is useful and wearable and attracts an audience.
It can take a beating, too.
TH: It can absolutely take a beating. That’s the thing with us. These bags are things that you pass down. There will always be value in it. Versus buying a Jessica Simpson bag…
Her empire is worth a billion dollars!
TH: Okay, that’s great for her, and that’s great for her people, but what are they leaving behind? A billion dollar’s worth of polyvinyl chloride bags that are going to end up in a dump because it’s trendy, it falls apart, and that’s that. That’s the bad thing about fast fashion. I’m a fan of H&M, I’m a fan of Ikea, I love being able to go into a place and find something awesome and easy and about mixing stuff. But I do not buy cheap shoes, I do not buy anything made out of PVC that’s just never going to decompose and is going to sit in a landfill. That’s where this stuff ends up. Who hangs onto a $48 PVC bag? That stuff is you’re in, you’re out. Whereas we’re making 50 pieces in a run of one of our leather bags. For the Fantasia stuff we got crazy and we’re doing 100.
BH: The bags that we make are of unbelievable quality. The stuff is great and it will last.
TH: There will always be good leather bags, there will always be good leather goods. And that’s what you can depend on us for. You can count on us for a good bag.
That’s what I’m naming this, For a Good Bag, Call… No, I’m keeping What is a Snood? I still think you made that up. Like, that’s the takeaway… now I know what a snood is.
TH: Snoods are back! [disappears into another room]
You’ve got one, don’t you?
TH [returns, producing an infinity scarf]: Okay, this is how you do a modern, cool snood. This is best with an awesome leather jacket and it’s fantastic if it’s raining. [She wraps it around her neck twice and once over her head].
BH: You’ve looking very Olivia de Haveland in Robin Hood. Goin’ climb your ivy.
TH [spreading her hands theatrically]: So that is a snood.
I really can count on you.
TH: Yes. Even for snoods.