I’m rather embarrassed to admit that the first thing I used my new iPad for was to source nipple tassels at under £1 a pair. Don’t worry, this is not the true confession of a fashion designer; nor am I putting them through on company expenses (had I used my office computer it would have clocked my viewing history and I would have had to self-sabotage my own IT department). Tragically, the items in question are not for me, or the enjoyment of my husband, but to attach to the invitations to a joint 18th & 21st birthday party I am planning for my elder sons.
It’s a Sunday evening and I am working – as I always do. After the small kids have gone to bed and various older children have left for boarding school or university, I find it useful to clear the “in-tray” and mentally prepare for the week ahead. Normally I am working on a new collection, planning for various fashion weeks or just dealing with e-mails. However, the next few weeks are giving me sweaty palms. I have five children ranging from ages seven to 21. My PA is on honeymoon and the outlook is brutal; aside from the above party, there is the 10-year-old’s paintballing party, the seven-year-old’s go-karting party (my fault for having the children two days apart), three school sports days, a smorgasbord of other end-of-term events, plus the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition preview party to organise. Oh, and a fashion business – we design and sell handbags, shoes and luggage – to run.
My bigger boys’ party at Madame Jojo’s – for a bit of naughtiness and legendary Soho entertainment – is causing me the most angst, and I fear I have bitten off rather more than I can chew. Not only were the nipple tassels quite hard to track down but, when they arrived, my graphic design department decided they were too large. I was away on business so they sent me pictures of themselves (clothed) modelling the tassels to review the size.
We resolved this issue, then moved to the next challenge: finding the entertainment. I recalled that [the artist] Marc Quinn had had some amazing people at his launch of his new exhibition recently. I say “people”, rather than men or women, as they seemed to be both (Shims?) but I hope they will serve the drinks. Then (also through various iPad-sourced websites) I found Charlotte from the alarmingly named Torture Garden, who has lined up some mind-boggling-sounding acts such as Kitty Bang Bang and Rubber Octopus Man.
As a marked contrast to all this, it is the fourth year that I have organised the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition preview party, which celebrates the legendary exhibition. (I am co-chair with the artist Tracey Emin). Working with the Royal Academy – and with its boss Charles Saumarez Smith and the architect Nick Grimshaw – is a real pleasure. There is the excitement of lots of new projects, buildings and exhibitions coupled with the eccentricity of an entire block in Piccadilly run by and for British artists. I love the traditions, from the beef tea drunk by the Academicians’ selection committee when choosing art works for the exhibition to the trumpet fanfares between courses at the president’s dinner, and I’m looking forward to watching the fashion and art crowds mix with the country lawyers who also turn up in their droves. For me, it is Britain at its best. Long may it reign.
Talking of Britain, I feel for the new chancellor George Osborne. I know him a bit and I think he won’t be scared to do what he has to do even if it will make him unpopular. But I think that whoever properly tackles this deficit is going to find it hard to take the country with them. It is facing (in an admittedly rather larger way) what every company had to face 18 months ago. When Lehman Brothers fell in September 2008 there was a moment in the aftermath when some of my cleverest friends were saying that we could all be trading in vegetables any minute. I was scared. What need would there be for designer handbags? In a very small way, I did what the government is doing now. In my experience, the cutting is the easy part. Taking your people with you is where the skill comes in. They first need to understand the situation, then to share your fears and then a certain amount of war spirit needs to be mustered, so a bit of adrenaline kicks in to cope with the inconvenience. That is relatively simple when you are talking about a few hundred people who know and trust their leader. It is clearly very different when you’re trying to convince a whole country made up of many people who probably don’t know what the “deficit” really means and many in the media are lobbing bottles at the message.
I think it almost needs a “state of the union” address – the kind of thing you would get during a war – where everyone is ordered to watch the TV and listen to the challenges we have to face. (Would David Dimbleby do the honours? I know Jeremy Clarkson would be up for it.) It would save a lot of pain and wasted energy if people understood and got behind what has to be done. Like all difficult things, once you accept the necessity, it can often be a surprisingly productive journey, showing that things can be done differently and often just as well. Rarely has communication been more important. It’s just as well our PM has a history in PR.
For my own part, I definitely need to reintroduce an element of rationing to our family picnics, which have a terrifying tendency to rocket out of control. Most women tend to carry the world in our very large handbags (and hallelujah for that, I say!). I feel a similar need to cart all my worldly goods with me on a picnic. The first school sports day picnic I ever did, I went for an olive green theme. Green tents (naff, I know, but essential as it always rains, and not as embarrassing as it sounds if everyone has them), green Provençal tablecloths, nice wooden director’s chairs with olive green cotton seats, matching napkins (of course), pots of lavender and rosemary, baskets with linen liners, proper (warm) sausages, homemade onion tart (by my husband), crudités, chocolate-dipped strawberries, magnums of pink wine, a side of smoked salmon, English mustard for the sausages, Dijon mustard for the onion tart, real glasses, real plates. I was nearly dead before I started!
It poured with rain from the moment we arrived. As I put up tents in my new silk dress, it became similarly tent-like in the wind. My hair was matted to my face and my espadrille rope-soled shoes drank the mud like a thirsty child. Never again. This year it may well be a Pret sandwich, a bag of crisps and a box of juice, sitting inside the car with the heater on.
Anya Hindmarch is a handbag and accessories designer and co-chair of the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition Preview Party, June 9. For tickets please call: +44 (0)20 7300 5974