INTERVIEW: Hemingway Design’s Gerardine Hemingway

In case you hadn’t noticed, vintage style has been a driving force in British style for a few years now, from coiffed and corseted rockabilly chicks in North London to the mid-century couture that has been preoccupying fashion designers for seasons on end.

Hemingway Design were there right from the start. Vintage is in the DNA of Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, the Lancashire couple who have been mainstays of British fashion since their Camden Town market stall selling secondhand clothes morphed into the first Red or Dead collection in 1983.

They’re not just about clothes: they’ve designed everything from flooring to wallpaper, Dr Martens to houses for Wimpey Homes in Gateshead. There’s a museum created with Stella Mitchell, the Land of Lost Content. Wayne Hemingway was made a professor of Urban Design at Northumbria University in 2004 and Gerardine a Doctor of Design at Plymouth University in 2006, and both were honoured with MBEs.

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Their children Tilly and Jack are involved in the family business too, which makes them a perfect match with Panache Lingerie, another family business from the north of England. Hemingway Vintage Lingerie, which will launch this month at Pure Body, is a collaboration that combines the current Hemingway style – curvy, retro and witty – with all the up-to-date techniques and materials that Panache has to offer. Here, Gerardine Hemingway discusses the collection.

LI: How did the collaboration with Panache come about?
GH: We have a large number of dedicated followers to our Vintage brand and we noticed that in the build-up to our events and just in general chat there was a lot of discussion about how difficult it is to find cool lingerie to wear with vintage or vintage-inspired clothing. It was clear that there was a gap in the market and that this was something that people wanted. We targeted Panache as a possible partner having seen the quality of the ranges they produce and we also loved the fact that they are British and based “up north” where we are from. The fact that Panache is a “family business” with a human approach is a great fit with the Hemingway Vintage ethos.

LI: Tell us about your vintage activities and inspirations in general
GH: I have been an avid buyer of vintage for over 30 years and am constantly inspired by the wealth of creativity of not just 20th century fashion but also music, film, art, design and food. Vintage by Hemingway is our tribute to the cultural movements of the 20th Century. From our vintage-inspired product ranges to the magical Vintage Festival, Vintage Hemingway celebrates the wonderful legacy that has been left to us and reinterprets it for the 21st century. With over 30 years’ experience, Wayne and I “know our onions” when it comes to vintage fashion and we have a young team who are eagerly following in our footsteps.

LI: Why do you think now is the right time for a vintage-inspired collection?
GH: The level of discussion around this topic showed us there was a clear gap in the market and that this was a product range that lovers of vintage really wanted. The concept of looking at timeless fashions and revisiting styles to reinterpret them for modern times is becoming increasingly popular with the younger generations who have grown up in households with parents and siblings who care much more about fashion than in the past. We are in a time when there has never been greater access to be able to discover the history of fashion.

LI: Why are the 40s and 50s such a strong inspiration?
GH: To sum it up in one word: glamour. When we hold our vintage events these are clearly the two decades that provide the most inspiration for women. These were the decades that sowed the seeds for the 60s explosion in youth culture. These were the decades dominated by a world war, austerity and a time when women had to be resourceful. In the 40s, society needed to put a smile on its face and women used lingerie to add spice to the utility fabrics and styles that were being forced on them through shortages, while the 50s saw an explosion of colour and flesh as the shackles of austerity were lifted. It was a celebratory decade that set the tone for a new generation of risk takers.

LI: How did you go about researching the design, and what were your biggest inspirations and references?
GH: A lot of the research came from our own knowledge and from our own wardrobes – for example, Rita, who is on our design team, is an avid lingerie shopper. We also have The Land Of Lost Content, which is our museum in Shropshire, and our vast digital archive, which has thousands of lingerie images and photos going back to the turn of the 20th century.

LI: Was working in lingerie new for you, and if so, how did you find the challenge?
GH: I really do enjoy a challenge, and designing in new product areas is also something that we have done. I find that research stimulates and always brings out new thinking. The best designers are always adept as transferring their skills across categories and I really enjoy working one day on affordable housing, the next on designing furniture and the next on lingerie. It keeps the team and I fresh and that is something that is really important.

LI: Did you have a particular price point you were aiming at, and how did you achieve that?
GH: When Wayne and I launched our first label Red or Dead, we aimed to be the world’s first affordable designer label. Believing that great design was not just for the moneyed elite was very new thinking in the early 80s, and it was this thinking that set the scene for the rest of our design careers. Creativity transcends class barriers and Wayne and I wanted then and still want now for as many people as possible to enjoy the fruits of our labours.

LI: What are your favourite pieces in the collection, and why?
GH: As the range was a collaborative process and put together by the whole of the Hemingway team I have asked them for their favourite pieces too! For me, it has to be Gracie. The shapes work well for the more mature lady. I love the colour combination and its very feminine without being too girly or over fussy.
Rita: It’s a tough one as I’m split between Elizabeth, Peggy and Dora, but I think my favourite is Elizabeth as I have A LOT of lingerie and have never come across this bra shape in stores today. It’s very unusual and iconic of the 50s and is the one that I am most looking forward to adding to my collection.
Tilly: My favourite is Dora, especially in the charcoal. I like the cut across the bust and how the back fastening detail is mirrored on the knickers. It’s a simple and clean-looking piece with a lovely attention to detail.

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