By Samantha Conti
with contributions from Natalie Theodosi
 on March 3, 2019
Anya Hindmarch - Bags That Work

LONDON — Anya Hindmarch Ltd. and its Qatari partner Mayhoola for Investments plan to part ways after seven years, and in an increasingly fierce market for independent, high-end accessories brands.

The split follows a retail and product rollout that saw Anya Hindmarch Ltd. expand in the U.S., Asia-Pacific and the Middle East and into the home category. It also comes on the heels of a restructuring that saw the English firm pare losses and boost profits despite a string of management changes. Four different chief executives have run the company since 2012, when Mayhoola took its stake. It was originally a minority investment, but over the years, Mayhoola took a majority stake in the company.

According to industry sources, the decision to split was mutual, and the company founder and creative chief Anya Hindmarch plans to remain at the forefront of the business. “It was a natural time to explore options,” said a source familiar with both parties. “Profits have materially improved, the company is in good health and work on the cost and revenue side has been completed.”

Anya Hindmarch Ltd. and Mayhoola, which also counts Valentino, Balmain and the Italian men’s label Pal Zileri among its investments, declined to comment. News of a potential sale emerged in The Sunday Times of London.

Antoine Bejui, the former chief financial officer of Balmain, was named chief executive officer of Anya Hindmarch Ltd. last year, following Mayhoola’s most recent investment of 16 million pounds into the brand. The original deal in 2012 valued the Anya Hindmarch business at 70 million pounds.

As reported last October, sales fell and losses widened at Anya Hindmarch in the 12 months to Dec. 31, 2017. Turnover was down 10 percent 37.2 million pounds, while pretax losses more than doubled to 28.2 million pounds, compared with the previous year, according to numbers filed at Companies House, the latest register of U.K. businesses.

In a bid to sharpen up its retail portfolio, the company also closed eight of its smaller stores and concessions in the U.K. and Japan, including ones at House of Fraser and Harvey Nichols in 2017. Anya Hindmarch has 33 points of sale, including flagships, concessions, and franchises, in prime locations across the U.K., the U.S. and Asia.

Last year saw a strategy shift for the business, which decided to forgo fashion shows in favor of consumer-facing presentations, events and projects, plus a see-now, buy-now strategy.

Events have included installing 30 gigantic red chubby heart balloons around London. A three-day Chubby Cloud project last September saw the designer take over Banqueting House in Westminster with big, fat beanbag clouds, where guests could jump, vault, flop and rest as they listened to concerts, readings and guided meditations.

In February during London Fashion Week, Hindmarch invited visitors to climb inside gigantic versions of her new Neeson woven tote bag. Craftsmen were also on hand weaving the bags, which can also be customized.

“We are making tough decisions to ensure the business is best placed for the fast-changing consumer environment. Now, more than ever, we are focused on finding new and creative ways to engage with our customers,” said Hindmarch when she announced her decision to leave the London catwalk in 2017.

Last year, the company introduced a home fragrance collection called Anya Hindmarch Smells with license partner United Perfumes and created a line of accessories dedicated to the mobile phone, including cross-body straps, wristlets, stickers and charms.

The business has long been creative and forward-thinking. Hindmarch was early on the customization trend. In 2001 she began offering her Be A Bag service, where customers could have personal photos printed onto bags and accessories. Her cotton tote reading “I’m not a plastic bag,” was all the rage in 2007, and spurred countless knockoffs. Her standalone stores employ in-house artisans who can customize bags and accessories.

In the current climate, creativity and the ability to think ahead are not enough, and high-end independent accessories brands are getting squeezed from both ends of the market. At the very top, there are the well-funded, international juggernauts such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci, while brands such as Fendi, Dior and Loewe have become a formidable force, reviving iconic designs such as the Baguette or the Saddle Bag, or creating new styles such as the Puzzle.

Celine and Mulberry are building on an already strong offer, while Burberry is determined to make it big in luxury accessories, with a new pricing architecture for women’s handbags under ceo Marco Gobbetti and chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci. JW Anderson is also pushing branded handbags to the fore while Hussein Chalayan launched his first collection of bags and accessories for fall 2019.

There is also pressure from the premium or “affordable luxury” end of the market, with new brands gaining traction, including Strathberry, a favorite of the Duchess of Sussex, Aspinal of London, Sophie Hulme, Manu Atelier, the Bulgarian label By Far, The Volon, Wandler, Elleme Paris — a best-seller at Harvey Nichols — and Ratio et Motus, part of Net-a-porter’s vanguard program for new promising labels. The latter all offer bags in the 300-600 euros price range, and have had rapid success at retail.