“How do I feel…oh, I don’t know. I don’t often get asked that.” Sophie Hulme is sitting around a huge wooden dining table in her vast home meets studio space off London’s Upper Street, telling ELLE about her imminent London fashion Week debut. “I suppose I have an incredible amount of fear, but then you need to be a little bit scared, all of the time, to hit the deadlines we do.”
The Sophie Hulme label is probably best known for the Armour Tote bag, a minimal rectangular tote that has been slung and spotted in the crook of many an industry arm; from Asos buying director Caren Downie, to ELLE’s own editors. The bag is the label’s best selling piece, and it’s subtly tweaked each season, a subtle process that underpins Sophie’s approach to design . “Look at Louis Vuitton,” she says. “They do the same with their bags; I just want to evolve the Armour tote. I suppose it sold so well because it shows what the brand’s about - timeless, but still modern. That’s what I do; I work with classics and then develop them. It’s exciting to anchor design in reality.”
Sophie’s designs are classic, androgynous and fuss-free. Although the collection features pieces for those with softer tastes, the designer admits personally she ‘doesn’t dig bow backs,’ or frilly pieces and instead prefers the label’s Boy coat with its clean lines and hardwear. Yet conversely there is also an off-beat, humorous edge to her aesthetic, and signature Sophie Hulme gold charms have become the equivalent of an East London identity tag. From the chunky station master’s whistle, to the chip fork; like a modern day Midas, she takes perfunctory pieces and makes them shine. “People went a bit bonkers for the gold chip fork. My mates use them to eat chips in the kebab shop at 2am in the morning, and I quite like that.”
Liberty, Harvey Nichols and Dover Street Market like it too, and Sophie is now boasting an impressive stockist’s base, testament to her commercial brain - and come autumn 12 the buyers will have a full collection of 55 pieces and 18 bags to select from, her biggest yet. “You’re wasting your time if you’re a designer not thinking about sales. Designs are more exciting with a challenging brief. I’ve always got that in mind.”
As a child Sophie was a collector, from penguins to robots (she now lives opposite one of London’s best toy shops) and her latest fascination is with dinosaurs. Tyrannical T-Rex’s will be roaming across jacquard jumpers, jewellery and lace in her autumn 12 collection when it’s shown in two weeks time at Somerset House. Sophie is also focusing on texture for the show, and her long-line culottes and laser-cut trouser silhouettes sound inspired.
Although there will be newness, Sophie’s reluctance to dramatically change her aesthetic from season-to-season is part of her dogged commitment to developing a distinct handwriting. After rebranding once five seasons ago, she’s finally confident about the brand direction and image.
“It’s taken me a while to be confident with the show. I’m a bit scared of what people are going to say, I find the fashion industry a bit intimidating. Consistency is hard to achieve in this industry...If I can keep being in those stores, and seeing people in my collection, then I’d be quite happy...I get to sit around and say, ‘what things are we going to make gold today?’ So I feel lucky.”