Ainsley Hansen’s Hansen & Gretel is a brand made for happy times. In 2012 she started Hansen & Gretel, a streetwear label that confidently injects creative subculture into its seasonal offerings. Looking through the range is to know what youthful fashion followers are into, what they’re wearing and what their latest image du jour entails. Hansen manages to tap into their niche without naffness. In fact, when you scroll the shopping portal of her website it’s as though she invented it. But in an age of direct-to-consumer retail, the young designer has gone against the grain, bucking millennial models of selling by adding brick-and-mortar boutiques, too (in Sydney’s Paddington and Mona Vale); their dreamy, bubblegum-hued interiors recalling the joy of what once made retail great. Indeed, stepping inside the Hansen & Gretel store is an experiential voyage into the designer’s universe; one of unbridled femininity, playfulness and a youthful optimism both tangible and tactile. You can touch, feel, hold her dreams. And they look – and more importantly feel – good.
As eternally sunny pieces from Resort 19 begin to drop in-store and online, we chat to Hansen about how she cultivates cool in a saturated market and what it means to be a young, female designer in today’s testing climate.
Can you tell us about the new collection?
The collection is an homage to the many women we are; inspired by Botticelli’s portrait of Venus where she arrives at the shore after her birth, fully-grown. I wanted to strike a balance between the fun and sophisticated and feel it’s been achieved through a series of frescoed prints, tropical-hued silks and drifts of seashell embroidery. Gossamer elements help to prophesies a symphony of feminine strength which is key to the Hansen & Gretel brand ethos. The nuances of womanhood continue to be our platform for inspiration each season.
Who / what inspires you?
Women are multifaceted by nature and I enjoy designing into this sweep of personalities. We have teenagers and grandmother’s enter our boutique only to walk away with the same linen shirt purchase. While I naturally acknowledge international style movements and icons, our client’s can range from 16 to 60+ which represents the expanse and womanhood we design for. I am therefore truly inspired by the you and me, my team, and the women around me and tailor-make how best I can move us forward each season. Remaining an accessible luxury brand is also important to me. Feminine strength and masculine charm are source for constant inspiration and continue to underline the brand’s co-ed spirit.
Do you have a particular muse in mind when designing? Did you for this collection?
Our journey as female’s is presented each season through different perspectives. Last MBFWA (’18) we looked toward the biblical idea of Eve and the voyage of womanhood since.
This year MBFWA (’19) was inspired by Botticelli’s portrait of Venus where she arrives at the shore after her birth, fully-grown. To me, this historical scene planted the idea of a girl’s adolescence into womanhood. As teenagers we often have this fixation of being older and envisioning the woman we’re going to be. Once we land there we realise this ‘woman’ is not a singular expression.
There’s a youthful optimism that runs throughout the Venus collection, balanced with sophisticated and sculptural form. This play of opposites and seeking to find the harmony between – is a common design thread for the brand.
You have created a kind of band of dream girls. Who are these girls, and who is the Hansen & Gretel woman?
From sassy and youthful, to dreamy and romantic, too conservative and progressive. Our dream girls are the women we know, the women who shop and wear the clothing. It’s my mum it’s my grandmother, it’s all the women behind the brand. We simply create to capture her essence inspired by a woman’s intelligence, strength and grace.
The sisterhood has seemingly never been stronger. As a female designer, how important do you see your role is in this testing climate? What role does the female designer play in the current social climate?
Hansen & Gretel is synonymous with the power of femininity and I relish this as my foundation for creativity. I don’t feel there needs to be emphasis placed on female versus male designers as we are fortunate to coexist in an industry which equally values both. I do however feel lucky to be a woman with a predominantly female workforce (by default). There is a gender understanding and therefore likeness between us, and dialogue surrounding their emotional and mental welfare is always flagged as a priority. This seed of perspective and encouraging balance between their ‘work-self’ and ‘true-self’, is planted firmly at Hansen & Gretel. This in turn helps ensure our sisterhood and internal social climate is nurturing and supportive, both personally and professionally.
How important do you think female-led fashion is today?
I think the beauty of fashion and style is that it transcends gender. A more predominant female-lead aspect could be evident in terms of influencers where women are more likely to look toward women for style inspiration.
As a young, independent, Australian designer, how do you navigate the global market and the increasing pressure on small business in fashion?
Hansen & Gretel is self funded so the pressures of navigating the business balance is real! We have appreciated redesigning and opening our new Sydney flagship (212 Oxford St, Paddington) and are looking forward to expanding interstate next year, with a Melbourne boutique in the pipeline.
Stocking internationally has been an incredible feat for us with some exciting majors launching the line early next year. While I am so appreciative of its success alongside our growing brand presence at home, I do feel Australia will always be the focal point; I sincerely love designing for Australian women and learning about what works regarding her aesthetic, overseas.
Interestingly, you have a bricks-and-mortar boutique in Paddington, in contrast to the direct-to-consumer model favoured by many of your peers. Why did you do this, and what are the advantages?
The experience of walking into our boutique and conversing with our brand stylist’s can’t be emulated online. Hansen & Gretel is about celebrating womanhood so it’s crucial this can be tangibly explored in-store. Offering both a style destination and online environment ensures we are in-tune to all our clients needs.
To a consumer, your product is usually first received through a screen. That Hansen & Gretel dress is usually first seen on an iPhone via Instagram or a website. Do you think about this when designing? How the product looks on a screen? Has the digital shaped your design? And if so, how?
Our design ethos runs deeper than digital, so I guess we have faith that what we have created will naturally translate via a consumer’s screentime.
I see you as one of the cult Australian fashion brands of today. What does ‘cult’ mean to you? How do you believe cult is created? And how do you sustain it?
There is a sense of ‘belonging’ to the word ‘cult’ so this aptly ties in to the idea of our global sisterhood of #GretelGirls. However, the impression of a cult could also be interpreted to mean restricted or stagnant which wouldn’t be an accurate brand association. We really are committed to evolving ourselves and gently progressing our clients season upon season.
You seem to see the fun in fashion. How important is it keeping your brand fun?
Designing into the sophisticated and fun is really important to the spirit of Hansen & Gretel. To feel powerful and playful is a unique experience and I love that freedom we have as women.
What are your tips for accessorising your pieces?
I think a boyish accent stylistically grounds a femme silhouette so try pairing a blazer or brogue with dresswear or slip a collared shirt beneath a sundress.
You are a huge social success. Why do you think this is? How did you cultivate this? And how important is this in the success of your brand as a whole?
I’m so grateful to have social tools which help connect us with followers the worldover. I love the feedback and the reachouts, and observing our garments ‘out there’ in the purchaser’s world. As a brand we are really organic, and true to ourselves. Our models are never overly styled, made-up or asked to ‘act’ and be something they are not. That harmony between female power and play very much comes through and I think this is experienced through all our social platforms and is the reason behind our increasing support.
You have a strong band of celebrity and influencer fans, which seem organic. How did this come about? What is the roll-on effect, for example, when Yan Yan wears the Sunny Daisy Dress?
We have never sought out to pay for influencers to wear the brand. Instead we seem to design garments they naturally want to incorporate into their wardrobe. When the likes of Carmen (Hamilton), Yan Yan (Chan) or Mimi (Elashiry) wear Hansen & Gretel, the traction to the piece’s are fairly instant so their endorsement goes a long way, expanding our brand awareness which I’m always grateful for.
Do you think about creating a buzz, when you design? Or do you just design, and the buzz comes after?
We design from a very considered stance, ensuring we’ve done our research and created something that is going to move our girl forward. If buzz surrounds the piece, it is an appreciated, added bonus.
What does the future look like for Hansen & Gretel? And for independent fashion?
There is a lot on the horizon for Hansen & Gretel including opening a third retail boutique, expanding internationally, and launching a menswear capsule this September. Environmentally we’re proudly investing in best practice and have been doing so for a number of years. We were one of the first brands to employ biodegradeable plastic right across our wholesale and retail sector’s. We also continue to research and source materials that are more sustainable, utilising natural fabrics that are renewable, mitigating our footprint wherever possible. We sincerely design each garment with the goal to last a lifetime. We are not a one night stand. This is an ongoing relationship and an opportunity to inspire and educate our team from the ground up, positively impacting our growing and global sisterhood of GretelGirls.
Finally, what is your favourite piece? (if you can say!) And what is your ultimate outfit? (either what you wear on repeat, or a dream outfit)
The Serafina Dress features a cold shoulder and ruched waist. I love this fusion of old world glamour with new age form and fluidity. While dresses are often easy to gush over, the Sinzie shirt in retro floral is my penultimate coordinate. I particularly appreciate it for its male/female duality so this would definitely be of my outfit on repeat.