Designer Nicole Hanley is looking forward to 2016 after a year of big changes, which included dropping the Mellon from Hanley Mellon. Her label, now Hanley, is only looking forward. This season that meant a trip to Spain, specifically the Prado Museum in Madrid, which served as inspiration for the Fall/Winter collection (which Hanley shows tomorrow evening for New York Fashion Week). Stay tuned for the brand’s first brick and mortar, slated to open this summer on Madison Avenue. Hanley fills us in on the challenges and blessings behind her charmed life…
What made you want to get into the fashion business?
I fell into the fashion business more by chance and circumstance than determination. During high school and college I spent summers interning in many different fields—and honestly always found a creative outlet and enjoyed my work no matter the assignment. My mind naturally thinks through things creatively. While at Ralph Lauren I fell in love with the design process, and looking back, throughout my life the path to fashion was natural and obvious.
What have you learned while doing this label?
The incredible power and sense of fulfillment in having a great team to work with. I look forward to every single day. I love what I do and who I am doing it with. We work hard, but we work smart and it is incredibly rewarding what we are accomplishing together.
What are the challenges of being a relatively new designer on the fashion map these days?
The expectations of launching a fully realized brand right out of the gate on all platforms, including social media, has been a bit overwhelming. It has taken us a good year to work out the kinks and hone our brand message.
Have you encountered any biases?
Absolutely—that’s natural in life and something one should expect to encounter. What you learn is the importance of being true to yourself despite the opinion of another. Though it takes some practice, it gives you the freedom to move forward more fearlessly.
What was your goal when you started Hanley?
We have already, in one year, exceeded my wildest expectations. The surreal nature is finally becoming a bit more normal and we have a future growth plan for our business that is real and achievable.
Where is the collection currently sold?
We have just finished our first wholesale season with Bloomingdales as our major retail partner. They have been fun and creative to work with—we could not have asked for a greater first season.
Many of your collections are based on exotic escapes…Where will you be taking us to for Fall?
While in Spain, I had the unique opportunity to visit the Restoration Department at the Prado Museum in Madrid. There I saw masterpieces by Claudio Coello and Bosch’s triptych up close through the intimate understanding of experts such as restoration head Rafael Alonso, which was one of the more extraordinary opportunities I’ve had.
What destination is on your bucket list?
I have many. Off the cuff: St. Petersburg, Bhutan, India, Peru…but I also love returning to the places I’ve already fallen in love with—your senses become more familiar. Each new encounter of a previous experience opens up a deeper connection to that place.
You claim to be a light packer. What are your tricks?
Carry-on is always my preferred method of travel, but for a winter getaway I would certainly check a bag. When traveling, the right answer is whatever most easily gives you peace of mind. That said, I always make sure to pack the minimum number of pieces that style together easily in the many different ways I’ll need for that trip—our Hanley knits are a no-brainer and go anywhere.
Before you started Hanley, what would we have found in your wardrobe?
I don’t discriminate old/new, expensive/inexpensive, but I am incredibly particular about my choices and as such don’t shop for the sake of shopping. My style hasn’t changed much over the years—I still mix it all up, and have always had clear ideas about what I like and don’t like, but as I get older the differentiation between what works/what doesn’t work changes. The past few years I have loved Raf Simons‘ collections for Dior in particular, but you can find me rediscovering something I’ve had since middle school or a wonderful piece from my mother or grandmother’s past wardrobes, too.
What are the Hanley pieces that you can’t get enough of?
Eek! That is a tough one for me as I have happily lived in Hanley since launch. Our Hanley knit program is an any day no-brainer. It’s as comfortable as wearing sweats, but dressy enough for nearly any occasion. It takes me from the plane into meetings to a business lunch and into a cocktail party. Our blouses are simple and chic and when styled with our signature matching scarf, are particularly sophisticated. Oh, and our jackets are perfection! [Laughs] Sorry, told you that was a tough question for me!
When can we finally expect your first brick and mortar?
This summer, at 29 East 61st Street at Madison Avenue.
What are you looking forward to in 2016?
I am old enough to see clearly how much happens in a year—including much you plan for and the number of surprise twists and turns. As they say, the days are long but the years are short; 2015 was an incredible year of growth, personally and professionally, and I welcome the same for 2016. It is certainly a privileged adventure.