Steven Harkin, from the Bush to the most exciting city in the world: rough and brown bags? far from it!
When a young Dutch woman met Steven Harkin at a casual dinner last August, she saw a (handsome) man as old as her dad (only 63) wearing old work clothes. Little did she know that same man was the designer and maker of the slick handbags she came to discover in our shop the day after: “is this what Steve makes? I expected something rough, like shabby brown leather and no real style! Wow!”
And, yes, the man on the black and white photo, with a beard and a horse who looks like your grand-father IS Steven Harkin. In his late twenties. In the 80s… I know!!
And no… that’s not Steven Harkin, that’s Crocodile Dundee!
A bit rough around the edges as he himself says, Steven Harkin surprises with his sophisticated creations. In 2008, as we were exhibiting at Premiere Classe Tuileries in Paris, a senior staff at Philip Treacy Millinery, admiring his bags, told him to “lose the accent”. He hasn’t. Why would he? Antipodean is so cool!
Now, to answer the question, here are parts of an interview he gave to boticca.com a few years ago:
Can you tell us about your story?
I grew up in suburban Sydney during the 50′s and 60′s. An era of post war positiveness and a long way from the woes of Europe. It almost seemed idyllic with memories of almost endless summers, beaches, rugby and freedom. My family was the typical mum and dad and two boys, working class rising to middle class with Dad’s hard work. This was an era of anything is possible and that’s what I grew up believing. I think perhaps the only thing that may make me a little different is that belief that was instilled in me from my father, that I can do anything I want, and in many ways I have done that. I guess I was born with a talent that has been both a blessing and a curse at times.
What are your inspirations and what led you to become a designer?
I never set out to be a designer and nearly my whole life I had wanted to either be a racing car driver or an architect. At first I didn’t even know what an architect did but that is what I was planning to do right up until I failed school miserably at 17. I came to the arts as initially a soft option at school, simply because of a comment by a teacher who thought I would be good at Graphic design. So after several attempts at working and realising I hated working in an office block, my parents supported me to go to Art school. 1st year I won a bursary scholarship, got bored and failed 2nd year.
Lots of other jobs in between such as bulldozer driver, fencing contractor, furniture maker, Interior design course … until when I was a power station operator I started making bags as a hobby. The first bags I sold were to my old art teacher. So now after 30 years I am still designing and making bags. It is the only thing I have done that still challenges me and suits my nature. I can start in the morning with an idea and often by the end of the day have a finished product. I am self taught aside from a 1 month pattern-making course in Milan.
What kind of person wears or would you imagine wearing your pieces?
I have been surprised at who does buy our bags. Mostly women, from 25 to 75 years of age. But always someone who loves the difference and quality of what I do. It is primarily people who have a positive sense of self and don’t want to be led by what the fashionistas tell us we should be wearing. People that want to invest in their appearance in a timeless piece that they may hand on to their grandchildren.
What have been your greatest challenges as a designer?
My greatest challenge has been my age and origins in some ways. Because I started so late in the fashion industry, I am not one of the hot young designers out of college. Coming from Australia and launching a brand in Britain at the age of 53 is not the usual way to do things. We had very little resources so PR and Marketing have suffered and we realise now how important it is to get a brand known.
Could you describe your process?
I often start with a concept in my mind of shape and form that I want. I might do a few thumbnail sketches to see what shapes work best for what I am looking for. I will then take one of those and start drawing the initial pattern to size. This gives me all the proportions and placements of different components. Generally I will start building the patterns for most of the components. I might need to do some testing of materials and construction systems, to inform my pattern making. I might either make rough prototype to see proportion and potential construction problems, and then make adjustments if needed and then do a finished product. I can often go straight to the finished product.