It’s been said that the key to retail success is to know your customers. For some designers, that’s a daunting challenge; for others, it simply comes naturally. For Hayden-Harnett, the innate understanding of what its clientele wants is so deep, it’s as if shoppers are hanging out in the design studio, explaining how they’ll wear each new bag and whispering about how high the wedge on each pair of strappy sandals should be.
Based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Hayden-Harnett—aka Toni Hacker and Ben Harnett, partners personally as well as professionally—is surrounded by the cool customers that are obsessed with the brand’s designs. “Our girl is very confident,” explains Hacker, who’s the company’s creative director. “She’s a city girl that knows style and knows what she wants. She looks for things that are creative and really cute: things that are very unique and very stylish but easy to work into her wardrobe with other pieces. And she’s not a repeat offender with her logos and brands—she’s just looking for the right pieces.”
Those Hayden-Harnett pieces include a laundry list of chic essentials, like roomy everyday totes, perfectly tweaked trench coats, Hermes-meets-CBGBs punked-up leather cuffs, and riding boots that are just clunky enough to look like you might’ve found them in the back of a closet circa 1976. There are also plenty of smaller items—wallets, luggage tags and cardholders—and even nylon luggage that has turned out to be as popular with men as women. Nothing is too expensive, and somehow everything feels meticulously designed and subtle at the same time. They are pieces that have been created to slip effortlessly into your overall look instead of concretely defining it.
For virtually everything in Hayden-Harnett’s line, necessity has been the mother of invention. “I basically design what I’m looking for at the time,” Hacker says. “When we started, it was, ‘I want to make 5 perfect bags.’ Then I decided to do apparel because I was having such a difficult time finding stuff that wasn’t too serious and was stylish and easy to work around my life. And it was the same thing with our travel stuff: I was just looking for fantastic luggage and couldn’t find it.” In the works are the latest items she hasn’t found: the perfect men’s trousers, jacket, and messenger bags…all of which she’s been hunting for in vain for as gifts for Harnett.
The company is about to celebrate its fourth anniversary—the official launch was on April Fool’s Day 2005—and has two self-standing boutiques: the original Greenpoint store, which Hacker calls “the mothership”, and a new shop on Elizabeth Street in Nolita. The brand was also recently exposed to a broader audience through a successful collaboration with Target, which included super-affordable takes on its most identifiable designs, like a double-pocketed flight tote. Selections from the Hayden-Harnett line are also sold at smaller boutiques around the country, and at Nordstrom and online at Piperlime.
Although the main collection isn’t exactly Target-priced, the stylish practicality of Hacker’s designs makes them a great value. Whether your choice from the Hayden-Harnett collection is a narrow leather cuff or a big hobo bag, chances are you’ll wear it everyday…which is precisely the designer’s intention. “I am totally obsessed with versatility in products,” Hacker says. “I love to make things that are beautiful but are very functional at the same time. I want our customers who buy a bag to feel like that was the best 300 dollars they’ve ever spent in their lives.”
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