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Jane Hill

Laura Jackson discusses the beauty of bags and decadent shopping experiences with the co-founder of handbag brand Ollie & Nic.

How did you come up with the name Ollie & Nic?
I started the brand with my husband Nick, so people assume he is the Nick and I am the Ollie, but the name doesn’t have anything to do with me. We wanted something weighty like Marks & Spencer and we liked names that weren’t gender specific, but using our surnames (Hill & Hill) made it sound like a solicitor’s firm. We were racking our brains with Nick’s brother Ollie, and I realised how good their names sounded. Nick didn’t jump at it, but I felt it worked so we went with it.

How do you run a successful business as well as being a couple?
We take care of different elements of the business. You could say Nick is the finance director and I am the design director. Our backgrounds didn’t exactly lead to those titles – Nick was a chartered surveyor and I was a buyer. But he is better with figures and from my buying background (Hill was a buyer for Chelsea Girl before it became River Island, and also worked at Topshop in the 1980s) I became the product lady.

Why did you set up the brand?
We started our own business in 1991 making accessories for the high street, but I wanted my own brand. It was about 2000 when I was in Selfridges and realised there was a real hole for a great accessories brand. There was Jane Shilton and Suzy Smith, and Billy Bag had just started to hit a good vein of form, but we thought there was stillroom for a funky accessories label, and we launched Ollie & Nic in 2002.

What makes Ollie & Nic’s product different from other high street bags?
We put a lot of effort into the detail. There are patterned linings, detachable charms and touchable fabrics. This is the kind of thing you won’t get on the high street, yet we haven’t priced our bags so you have to spend a month’s salary on one of them. We make sure the bags are practical, but it is equally as important that they are gorgeous. We call it ‘practical and precious’.

Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?
We spend a lot of time in Hong Kong and India so we pick up ideas there, as well as reading fashion magazines and looking at trend prediction websites. We visit antique and vintage shops for inspiration for a clasp or a handle. We’re not slavish to trends; it’s more about creating a colour palette and a story for the season. We spend time in our shops looking at what people are drawn to and rework popular items with a twist for the following season.

What has been the highlight of your career in fashion so far?
The opening of our first store in Brighton in 2003. I always wanted my own shop and I was so proud of it. We set up the store ourselves, with chandeliers and mirrors. We are going to revamp the store soon to keep it in line with our other shops, which have more of a vintage-inspired boutique vibe.

Where are your favourite places to shop?
I love Liberty in London. Retail should be theatre and you should never lose sight of the beauty of shopping, and in Liberty you don’t. I visit Liberty to smell and touch beautiful items. I also love a place called GOD [Goods of Desire] in Hong Kong. It’s like an oriental form of Habitat, homely but not gimmicky.

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