Alison Jane Interviews Gunda Hafner the creative director of a new, Made in Britain, eco-conscious, artisan, luxe fashion house destined to put Surrey not Mayfair on the fashion map.
The eponymous, Gunda Hafner SS 17 Summer collection features a whimsical, exclamation mark collection, clashing luxe sportswear shapes with I want you now, delightfully poodle-like, colour pop, heirloom knitwear pieces to treasure and wear again and again, like the best friend you can’t live without.
Uber Chic, Eco-Conscious Fashion Inspired by Uma Thurman
Wow! Who knew that Surbiton could be such a hotbed of uber chic fashion talent and eco-conscious, fashion revolution rebellion? This is fashion begging to be worn by Will I Am’s best female BFF, and it comes as no surprise that Hafner is inspired by fearless fashion icons Uma Thurman and Charlize Theron, who she giggles, and describes as being a little bit crazy, spirited and strong in a good way.
Have I told that each piece is lovingly handmade in her tiny home studio, from nature’s finest, breathable materials: silk, wool, linen, alpaca, cotton and cashmere? She has even dreamt up a glam, charismatic alternative to fur, using luxuriant, curly alpaca yarn. Yes, it is artisan, and eco-friendly, but it all looks more St Tropez than down on the farm, hippy-dippy hair shirt.
Then there’s the inspirational back-story. It is not very often that you hear that a trip to the dentist inspired the birth of a new artisan, luxury fashion house aimed at the discerning, conscious fashion maven who would never allow herself to be pigeonholed by age, hemlines or passing fashion fads or clichés.
How an Allergic Reaction Gave Birth to a New Artisan Fashion House
But the times they are a changing – and this is exactly what happened to Gunda Hafner, an entrepreneurial, Surrey housewife and mother of three – turned visionary, eco-conscious fashion designer. One day, Gunda went along to a routine appointment at her dentist, which then turned into a nightmare, when she experienced an allergic reaction to the anesthetic administered during the course of her treatment.
Talking on the phone from her studio, Gunda tells me how her life changed that day. “A couple of years ago I had my own bad experience reacting to all sorts of synthetic and chemical substances. It really made me think about the way we live and consume as a family. Now, we are very conscious of what we eat, what we wear and what products we use around the house, and we only use sustainable cleaning products and buy local and organic food. We’ve also cut sugar out of our diets.”
Luxury Eco-Conscious Fashion in Breathable Natural Fibres
It didn’t stop there. Gunda then started to think about re-igniting the career in fashion she put on hold for love, back in the nineties. “I wanted to start an artisan luxury fashion label for women who would care about their clothes as much as they do about the food and natural beauty products they buy. I also wanted my collection to be ageless, sublimely comfortable and to allow the skin to breath and avoid any uncomfortable reactions from wearing synthetic fabrics.”
I’m excited. Hafner has that rare ability to clash the casual with classical elegance and boldly exploit paintbox colours to make the execution thoroughly beguiling and deliciously ritzy yet quirky. The stand out pieces in her current collection includes an opulent, poodle green jacket, a demure, oh so pretty grey shirtdress with ruffle hem, retro, Studio 54 style, A-line mini skirts and the slouchy sweater to covet in creamy, clotted cream alpaca.
Now, as she talks to me, I get a real sense of the excitement she feels as she describes mixing the supermarket run and her teenage taxi service with trips to Paris and Florence to buy thread and kaleidoscopic, tactile fabrics.
A Bit of An Alien
Interestingly, she admits that her family thought she was a ‘bit of an alien’ when she first started to talk about the idea of eco-conscious fashion. “Then I went on social media and discovered it wasn’t just me, it was a huge topic,” she says laughing.
Gunda has a degree in fashion and textiles from the College of Fashion and Design in Vienna and she planned to take up a career in fashion until meeting her husband changed her best-laid, youthful ideals.
“I always intended to go straight into a career in fashion. Then, I got married right after graduation, then we had kids, and we had to move around a lot with my husband’s job, so I didn’t get the chance to settle down and start a business. It was only when my eldest son was about to leave home, that I started to revisit the idea. I became restless, and I took a few courses in fashion styling and a colour course at the London College of Fashion and Central St Martin’s – and that was the beginning.”
Let’s Do It!
Are you excited? “ Yes, I am very excited. As I have become older, I have matured, and I started to realise that there is no longer any reason to hesitate. It is either going to work, or it isn’t going to work, so let’s just have a go.”
What does your daughter, Emma, think of the collections?
“ She is my best and worst critic! She has a very particular style. She has very different role models from me. It’s really good to get her feedback.”
Mum, Your Fashion Designs are Really Different!
She reveals how she had to curb her daughter’s innocent, youthful ideas about the fashion industry and how it works. “At first she kept asking me to copy designs that she had seen on her favourite female celebrities. I explained that I couldn’t do that; it has to be my original designs. Recently, she paid me a great compliment by saying ‘mum, you really are different’”.
There is a strong streak of independence and a dash of the eighties rebel about Hafner, and it is exciting to see how that is finally being unleashed. “ I am a person of contrasts. I like to clash ideas. I like the idea of opposites.”
She talks about attending a Catholic boarding school, and how she clashed with her teacher over her desire to express her personality through fashion.
“ At school, there was fashion rebellion, short skirts and all of that. But I was the only one who was given permission to knit during our philosophy classes.”
Boy George is My Eighties Fashion Icon
It was the era of big parties and rave culture, and Hafner describes how exciting it was to be young and to have a creative spirit. “It was liberating. My big icon was Boy George. I liked him because he was different. He was rebellious and quite a strong character, but he also had a sensitive side, and I liked that too.”
Clearly, Hafner possesses a flair for working with colour, pattern, and texture and she has also used wool instead of fur to create the same feeling of comfort and cocooning luxury without harming animals. I have no doubt her playfully arresting knitwear will become a big hit with animal loving, discerning fashion lovers. “People say you should always go for black, but I don’t agree with that. Some people shouldn’t wear black. My last winter collection was quite quiet. I’ve really enjoyed designing the SS 17 collection. I love working with bold colours and I hope that comes across – that I love what I do.”
I design for Mother’s and Daughters and I Don’t See Why Designers Should Dictate Skirt Lengths
Interestingly, Hafner has plenty to say about mainstream fashion dictating to women what they should wear. “ I don’t believe in bringing out one length of the skirt for one season, and that’s it. I have skirts in different lengths. I like to design for women of different ages groups, tastes, and moods. In fact, I am looking forward to doing a shoot that reflects exactly that. My daughter, who is sixteen will be one of my models, and then I want to have two more models from different age groups.”
What is your dream for Gunda Hafner? Where would you like to take the brand?
“This is my first year, so I would like to continue to grow, survive being a startup, and then I would love to find the right company to collaborate with. I would love to be able to outsource the production locally. At the moment, I have one lady with an arts and crafts background who sews for me. I would love to be able to create more employment in my local community. Then I would be able to focus on the collections and sourcing the fabrics and have someone to do the production. That is the dream. Every morning when I get up, I am excited about the day, and what I am going to do next.”
Gunda Hafner – Sustainable and Made in Britain Credentials
Artisan, Handmade production in small quantities
Uses natural, low allergenic, natural fibres including: silk, linen, cotton, alpaca and cashmere.
The collection features some GOTS certified fabrics, including organic cotton and Gunda, would like to increase this as the label grows.
Employs skilled local craftspeople
Sources fabric from Britain and Europe only
(This is a sponsored fashion feature. Gunda Hafner has joined our Ethical Hedonist VIP Brands Programme for the month of June. Alison Jane was given the freedom to write about the brand, without copy approval. We hope you love the story). Get in touch if you would love to be next, and support our inspiring, Ethical Hedonist Media Revolution! Thank you.
Images Reproduced Courtesy of Gunda Hafner Copyright Gunda Hafner/Ethical Hedonist Magazine 2017