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Wicker’s world

Charlotte Metcalf on hampers

29 October 2008

12:00 AM

29 October 2008

12:00 AM

If you have ever received a hamper, you will be familiar with that delicious quiver of anticipation as you unbuckle the creaking wicker lid to see what lies within. How often have you then suppressed a twinge of disappointment to find that, apart from a pretty tin of lapsang souchong and a bottle of decent Sancerre, there is nothing you really want? More than likely those jars of stilton, piccalilli and mincemeat no one knows how to cook with any more are still languishing at the back of your kitchen cupboard.

It might seem obvious to fill a hamper with things we really, really want but, like all great, simple ideas, they sometimes need a touch of inspiration and genius to realise. In this case, it has taken the combination of Selfridges, with its passion for innovation and for fusing food and fashion, and the handbag designer Anya Hindmarch to come up with a collection of 11 all-singing, all-dancing hampers to cover every gift crisis imaginable.

There are two Thank You Hampers, a Glutton’s Hamper, two Best of British Hampers (perfect for homesick friends overseas, containing as it does Marmite, Coleman’s mustard powder, Golden Syrup, HP Sauce and a Monty Python DVD), an Ultimate Girlie Hamper at £1,000, heaving with treats like a full range of Essie nail varnishes, Eve Lom products, cashmere socks, pink champagne, an iPod, Pretty Woman and Breakfast at Tiffanys DVDs; and there is even the witty Mother’s Ruin Hamper, containing a pair of Marigolds and bottle of Hendrick’s Gin. Of course, for the season, there are two Ultimate Christmas Hampers and a New Year New You Hamper, with a detox theme that includes a pedometer, health log, oxygen water, tape measure and skipping rope, plus a bottle of champagne for when you are ready to retox.

Every hamper contains a cracker with a chance to win an Anya Hindmarch handbag and has a leather luggage tag, in Selfridges yellow, that can be embossed with a personal message in your own handwriting, making the hamper even more of a desirable personal keepsake.

Anya Hindmarch’s headquarters is in an old brewery on Wandsworth Road. When I visit, Anya is between fashion weeks in London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, and it is two days before the press launch of the hampers at Selfridges. Aside from her hectic work agenda, Anya has five children and has just seen her eight-year-old son off to boarding school for the first time. She is feeling emotionally fragile and on the verge of tears, but her punishing schedule does not allow her to fall apart. On top of her workload and family commitments, Anya has nearly 20 godchildren and more than 150 Christmas presents to buy.

‘I just don’t have time to buy the perfect present for everyone,’ she says. ‘I really created the hampers for myself — selfishly, they contain everything I want or that my kids or friends want.’ Her Kids’ Heaven Hamper at £75 includes children’s favourites that only a full-on mother like Anya could know about: Pop Rocks, Gumi-Aid, Pez Looney Toons and Smucker’s Goobers.

It is Anya’s combination of vulnerability, determination and strength, deeply rooted in an everyday family routine, which made Selfridges food and restaurants director Ewan Venters so certain that Anya was the person he wanted to work with.

‘She’s an absolute genius,’ he enthuses. ‘Our core principle at Selfridges is to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and Anya is hugely democratic with a real handle on what’s happening out there. She’s totally in tune with popular culture’.

Ewan’s faith paid off. The day after the hampers were launched on 24 September, Selfridges was inundated with inquiries and there have already been two requests for a bespoke hamper costing £100,000. ‘Anya and I are already planning the contents for that one,’ says Ewan cheerfully. It will include dinner for eight to be cooked in your own home by celebrity chef Mark Hix.

‘Hampers deliver a double promise,’ says Anya, explaining her fascination with them. ‘The contents obviously matter enormously, but the hamper itself is such a beautiful, traditional piece of British heritage. It’s a lovely thing to own. It could be a school tuck box, or just imagine a gorgeous boot room stacked with hampers of all sizes!’ I can sense her creative brain whirring as she visualises it. In fact, Shakti Gawain’s book, Creative Visualisation, is one of the gifts Anya has chosen for the Ultimate Girlie Hamper. ‘Don’t you know about it?’ Anya asks me. ‘You must. It really works if you want to succeed. Trust me,’ Anya insists, smiling. Looking at Anya Hindmarch’s creative output so far, I have no reason to doubt it.

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