March 2024

All In A Leather

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Brenda Harvey is a diamond in the rough. She is an honest, kind-hearted designer who juggles her time between being a mum and running her own accessories label. The latter creation, Benah, is now in its second year. The label is fast becoming known for its timeless take on accessories and careful attention to materials, including Italian leathers mixed with canvas and subtle gold hardware. These are pieces that will only get better with age and their creator hopes that each item will inspire a journey.

Adriana Giuffrida speaks to Brenda Harvey about the importance of narrative to a collection, the beauty of having a sounding board and the overriding importance of being ‘nice’.

Adriana Giuffrida: I read on your website that Benah is a person, or a place, or a mood. I really like this way of thinking, and you have such strong imagery to support your themes and moods in your collections. How do you go about creating this identity for each collection?

Brenda Harvey: I grew up in a really small town in New Zealand called Taumaranui. There were 32 people in my primary school, and four kids in my age group. In terms of pop culture and things like that, it just didn’t exist – so I don’t really draw from the typical pop culture icons. It comes from more of a philosophical idea, which starts in my head and filters down into a narrative. I always wanted Benah to be something that did not necessarily exist solely in the fashion industry; that somebody from the film world or from industrial design could appreciate it as something that was beautiful, or something great to be involved in, with a life beyond a season. Especially when I am doing imagery, I don’t want it to be a product shot. I don’t want it to be a typical look book because, to me, that is just boring. You look at it once, then you throw it away. The amount of time, especially in the fashion industry, you pour your heart out every three or four months…

AG: And no one really sees all the backup work you do.

BH: Exactly. So I just thought, for everyone involved in it, and for myself, I want to create more. I want it to be longer lasting and for more people to get something out of it. I mean, I look back on my first collection, the imagery that goes with that and the film, and I’m still really proud of it. That makes me feel like I’ve achieved what I set out to do. I hope it continues like that.

AG: I wanted to ask about the film you made for your first collection with your partner, Ben Briand. Can you see yourself making more of these?

BH: I mean, it’s interesting because we are working together on a project for the next collection – and obviously he is my life partner and the father of my child – and we had a meeting today about what we are doing, and for the first time it actually made me realise how in sync we are; how so many things don’t need to be said. You know, we are totally different in our personalities and design process and everything like that, but it comes together and compliments quite well. It makes me excited to think of the possibilities. I’m in awe of him everyday, and I think that in itself is pretty amazing.

AG: Your current collection, You Promise Me is inspired by how life is a patchwork of expectations and promises, and the process of growing older and wiser through experience. How do you translate this narrative into a product?

BH: I think that was just a really reflective time for me. You know, I’ve had a baby, I was thinking about the type of person that I was, the type of person that I am and who I want to be. So I start with that kind of idea, then I just think of the person, I think about the colours and the textures. It was quite moody and the imagery came across like that. I wanted to have rich colours, and the hints of gold with the hardware. In the collection before that, Living Light

AG: Living Light comes across a lot softer.

BH: Yeah, I had an idea in my head of what I wanted the model to look like. I just wanted her to be really light and bright from a visual point of view, but I wanted her to have something behind her eyes, because it was about simplicity and how humans do tend to overcomplicate things. We can’t just take things at face value. We go, “Oh yeah it looks like that, but I’m sure its really like that.”

AG: Do you ever design with a certain person in mind?

BH: I kind of think of the Benah girl as ageless. She just appreciates beautiful things. I think, instead of targeting a certain age, a certain country or whatever, it’s more about like-minded people. I also wanted it to be unisex, to include mens’ beanies and backpacks and that kind of thing.

Sometimes I think, “oh, am I just designing for my self? Is that bad?” But I like the fact that my accessories don’t overpower people. I think that style is essentially an inner quality, and you shouldn’t see what a person is wearing before you see them. I want it to look like a quality piece because I have put time into designing it.

AG: You work with Italian leathers and Mongolian cashmeres. How do you source these fabrications?

BH: I worked in production for years, dealing with factories in Hong Kong, Mongolia and China, India, and Indonesia. I’ve been blessed with finding amazing people to work with and they are just so lovely, which I hope is a compliment to my personality, and how I communicate with them. The woman who has the factory that does all my silk scarves sends me photos of her family and the lakes she visits on her holidays, and I have literally only had an email relationship with her. I think, being in production for so many years, I saw how makers in factories got treated and I was like, “I am never ever doing that,” because, at the end of the day, who is going to want to work with you if you are not nice?

AG: What is your dream for Benah?

BH: I just want people to get where I’m going with it. I want some person in Paris who makes perfumes to discover my brand and think, “That’s amazing”. Whether they buy a bag or not, they will appreciate the imagery and think, “This is a really great brand that takes pride in what it does”. Ultimately, I’m running a business – and yes, I do want to make sure that it’s a successful business – but in 10 years time I also want to think that’s something that I created from scratch and hopefully be able to look back on my first collection and not cringe. I think it’s just about being really honest with yourself and going with your gut feeling. I think if I continue to do that, which I have, then I feel my ‘dream’ will come true, and that it will be something that I am proud of.

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