To a fortysomething Gen X-er like me, Shrimps founder Hannah Weiland is a true millennial – an entrepreneurial, social savvy twentysomething whose success belies both her age and her ingenue appearance. In just four short years, the petite, softly spoken Londoner has created a globally successful luxury womenswear brand from – wait for it – faux fur – and built its profile almost entirely on social networking site Instagram. She manages a team of 12 (including two Irish women), and her label is worn by the likes of Alexa Chung and sold alongside luxury labels at prestigious retailers including matchesfashion.com and Havana boutique in Dublin. Add to this that she’s happily engaged to a member of the Guinness family, has a mews home in Notting Hill in West London and a miniature black and white poodle called Lionel (who she describes as looking like a pint of Guinness), and she seems to have ticked an awful lot of boxes on that “must do by mid-life” list women tend to obsess over. If ever you’re having a day when you feel like an underachiever, don’t talk to a millennial...
Hannah Weiland of Shrimps
Weiland’s story reads something like a modern-day fairytale. She hadn’t yet finished her degree at London College of Fashion when in 2013, former model and fashion heavyweight Laura Bailey spotted Weiland’s quirky faux fur coats on Instagram, put in an order and asked if she could wear one to London Fashion Week. Bailey was then spotted by Natalie Massenet (in fact, she was chased down the street by Massenet), and Shrimps was stocked on Net-a-Porter within six months, just in time for SS14. Bailey later gave the brand an even bigger push when a Shrimps coat was worn by Renee Zellweger in the final part of the Bridget Jones trilogy, Bridget Jones’s Baby; Bailey’s partner, Eric Fellner, produced the movie. Weiland is prosaic about her sudden success but grateful for it too.
“I think it was the right time for Shrimps,” explains the designer. “Nobody else was creating these kinds of colourful pieces in good-quality faux fur.” Of course, timing is everything, but it was a bold move for Weiland to base her brand on a fabric that had been derided by the industry for many years. For so long, faux fur was cheap, not chic – a low-grade, high street throwaway. But by refusing to compromise on the quality of faux fur (which is sourced in Lithuania and feels as indulgent as cashmere) and by sticking confidently to her own fanciful aesthetic (Weiland’s own nai?ve but endearing doodles serve as decoration throughout the collection), Weiland has elevated the fabric into the basis of a luxury product. And Shrimps looks set to achieve even greater success now that Italian fashion house Gucci has become the latest luxury label to abandon its use of real fur. The Shrimps designer’s lifelong love of animals, as well as an allergy, mean she has never worn or coveted the real deal. But if ever there was a time to be a purveyor of fake fur, it’s now.
With her Rapunzel-like blonde hair, ethereal features and distinct personal style, Weiland, the daughter of an ad director and a psychologist, is as characterful as her coats. She personifies the label’s signature old-meets-new style. Besides Shrimps, she favours Copenhagen brand Ganni as well as avant-garde label Comme des Garc?ons, contemporary brands that Weiland imbues with her own peculiar brand of left-of-centre chic. For this season, she collaborated with Ganni on a shoe collection, explaining how she loves the unexpected mix of streamlined Scandi style and British eccentricity. It’s less of a surprise, then, when Weiland cites Queen Elizabeth II as one of her muses. That’s a fashion first for me. “I love people who experiment with colour,” she explains. In fact, she has even said she’d love to dress the Queen. She also references cross-dressing ceramicist and artist Grayson Perry – after whom she named her first clutch bag, The Grayson – and 88-year- old artist Yayoi Kusama as other important influences.
For someone who launched her label with one single, simple idea – a Breton striped faux fur coat – Weiland is quite an innovator. She’s passionate about developing new techniques, such as crocheting on and embellishing faux fur, and pursuing new textiles like mock Mongolian shearling. She develops a lot of the ready-to-wear fabrics herself. For instance, she explains how she came across a lovely cotton paisley at a fabric fair, but decided to have it coated in plastic. “ There has to be something special, something unique about the fabrics I use,” she says. She recalls how several of her art teachers over the years have told her, “It’s all about surfaces with you.” Texture is what tantalises Weiland.
And that’s what will entice you to Shrimps. When I initially viewed the product online, I thought, “Nice, but not for me.” Having tried on the Elsie coat in navy, however, I can’t think of anything I’d rather swaddle myself in on a miserable mid-winter morning.
Shrimps is available at Havana and at shrimps.co.uk.