Style Profile: Elle Hankinson

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Elle Hankinson is my colleague, but she works out of the London office. I don’t see Elle on a day-to-day basis, but whenever I do see her, she always looks really comfortable in her clothes. Comfortable isn’t typically a word used to describe a stylish woman. If someone said to me, “You look really comfortable today,” I might be offended. But in reality, well at least to me, looking and feeling comfortable in your outfit is the foundation for style. It alludes confidence, and that’s what intrigued me about Elle.

We shot Elle last month, shortly after she ran the New York City marathon. Elle is a runner. She’s also a traveler. It’s her job to scope out different cities for inspiring things. And to round out the list of descriptors, she’s British. All of these things combined result in utilitarian, sports-inspired clothes (mostly black) that are accentuated with interesting accessories. Elle reiterates the importance of having a wardrobe that works for you and your lifestyle and how transformative accessories can be.

How do you think running has affected your day-to-day style?

There’s definitely a lot more stretch in my wardrobe now. I’m really interested in activewear and its development. Pre running, one of my reasons for not doing sport was that the clothes were hideous – it sounds superficial, but I believe it’s important to feel good in what you wear and particularly so for sportswear, where your performance is everything. So I started researching sportswear brands that were doing interesting things and I now I incorporate loads of my active sportswear into my regular wardrobe. For me, some of those technical fabrics can be as beautiful as traditional ones. My work in fashion started in streetwear and I’ve always liked a sports-inspired look, but I stopped wearing trainers (sneakers) for about ten years and I’ve recently totally re-found my love for them. I’ve moved house so many times, but fortunately I’ve managed to keep quite lot of my old trainers, so I’m wearing them all again the second time around! Nike Air Max 90s, 180s, Huaraches – the lot of ‘em.

Do you do that a lot? Do you shop for pieces that you can wear for both running and your day-to-day life?

Absolutely. Fashion is an expensive habit, so you have to be a savvy consumer. Plus, I like my pieces to have more than one purpose. I think it’s kind of cool that there are pieces I can wear to run a marathon, but also in a completely unrelated context. I wash them in between of course.

Where do you shop for cool activewear?

I wear Nike a lot. In fact, most of my wardrobe is Nike. There’s also a UK brand called Lucas Hugh that I really like. I came across them ages ago when they were still below the radar and they’ve since blown up. They just did the costumes for the new Hunger Games movie actually.  I love their digital prints. They were doing them before it was a big fashion story and I have a pair of running tights and crop top that have the NASA space center printed on them. How cool is that?! Both brands avoid the ‘shrink it and pink it’ pitfall that some sportswear brands fall into, so I rate them for that too.

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Where do you shop for your non-active clothes? What brands do you tend to shop?

To be honest with you, I’m not much of a shopper. I really like beautiful design whether that’s apparel, or product, or art, but I don’t actually enjoy the shopping experience. I visit so many interesting stores internationally for work, but when you actually look at the products and dissect the experience, it’s all the same. It makes me really sad that it’s become so homogenized.

Well then how do you shop? When you see something beautiful you buy it?

Yes, exactly. I’m lucky because I travel a lot for work, so I used to pick up a lot of vintage when I was traveling and I still do pick up the odd piece – there are a few vintage shops that I always check when I’m in town. I’m also lucky because I’ve got friends who are designers – so that helps.

Right: Zara moto jacket, white Prada shirt, Prism sunglasses, Cos sweater, Acne jeans, Janvier bag, and Nike Air Force Ones; Left: Vintage hat, Zara jacket and sweater

Has your body transformed since running?

Physically, I feel a lot healthier and now I can run the bus route rather than just running to catch the bus, but it’s my mind that’s transformed more than my body – I’m definitely more focused.

London isn’t the healthiest city. We drink, smoke, party hard and the weather isn’t exactly conducive to being super outdoorsy, but I’ve seen so many people – young and old, men and women – take running on and as they improve, their confidence transforms. That transformation is amazing to me and very empowering. I really respect anyone who takes on a race. It’s a real mental and physical journey, be it 10k or 100 miles.

What’s your favorite city to shop?

I shop different cities differently. I pick up vintage sportswear, workwear and denim on the West Coast – Portland and LA particularly. Italy and France are amazing for vintage designer, particularly domestic designer brands. I love Elio Ferraro in Milan and Florence, and I know some good markets in Rome where you have to really dig for the treasure, but you can find really good antique linen and silk.

I went to India a couple of years ago and took a ton of clothes that I loved but were wearing out, so I got them re-made over there. They don’t cut like Valentino, but you can get a good second best and I really like the process of being involved in making your clothes. The poor guy must have thought I was a complete control freak, popping in every few days to check on the progress, but you sit and drink chai tea with them  and they tell you EVERYTHING you could ever need to know about garment construction – they’re the pros. My tip would be to take your own silk over with you, as it’s hard to find color fixed silk there. I actually never shop in England, though it’s good for a lot of things.

Why not? 

I think part of it is because I work with clothes all day, so I don’t want to think about them that much in my spare time. Also because England doesn’t feel very exotic to me because I’m from there. I hate seeing people in the same clothes as me. That really pisses me off. That said, the British high-street is pioneering and I always miss it when I’m away.

I’m constantly nicking my boyfriend’s big cashmere jumpers from Uniqlo, not technically British, and hoodies – from old skate and streetwear brands. Gingham and check shirts of my Dad’s tend to find themselves in my suitcase too. I used to work for Paul Smith, so I have some great tailoring from there. He’s a real icon of British style and eccentricity. I love Paul.

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What’s your uniform?

Actually I realized while I was packing for this trip that everything I own is either black, white, or denim and then a couple bits of red. That was it. There was no other color, which was kind of depressing, but then I thought it’s actually quite useful for traveling.

How do you pack?

I think that’s one thing I’ve had to learn to get quite good at, because I do it a lot. That’s probably why I don’t have much color – because everything has to work in different ways.

I have a few things that I always pack no matter where I’m going – whether it’s Iceland, New York, or Jamaica. I’m always freezing on flights, so I wear a huge scarf, which I also use as a blanket on the plane. Cashmere socks – really self-indulgent, but a good perk of the job from my Paul Smith days – they do them in loads of bright colors. A hoodie. I basically make a cozy little nest when I fly. Sophie Hulme tote bags are great for stashing all the inevitable magazines, laptop, surplus crap that I can’t fit in my suitcase.

After my first marathon, I decided I’d run in every city I visit, so I pack my running stuff wherever I go. Plus trainers are great for trekking the streets when you’re writing a city guide. I carry Prism sunglasses everywhere, black jeans, an oversized denim shirt, striped t-shirt, huge heels – versatile things that you can work for different climates. I also always pack a bikini because you never know.

Who makes your shoes?

These are from Cos, which I think you guys are getting quite soon.

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We’re getting it this spring.

Cos is really good, it filled a much needed gap in the high-street market, for quieter design. Pieces that aren’t so overtly trend-led. It’s really blown up in Britain.

I mean for New Yorkers, it’s such a novelty so whenever someone goes to Europe or London it’s like a go-to. But with it coming here, it’s going to become a little less special.

In one sense it’s great that everything is so accessible to us all, yet that’s also what I mean about homogenization being sad. It takes the adventure out of it.  I like the story behind pieces, as much – often more, than the pieces themselves.  My mom has some amazing clothes and she always has these stories about where she got it and you could only get it in that place.

You don’t have to seek anything out, so I suppose that’s part of why I like vintage – you have to work for it.

How do you shop for vintage. Some people are overwhelmed by it?

My best friend and I, Sophie, have been on holiday together quite a few times and I’d like to think I’m pretty good when it comes to markets. But she and I are competitive. You’ve never seen anyone dive into a bag of musty old clothes as fast as we do. I suppose I would advise using the same set of criteria you’d use for normal shopping: color, fit, form etc. If it doesn’t suit you, don’t bother, you’ll never wear it, even if it is Versace. It’s a different set of rules for Alaïa though.  If you find it, buy it. Or call me!

What have you found to be the difference between Brit style and American style?

I think all clichés of London style are true. That idea of London breaking the ‘rules’ still stands. I used to find it a bit self-conscious, but now I find it really endearing. So much of that sub-culture style stems from the underground music scene and I’m sorry, but London really does have the best underground music scene right now.

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How did you prep for fashion week in multiple cities?

One of the things that I found fun about fashion week is how you change your look based on the city. For London, I’d always wear streetwear pieces mixed in with more classic. It was always a bit quirky and kind of, I don’t know, a bit playful. And then in Milan it’s like very sophisticated and suddenly you’re in sexy dresses and pencil skirts. And in Paris it’s really elegant and you can get away with wearing full skirts and sky high heels in the middle of the day. I wore things that I would never normally wear and it was quite dramatic. It was really fun playing. That’s ultimately what fashion is isn’t it? It’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun.

Normally I’m trying on all of my clothes at three in the morning before catching the Eurostar or leaving for the airport. There’s nothing glamorous about that bit.

Are there any popular girls who are shot that we would know that you like their style?

There are lots of people whose style I like, but I find personalities more alluring. I’m taken by people who look good, smash cool jobs, work hard, learn. That’s what makes people really cool to me.

Anna Laub, who I used to work for at WGSN and Prism. She’s super clever, really supportive, has an amazing Alaïa collection and isn’t adverse to a hoodie and trainers.

Caroline Issa, who’s my editor at Tank magazine. She’s also super intelligent, pioneering, supportive and thinks well beyond clothes. She always looks great.

My best friend Sophie Hulme is a designer with an eponymous label. It’s really fortunate that she and I have the exact same taste. We’ve made a rule now that when we find something we just get two of it.

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How do you stay inspired to care about what you wear everyday?

If I’m perfectly honest, I go through phases. For ages I felt a bit flat about fashion. That’s when I wear black jeans and a black t-shirt. Sometimes you don’t want to stand out. There’s something really nice about blending in.

Other times I love it for its fun and flamboyance. I was just in Miami with my friend Elle (who owns the accessories brand Janvier). It was so fun to get dressed up and play around with clothes again. I felt like I hadn’t bothered doing that for ages.

Is there something that you are thinking about now as far as things you want to buy or ideas you are really into?

I want everything to be super androgynous. I saw pictures of Kendrick Lamar and he was wearing matching denim shorts and denim jacket – and it was almost white, but just pink and I was like ‘that’s my look’. I’d love a YSL Le Smoking trouser suit. Basically everything matching.

What’s your tactic for looking professional but also cool?

I keep shoes under my desk. That’s my tactic. The rest of it you can manipulate.

You have cool jewelry. What’s your philosophy about jewelry?

My jewelry is nearly all my mums. The only time people comment on my jewelry is always when I’ve nicked it from my mum. I’ve got a really good thick brass chain with an old fashion policeman’s whistle on the end, and I used to wear that all the time. It’s amazing. It was my rave whistle. And my friends have an amazing store in London called Darkroom and they sell really beautiful unusual stuff. You’ll want everything when you walk in.

What do you invest in?

Someone told me to always invest in jewelry. You never know where your life is going to lead you and jewelry fits anyone, so you can always sell it. I haven’t listened, instead I just have a big pile of shoes.

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Do you have favorite shoe and handbag designers? 

There’s a London brand called Fleet Illya that I like. His dad was a saddler and he learnt to use leather through him – he’s really talented. Anything in Darkroom. Prism sunglasses. Sophie Hulme bags. Dries Van Noten, Ets Callatay, and Purified footwear.

What makes you buy something for yourself?

Mood. Quality. Price. Proximity to pay day.

Do you think style is inherent?

I think an understanding of aesthetics is inherent, but I think you can learn what works and what suits you. We’re all learning and playing and experimenting . It wouldn’t be fun if we weren’t.

Photos courtesy of Sam Aldenton

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