Design for life: meet Wayne Hemingway, the man behind the new Greater Anglia uniforms
Whether he’s creating high fashion or affordable housing, Wayne Hemingway is no stranger to success – and now the design maverick is using his considerable expertise to revamp the Greater Anglia uniforms. Emine Saner meets him to find out more
The headquarters of HemingwayDesign is not, as you might expect, in a fashionable building in a hip part of central London. Instead, the place where Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway run their creative studio is on a residential street in the far reaches of the north-west of the capital. In a suburban house. The Hemingways’ old house to be exact – it’s where they used to live. Although it’s stylish, with an open-plan ground floor (where a host of young, interesting people are working) and a lovely garden, there is something pleasingly Hemingway-esque about it: its lack of ostentation, its connection to ordinary people’s lives, its human scale.
The Hemingways – Wayne is the more famous of the couple, but he and co-director Gerardine have been together since they were teenagers – founded the fashion brand Red or Dead in 1982 and although it was cutting edge, both in its design and ideas (it was an early pioneer of sustainability, for instance), it was also deliberately accessible and affordable. “We always said the litmus test for everything was: could our mates and our families afford it, did they like it?” says Hemingway, sitting on one of the garden chairs, his dog snoozing in the shade nearby. “It still is today.” The company has since moved into a wide range of design work from seaside regeneration and housing to products and interior design. Their latest project is to revamp the uniforms for Greater Anglia.
Using the red and dark grey of the company’s livery, the collection features functional jackets and gilets alongside blouses with bright, abstract prints, retro-tinged, clean-silhouetted dresses, sharp blazers and modern utilitarian cargo pants. The accessories, such as caps, neck warmers and gloves, have also been given design touches, either in shape or graphics. “What the community wanted was to express themselves,” says Hemingway. “Rather than that thing about a uniform being about where everybody looks the same, you can pick and choose from a collection and it all works together.”
The design process has taken six months, which will be followed with a ‘trial wear’ by some staff before final versions are put in place, and it has been democratic. “We like co-design, the idea that people should have a say over things that they wear,” says Hemingway, who has previously designed uniforms for other companies. “We also like to change industries, and the transport industry had always been about buying something off the shelf. Women had been ignored for years, basically wearing scaled-down men’s uniforms. They were saying ‘design us clothes that fit, understand that we’re different’.” Other things had to be taken into account, such as pockets for the equipment some train staff carry, and the idea that fabrics have to be wearable, easy to care for and could keep staff both warm and cool. Good design, he says, “is about human beings.”
Hemingway has always been interested in design, though he didn’t know it exactly. He grew up in Morecambe, a very normal childhood but with fantastical flashes. His father, Billy Two Rivers, was a Native American wrestler who left the family when Hemingway was three. His mother – glamorous, stylish, obsessed with music – worked several jobs to support them and for a while they lived with Hemingway’s grandparents. He was influenced by his grandmother making clothes and his grandfather always working on something in his shed. From the age of 13, he was going to the legendary Wigan Casino nightclub, collecting records and getting dressed up, firmly into youth culture.
He and Gerardine met in a nightclub and lived together in London, where Hemingway was studying town planning. Gerardine made her own clothes and they set up a stall in London’s Camden Market, selling them alongside vintage fashion. Within weeks the influential US department store Macy’s had placed an order for Gerardine’s first collection. They had to quickly come up with a name for their label and named it Red or Dead.
They ended up with more than 20 shops, hundreds of staff and shows at London Fashion Week. “We never did a business plan, never borrowed money. Nobody had any training. It was no fear and I suppose it’s just being young and going with the flow.” Three of their four children were also born around the time, when the Hemingways were still in their early 20s. Did they have any idea what they were doing? He smiles. “No. It just all worked. Family life worked – the kids used to come to work, straight from school to the office.”
In 1999, they sold the business and moved on to new things. After writing an article about what he saw as the negative “Wimpey-fication” of Britain – the homogenous housing estates – Wimpey approached him to help design Staiths South Bank, a 750-home development on Tyneside. It has been his favourite project. “It’s had a big impact on the industry but the main thing is it’s just an amazing place to live – it’s proper affordable housing with a real community feel to it.” The Hemingways have since worked on other housing and urban design projects, especially coastal regeneration – they worked on the regeneration of Margate’s Dreamland historic amusement park and have turned their attentions to Bournemouth and Bognor Regis.
The Hemingways are currently making waves in East Anglia, a region that Hemingway admits interests him. They are working on a project in Norfolk for Hunstanton’s southern seafront and also planning a festival in Lowestoft next year called First Light. “Lowestoft is Britain’s most easterly beach so it’s where the sunrise first hits – we’re doing a 24-hour festival on midsummer weekend, where families can stay on the beach all night, you can camp, you can dance.” The whole experience should all feel very Hemingway taking in, as it will, culture, family, community – and, for a man who sounds like he has far too many projects on the go to ever sleep, the chance to stay up all night.
WAYNE’S EAST ANGLIA
The designer chooses his favourite places across the network
“It feels youthfully vibrant, thanks to the university, and has a good independent spirit. It is to the East what Bristol is to the South West.”
“I think it’s really interesting because of the scale of the place and because it’s unspoilt. It has a lovely white sandy beach and a long, wide prom.”
“Because we’re working there. Old Hunstanton beach is just beautiful, the town is lovely and has real potential, though the seafront needs a lot of TLC. But it can happen.”
“We worked there on a big housing development and regeneration project called Hillington Square, an estate with more than 300 homes, and spent several years getting to know the town.”
…and Liverpool Street Station
“I’ve got so used to using it when I travel to the region. The newspaper seller outside is always open for my early train.”