Monday, Feb. 09, 2004

Emma Hill

A British designer might seem an odd choice to be vice president of men's and women's accessories design at such a quintessentially American company as the Gap, but for Emma Hill, 34, it's been a longtime career goal. Ever since a trip to New York City as a teen, she had it in mind to return to the U.S. to work. "I was obsessed with very American styles like leg warmers," she says. After graduating from fashion school in London, Hill took a job at Burberry as an accessories designer. Although she had originally planned to focus on clothing, not accessories, she thought that working for the international brand would give her a good jumping-off point from which to launch her move to New York. And along the way she discovered her talent for creating distinctive and original accessories. She moved on to become senior designer for accessories at Calvin Klein and then joined Marc Jacobs. The Gap recruited her in 2002, and she immediately made a splash with her leather, denim and corduroy handbags. ''Gap is such an iconic brand, and it means so much to so many people,'' says Hill, explaining her move from high fashion to mass market. "Things don't have to be expensive to be beautiful."

For inspiration she dove into the company's archives. "I took all the elements that you would normally find on a denim jacket or a pair of corduroys — the buttons, the zipper, the grommets — and used them to make a bag." The spring line of bags, in bright pastels and floral prints, is based on belted trench coats, with adjustable straps. She also plans a line of enameled flower pins that can be sprinkled on the bags "like fridge magnets. I think it's important to be able to personalize things," she says, gesturing toward the fabric flowers and Hello Kittys strewn around her office. "Accessories are an emotional thing, about having fun. No woman really needs a new handbag. It's all about expressing yourself."