It was something of a British invasion at Michael’s today with plenty of posh folks (Majesty magazine EIC Ingrid Seward, the always dashing Euan Rellie) with pedigrees from across the pond in the mix among the usual scrum of fashionistas (Tommy Hilfiger) and famous faces (Alec Baldwin).
I was joined by designer and entrepreneur India Hicks, whose father was famed interior decorator David Hicks, and her mother is Lady Pamela Hicks, daughter to the Earl and Countess Mountbatten of Burma. India’s grandfather was the last Viceroy of India, hence her name. It all sounds very Downton Abbey, doesn’t it? Well, if you think that’s very British, here’s a fun fact: When India was a mere 13 years old, she was a bridesmaid at Princess Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles, who just happens to be her godfather.
And speaking of Downton Abbey, India told me that none other than Hugh Bonneville is starring in a film playing her grandfather, due out later this year. Viceroy’s House, a costume drama is an upstairs-downstairs love story about a Hindu and Muslim love affair. When I asked India if she was a fan of Downton Abbey, she said she hadn’t seen much of it after watching a few episodes and noted that the producers got some of the details wrong. To wit: the Crawley daughters were shown wearing lace gloves, something “a very different type of woman would wear.” Ouch. Then concluded: “I think it’s more of an American thing.” No argument here.
I was enthralled as India, in her cut-glass British accent, recounted the story of when her mother first met the actor before shooting began. After giving him the once over, she proclaimed Hugh to be in need of slimming down “at least two stone” before he could do justice to playing her “fit” father. Then, she insisted on seeing his salute so as to make sure he knew the difference between the American and British technique. (We have to imagine after six years as Lord Grantham, Hugh had that down pat.) When I commented she sounded a bit like Downton’s Mr. Carson, India explained, “My mother is extremely engaging so she gets away with it.” Apparently no worse for wear, Hugh passed muster in the end and shooting commenced.
India’s own life seems rife for the big screen treatment: Raised in the British countryside by parents with titles and close ties to the royal family, her first taste of the limelight came when she was one of Princess Diana’s bridesmaids. She documented the experience for the Daily Mail on the eve of the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William, revealing that at one point Princess Margaret, “appeared in her nightie” offered her use of her toothbrush. On the big day it was India who, along with another girl, was responsible for handling the unwieldy 25-foot train of Diana’s gown.
After leaving photography school in Boston, Ralph Lauren booked India for her first modeling job and she later went on to create and design collections of bath and beauty products for Crabtree & Evelyn and a collection for HSN (“I adore [CEO] Mindy Grossman!”)
India now lives on a small island in the Bahamas, with her partner David Flint Wood and their five children ranging in ages 8 to 19.
She’s published three books – Island Life, Island Beauty and Island Style (Rizzoli) published last year. She’s just signed the contract on her yet-to-be titled next book which will cover — what else? — her British heritage and style.
Last year, she launched her eponymous lifestyle brand: India Hicks Inc, a swanky line of gifts, fragrances and accessories for home (perfect for the well-appointed abodes of Greenwich, Oyster Bay or the Upper East Side) inspired by her island life with a nod to her British heritage. Clever India has reinvented the female-centric direct sales business model and is selling these collections through networks of entrepreneurial women who she smartly calls her “tribes” (Their official title with the company is ‘ambassadors’ and when they move up the ladder they’re appointed ‘directors.’) These women sell their own “curated” collections from the over 200 items India offers in their home and through hosted parties — sometimes attended by India herself.
According to Nicholas Keuper, co-founder and CEO, in no time at all the business has grown to include ambassadors in virtually every state and shows no signs of slowing down. “The good thing is,” said India between bites of pumpkin ravioli. “We can have more than one person in places like Greenwich, because everyone knows different sets of people so it just introduces more people to the brand.”
This is not your mother’s Avon lady (“We offer a different high-end product.”) India Hicks Inc is for women (ages 35 to 60) who are looking to restart a career or reinvent after some time out of the workforce or looking to get off the corporate not-so merry-go-round. After signing on with an investment in product that ranges from $400 to $1000, ambassador are given “all the tools they need to run their business” including their own websites. “There are no sleepless nights, we do the worrying for them.”
“While public relations has been important,” India told me, it’s social media that has really helped propel the business at its current rapid rate of expansion. “I can’t think of a better time to be in direct sales and a lot of that has to do with social media.” With over 100,000 followers on Instagram (“My favorite”) and Twitter, Nicholas explained that the ambassador’s sharing on their Facebook and Instagram accounts serves dual purposes: It drives sales to the individual entrepreneur while offering India Hicks all-important multi-channel exposure for the brand. When I asked her what her plans are for the future, she told me, she wants to keep the “boutique” feel of the company. “I don’t want to be a mass brand.”
All of this has made India something of a fixture on the lecture circuit. Last week, she was at the Orlando Museum of Art to talk about her latest book. But, she says, everywhere she goes, the conversation now turns increasingly to women and business. “It’s an odd moment. Women have gotten somewhere, but not gotten nearly far enough.”
Inevitably, the mother of five is asked how she balances work, international travel and family. She candidly admits she’s got help — a “top banana” — at home who keeps things running smoothly while she’s away. “I’ve got teenagers and no one has written the handbook on that yet.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Tommy Hilfiger and a well-dressed gent
2. Sharon Bush and Patty Hearst
3. Harriet Weintraub
4. Alec Baldwin and Matthew VanBesien, president The New York Philharmonic
5. Kate Edelman Johnson and actress Jennifer Bassey. In my days covering daytime television when my ‘beat’ was the late, lamented ABC soap All My Children, I interviewed Jennifer who was extraordinarily kind to a very young and very green reporter. I was thrilled to see her in the dining room after all these years. She is, without doubt, one of the most generous and thoughtful actors I’ve ever met.
6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman and Jeff Greenfield
7. Glenn Horowitz
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and Majesty’s EIC Ingrid Seward
10. Sara Beth Shrager
11. Peter Price
12. Bisila Bokoko
14. Frank McCourt
15. Charles Whittingham
16. United Stations Radio’s Nick Verbitsky
17. Discovery ID’s Nick Verbitsky
18. LAK PR CEO Lisa Linden with NYC + Company’s Bryan Grimaldi
20. Harper Collins’ Claire Wachtel and Cokie Roberts
21. Euan Rellie and Damien Dernoncourt, who both stopped by our table to say their ‘hellos’ to India and Leslie
22. Joseph Steinberg
25. Adam Endick
26. Power couple Steven Stolman (The Serial Entertainer) and Oracle exec Rich Wilkie making a quick NYC stop before heading off to Palm Beach. Busier than ever, Steven is fresh off a sojourn to Palm Springs where he was representing his client Kohler at Modernism Week, where he moderated a panel discussion with former Town & Country EIC Pamela Fiori on Women in Design. A little birdie told me the sequel to Steven’s dishy tome, Confessions of a Serial Entertainer, is due out later this year. As further proof that all roads lead to Michael’s, Steven came out to trade air kisses with India. “She modeled in one of my first runway shows at Bryant Park!”
27. India Hicks, Nicholas Keuper, Leslie Stevens and yours truly.
29. Vin Cipolla
81. Peter Lyden and Michael Lykoudis
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.