While working as a ballerina in her native Poland, Anya Cole used to knit fine woolens to wear while training—now based in New York City, the designer has turned her passion into a successful business. After her knitwear was spotted by a buyer at Bergdorf Goodman, a studio off Fifth Avenue and a Fashion Week pop-up store soon followed. Luxury Defined meets the inimitable designer to discuss what the city means to her.
What’s your background and how did you come to be a knitwear designer?
I was born in communist Poland in 1954 and my mother told me that if I wanted something I had to make it. So, I learned to knit at nine years old and used to make all my own sweaters and accessories during breaks at ballet school.
After emigrating to the United States in 1988 I met my husband and we had our daughter, and, once she had grown up, I needed something to occupy my time so I started the business. I was 55 years old.
Where in NYC do you live?
I live in Midtown East near the East River in a high-rise apartment with a view of Manhattan from every angle. I live there with my husband and our cockapoo, Jasper. I love the area because it feels very private and quiet, and there are little parks and nice walks along the river. Yet it’s so close to central Manhattan. I’m just two blocks or a 15-minute walk from the Hania studio on 16 West 56th Street and I have lots of little conveniences like nice coffee shops and restaurants just a short distance away.
How do you start your day?
I wake up at 6am and spend around 15 minutes watching the news while checking my emails and replying to messages on the Hania Instagram account. Then I take Jasper for a walk along the river. He’s 11 years old but acts like a puppy, so I have to keep him close on his leash. On my walk to the Hania studio, I always stop for a coffee at the Bloomberg headquarters.
The first thing I’ll do when I get to the studio at 9am is sit down to plan the week, and to coordinate the women who work for us across the five boroughs of New York City. Today we have more than 100 immigrant women who knit for us on a freelance basis, either in their homes or at the studio. We do not all speak the same language, but communicate with knitting instead.
I met the first lady through my doorman—a very classic way in New York because the doorman knows everybody. I was telling him that I needed help to produce some knitwear and he said that he knew an Albanian woman in the building who knits. This lady knew another, and that lady knew another, and before we knew it we had a huge team.
Where would you recommend for a business lunch near to the Hania studio?
The Whitby is an English-style hotel right next to the studio and I sometimes feel like it’s my second home. It does a great salad and also yogurt, berries, and honey for breakfast. If I feel like having an Italian meal, then I’ll take my meeting at the Chambers Hotel. I love its restaurant Felice 56. I always order the mozzarella with tomatoes and any of the desserts!
Where do you go out for dinner in Midtown?
On a normal night my husband and I will order in from our favorite local places—we like to order Mexican food from Rosa Mexicano, and from Under the Bridge for amazing Greek dishes, and we both really like the veal Milanese from Canaletto.
What do your weekends typically look like?
My husband works most weekends, but I like to grab a coffee from our local coffee shop Pink Moose, and take a long walk with Jasper. Then I’ll knit in bed while rewatching old episodes of Law & Order—I’ve seen them all so many times I could probably recite the script. I enjoy pulling apart a knit and trying to come up with new designs. This is my relaxing time.
Where do you go when you want a break from the city?
My husband’s family home is in Austerlitz, 10 minutes from Lenox in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. We go there as often as we can to get away from the city. It’s in the forest and the property itself is very remote so it feels like a real detox for me. My daughter and granddaughter live in Charlotte, North Carolina, so I try to get down there to see her as often as I can too.