Since learning the art of sewing at his mother's knee in Trinidad, Francis Hendy has been quietly building a fashion legacy. Known for his innovative mix of materials and skins, Hendy has dressed everyone from fellow Trinidadians to Carnival goers, rap stars to New York fashionistas. All have been seduced by designs described on the Francis Hendy Web site as "… daring and fashion forward, always exploring new horizons in color, fabric and design." At the close of 2004, with a new collection being introduced, four distinct fashion lines, and plans for wholesaling and franchising his brand, Hendy was set to clothe Americans nationwide in his funky, colorful fashions.
Born to Sew
Francis Hendy was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to a family of five siblings. His father Franklin was a contractor and builder and his mother Elizabeth was a seamstress, deeply involved in the Trinidad fashion scene. "I started out spending time in her sewing room, threading needles, sewing buttons, and hemming," Hendy told Fashion Mannuscript. His love of fashion had started way before his fingers were nimble enough to thread a needle, however. "My mother also tells the story that when I was a small boy, I would always select my own clothes," Hendy told Fashion Mannuscript. "She would always have to make sure they were neat and ironed, or I would not wear them. On occasion I was known to pick her clothes as well."
Hendy displayed a nearly equal love of soccer. "He was an avid soccer player," Hendy's sister Charmain Hendy told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB ). In fact it was his love of soccer that drove him to design his first clothes. He couldn't find pants to fit his legs, muscle-carved by years on the soccer field. Hendy was set on pursuing a professional soccer career, but after an injury sidelined that dream, he began to devote more time to designing and sewing clothes. "Eventually he set up his own fashion business in Trinidad working out of our house," Charmain told CBB.
In 1972, at about the age of 21, Hendy decided to join an older sister in New York City and seriously pursue a design career. In New York he approached Trinidadian contacts and began designing custom clothes for them. He also began creating elaborate costumes for Brooklyn's annual Caribbean Day Parade. He sharpened his talents with an apprenticeship with a master tailor, and also took courses at the Parson's School of Design and the famed Fashion Institute of Technology. "Although much of what I do is self-taught and heredity, attending classes at FIT and Parsons was valuable to honing my natural skills and inherent capabilities," Hendy told Fashion Mannuscript. In 1986 Hendy set up a small storefront shop in the Flatbush district of Brooklyn. Francis Hendy Inc. provided ready-to-wear and custom pieces to a loyal clientele.
Robed Rap Stars
By 1996, Hendy was bringing in $80,000 per year at his tiny shop and he felt he had reached his limit. In 1998 he decided to move into Manhattan's famed garment district and he opened a showroom on West 39th Street. "I wanted to be around the big boys and to get international exposure," Hendy told Crain's New York Business. Instead he got MTV exposure, which proved a lot more valuable. Hendy became the designer of choice for rap and R&B artists including Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot, LL Cool J, Macy Gray, and R. Kelly. His designs—etched leather, patchworked fur, studded vests, second-skin-like lycra—appealed to the musicians who wore the custom-made pieces in videos and on tour. "Rapper and actor DMX also wore our leather jackets in the recent hit action movie Exit Wounds, " Hendy told Fashion Mannuscript. By 1999 Francis Hendy Inc, had annual sales of $400,000, fueled in large part by his musician clientele.
Hendy entered the high-profile ready-to-wear market in the Spring of 1998 with the debut of his first men's sportswear collection during New York's famed Fashion Week. By 2000 he was getting quite a bit of notice, though his clothes still had rock star leanings. "Francis Hendy is the designer who wants to please every-one—if you're a music celebrity that is," wrote the Daily News Record of his 2000 collection. The review concluded on a positive calling his designs, "refreshingly inspired." Fashion insiders agreed and Hendy was awarded the prestigious 2000 Michael Award for Menswear Designer of the Year. Previous winners included fashion heavy-hitters Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, and Joseph Abboud. Hendy called receiving the award the proudest moment of his career. "It was a huge surprise. I had not been thinking about any thing like that," he told Fashion Mannuscript. "Any designer would like to be honored and appreciated in such a way by their industry peers, but I did not think it would come so soon."
Over the next several years Francis Hendy, Inc. grew. A half-dozen full-time sewers joined the staff as well as all four of Hendy's siblings. Charmain Hendy told CBB, "I'm the CEO. Doreen Hendy-Kopingon, manages the company and handles the financial side of things. Noelin Hendy works in marketing, and Ange Hendy does production." As the company expanded, Hendy's designs became more sophisticated, less rock-and-roll. His Fall 2001 collection was inspired by his father, who died that year. "It celebrates his life and times in fashion," Hendy told Fashion Mannuscript. He went on to describe the collection as "a retro look, with modern style and sensibilities." That year his sales topped half a million. He was also short-listed for the Rising Star award from the Fashion Group International. Meanwhile, Hendy sharpened his design focus. "His work philosophy is melding color and cut, using unconventional materials to create classic, but not trendy, modern, sexy, designer sportswear. His design philosophy is fashion forward, not following trends, but creating them," Charmain told CBB.
At a Glance …
Born in the early 1950s in Port of Spain, Trinidad; married Gale Hendy; children: Ansis Hendy. Education: Attended Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and Parson's School of Design, New York. Religion: Christian.
Career: Francis Hendy, Inc., New York, NY, fashion designer, 1986–.
Awards: National Children's Leukemia Foundation, Michael Award for Menswear Designer of the Year, 2000; City of New York, City Hall Proclamation, 2003; Caribbean Voice, Caricom Day Award, 2003.
Addresses: Office —Francis Hendy, Inc., 244 West 39th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY, 10018. Web site —www.francishendy.com.
Expanded Fashion Offerings
In 2002 Hendy added a women's line to his offerings. "I'm looking forward to dressing women in lots of color," Hendy told Women's Wear Daily. "My clothes are about fun and happiness, clothes that are easy to wear and that offer a lot of pieces that interchange." Meanwhile his men's collection for 2002 was received well by the press. A reviewer for the fashion website Lucire wrote of the collection, "This was as good as it gets: classic menswear for the widest possible range of customer." The article went on to praise Hendy's use of "leather pieces in diverse colors and animal skins." Hendy had used leather extensively since he debuted as rap's designer du jour and he confessed on his own Web site, "I'm happiest when I'm creating designs with leather and suede." He also became known for his use of ultra suede, a synthetic suede-like material. "It is functional, easy to work with, and very comfortable to wear," Hendy told Fashion Mannuscript. "It can feel very luxurious on the body, the lighter weights are cool for summer and the heavier weights are great for winter."
In September of 2002 Hendy opened his first retail shop in the trendy Soho district of New York. He stocked the 1700-square-foot space with clothes from his Hendy Bridge line of moderately priced classics in a wide variety of colors and styles. He also included his FH2Tees line, which featured casual pieces in dark blue and black denim. Luxury pieces from his top-end line, Francis Hendy, were also in stock. As fashion lovers flocked to his slick new shop, his 2003 collection received rave reviews for its textural variation and luxurious materials. "For the woman who is modern, sexy and international, Hendy's clothes are opulent in textures, autumnal colors and individual style," the Amsterdam News reported. "[For men] Hendy has designed multiple styles of fashionable funky leather jackets and ultra suede shirts complemented by various textures of fall pants and merino-wool shirts. His pants are tailored in luxurious tweed, colorful pinstriped wool and matte leather."
A deeply spiritual man and a born-again Christian, Hendy credited much of his success to his faith. "I don't know if there is a secret formula, but everything we do is done with much prayer. We put God first in all that we do," he told Fashion Mannuscript. Nonetheless, Hendy still struggled. The shaky post 9/11 economy forced Hendy to shut his Soho shop after only a year. Back in the Garment District show room, Hendy and team found it difficult to keep up with customer demand. "I meet a lot of storeowners, but I have to pick and choose because I'm not set up to do big orders," Hendy told Black Enterprise. Sister Charmain told CBB that they hoped to change that soon. "We are working to build our wholesale business. We have four different lines and we're working to get them into department stores and specialty stores nationwide. We're also working on our brand recognition so we can get our franchising done." With his skill, family, and faith behind him, it seems that Hendy can't miss. Expect to see his clothes hanging in a closet near you soon.
Black Enterprise, July, 2000.
Crain's New York Business, December 13, 1999.
Daily News Record, September 18, 2000.
Women's Wear Daily, September 12, 2002.
Francis Hendy, www.francishendy.com/francis.html (August 13, 2004).
"It's A Family Affair: Francis Hendy Interview," Fashion Mannuscript, www.fashionartsxchange.com/Articles/FM-06-2001.pdf (August 13, 2004).
"Jason Bunin, R. Scott French, Francis Hendy, Cloal," Lucire, www.lucire.com/2002/fall2002/0608fe2.shtml (August 13, 2004).
White, Renee Minus, "Fall/Winter 2003: New York Designers Hit the Runway," Amsterdam News, www.amsterdamnews.org/News/article/article.asp?NewsID=22556&sID=24 (August 13, 2004).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Charmain Hendy on August 16, 2004.