India Hicks is smiling confidently in a bathing suit, defying her age of 48. She poses in the courtyard of her impossibly beautiful home of almost 20 years in Harbour Island, Bahamas. Her dachshund, Banger, sits still at her feet, and her 7-year-old daughter, Domino, smiles sweetly from a high perch she has scrambled up to take her place in the shot as a photographer snaps away. In one take, all that she is comes across: model, mother, designer, rebel, savvy business woman and author of best-selling books promoting her vision of the perfectly curated island life. The only thing missing from the shot is her other half, David Flint Wood, who watches supportively out of frame.
India Hicks may not exactly be a household name, but her name did make it into 750 million homes in the summer of 1981, when, at the tender age of 13, she served as Lady Diana Spencer’s bridesmaid in her wedding to Prince Charles, who is India’s godfather. Interestingly enough, she was at her family’s vacation home in the Bahamas when Prince Charles himself called and asked her to be part of the big day. While she was honored to fill the role, she was more concerned with having to wear a dress and negotiate 25-feet of taffeta than the exciting place in the world that the position afforded her.
That position, more precisely, is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She is daughter of famed interior designer David Nightingale Hicks and Lady Pamela Louise Hicks (née Mountbatten), an aristocrat who is a first cousin of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and a great-niece of the last tsarina of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna. Lady Pamela Hicks served as a bridesmaid to Queen Elizabeth and moved to India at age 17 when her father, the Earl of Mountbatten, was appointed as the last Viceroy of India to oversee English withdrawal shortly before the country’s independence, and as governor-general afterward. The young Lady Pamela counted Gandhi and Nehru as friends and kept the country near to her heart long after they returned to England. The country is the namesake of her third child, India Amanda Caroline Hicks, and she wrote a book chronicling her family’s important time there called India Remembered: A Personal Account of the Mountbattens During the Transfer of Power.
Despite the amazing lineage, India has always remained quite down-to earth. Not only that, she has defied expectations for a young lady in her position every step of the way. So much so, it has become an integral part of her personal brand. “For me, it’s all about making choices for yourself,” she says. She’s always been bold, that’s for sure, leaving the U.K. for America at the age of 18.
In 1990, she graduated with honors from the New England School of Photography in Boston, then headed to New York City to continue modeling, landing campaigns with Ralph Lauren and J. Crew, as well as the cover of Tatler. She crisscrossed the globe both as a model and a backpacker, before meeting her David, a fellow Brit and friend of her older sister. She showed up unannounced to go diving in Harbour Island, where he was managing a hotel, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The two put down roots and renovated their home, Hibiscus Hill, before settling down and having four children together. As the family grew, so did their home, which now consists of four homes and guest houses. It was here that she developed her island style, which was lauded on The Landing, a historic, hurricane-battered Harbour Island property dating back to 1800, that she transformed into an endlessly chic boutique hotel.
Although she says she still misses falling leaves and roaring fires of her home country, her love for the island has grown steadily over the years. “It’s the jewel in the Bahamian crown. There are certain persons that fall in love with it and some that don’t really understand it,” she says. Some of the island’s drawbacks are also its advantages. “You cannot fly directly to the island, there is no golf course and the power does go out for several hours on end,” she notes. These obstacles are not
only part of the charm, they keep the island’s pink sand beaches and clear azure waters blissfully quiet. Harbour Island has played a large role in all of her commercial ventures, as well as her three books: Island Life: Inspirational Interiors, Island Beauty: Natural Inspiration for Mind, Body and Soul and Rizzoli’s India Hicks Island Style, which was released in March 2015. The books give readers a look into the family’s enclave in the Bahamas and Hicks’ spectacular style.
“I’m certainly David Hicks’ daughter,” she says about her late father, who designed interiors for all the big names of the era, including Vidal Sassoon, Helena Rubinstein, Condé Nast and even Prince Charles’ apartment in Buckingham Palace. “I love to mix old and new with pops of color. I love a Louis XV armchair with a modern coffee table. I love geometric patterns, but I don’t want them in purple or pink. I’m not nearly as courageous as he was in his design. He had absolutely no fear of decorating a room entirely in orange, pink or puce,” she says. The designer even designed his own coffin when he was dying of lung cancer so he could be chic to the last.
In recent years, Hicks has turned her designer’s eye to handbags and accessories for her namesake company, India Hicks. On one of the days we catch up with her, she is calling from Omaha, Neb., a rather humble spot for Hicks to spend time. Her travels to the far corners of the country illustrate the reach she is going for with her new line, which is sold through direct sales by more than 500 women all over the country. “We spent the day at the home of this beautiful, generous woman, with all of her girlfriends,” explains Hicks. “They were really excited about the collection. They told me that shopping is very limited in Omaha, so it was quite nice [for them].”
It is with these (mostly female) representatives that the India Hicks London-Harbour Island line, consisting of beauty products, accessories and jewelry, come to life. “This is where stories are told — as passionately as I can tell them myself,” she says. And there are stories behind these items — amazing, jet-setting, historic and… royal ones.
Take, for example, the Duchess of Windsor bag, which is actually a computer case disguised as a chic handbag. “My grandparents knew her quite well and she truly was the most stylish woman in the world in the 1940s,” she says of the woman King Edward the VIII gave up his throne for, Wallis Simpson. “I always wanted to have what she had, hopping between her worlds Nassau, London and Paris, so I designed a bag that I think the Duchess of Windsor would have carried if she’d had a computer in 1940,” says Hicks with a laugh.
The Carmen Clutch is named after a friend of Lady Pamela’s mother, for who she is also named. “She was a wonderful Spanish aristocrat who ran off with a bull fighter. That’s the kind of woman that I aspire to be — one who stands on her own two feet, lives life very individually and doesn’t necessarily do what is expected of her,” she says. This is exactly how she has chosen to live her own life, and it’s easy to see why the women selling her line would have fun embracing this spirit and making some of these stories their own.
“I really love the fact that [these items] aren’t sitting cold on a shelf in a department store somewhere,” says Hicks. It’s smart business, too. “If I were in retail, I’d never be able to be in 500 stores already.” Direct sales also means she can penetrate remote markets that don’t have the kind of department stores that would stock these kind of items — places, not entirely unlike Harbour Island. The mer- chandise is in fact higher-end than one would generally associate with direct-sales products. “We manufacture through the Ralph Lauren factory, and we had our fragrances developed by IFF, one of the best fragrance houses in the world. That sets us apart straight away,” explains Hicks.
For years, Hicks has been known as something of a licensing maven, having India Hicks Island Living collections for Crabtree & Evelyn and HSN, and offering up a fine jewelry line via Bloomingdale’s. But this is the first time the reins are totally in her hands.
“I spent nine years with Crabtree & Evelyn, and I love what I learned there, but now I am actually building something [and] watching it grow in a way I wouldn’t do if I were licensing,” she says.
She isn’t going it completely alone, mind you. Los Angeles-based partner Nicholas Keuper, a former senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, functions as India Hicks’ CEO, and Konstantin Glasmacher, co-founder of HauteLook and Sole Society, handles the financials. “I’ve been very lucky with my partners. I really en- joy their company, and we laugh an awful lot,” Hicks notes. This is important, she says, because there are a lot of very “serious times.”
“I’m working more than I’ve ever worked in my whole life. I’ve trained for [actual] marathons, and this is a sort of super-marathon. I think any entrepreneur starting a business can relate, but it’s more than I could have possibly imagined. It’s terrifying. It’s overwhelming, and yet, I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she says.
Hicks is only now starting to delegate some of the design process. “Every single detail is OK’d by me; nothing goes out that I haven’t seen. I don’t want to sound like a maniac, but I just want to make sure there is a very strong brand DNA. People need to be able to see something and know it’s an India Hicks product. My fingerprints need to be all over it,” she says. And they are. After all, it is her life… her very essence that she’s selling.
That explains why she stays up late at night, writing blog posts for her site, indiahicks.com, long after the kids are in bed. The well-written entries give a peek into her real life, while holding back in a way that is still quite proper. In an entry from August 2015, called Domino’s Debut, she describes a recent moment when her daughter, Domino, was invited by Ralph Lauren to walk the runway in a kids show during New York Fashion week. In fact, she did more than walk: Domino closed the show hand-in-hand with Ralph himself, but Hicks is master of understatement. In less than 100 words, she manages to convey the excitement over the invitation, her mother’s faint disapproval and her decision to take the opportunity for her daugh- ter because it might just be fun. It’s a coy peek into her privileged world that leaves readers wanting more, all the while protecting what’s left of her privacy in this digital age.
India isn’t the only one with royal blood who has embraced social media with aplomb. Buckingham Palace has been lauded for being better at this new medium than some businesses. They even used Twitter to announce the birth, name and gender of the royal baby with the hashtag #royalbaby. “I think the royal family is trying to modernize and that’s a very difficult thing to do,” explains Hicks. “How much is too much? How much is too little? How modern do you become?”
When asked about a recent news story making the rounds that Princess Charlotte would not be allowed to wear a dress until age 1, she shot it down. “That’s completely incorrect, they will be doing exactly what they feel is right,” says Hicks. She should know. Hicks, who was a commentator for Will and Kate’s 2011 nuptials for the British network ITV, as well as on ABC, chronicled her own experience in Lady Diana’s wedding for The Learning Channel in Untold Stories of a Royal Bridesmaid.
Although lately she is trying to keep the focus on her business, using what free time she does have for her immediate family. “I don’t really go to social events anymore,” she sighs. “My life is just very different, and I want to spend the time that I do have with my kids.” Her brood is a large one and includes three older boys, Felix, Amory and Conrad, her young daughter, Domino, and most recently, 18 year-old Bahamian teenager named Wesley she fostered in 2012, after his mother died of cancer. Hicks had coincidentally been pregnant with son Felix at the same time Wesley’s mom, Lynne, was pregnant with him, and the two got to know each other.
So does she want to become an adoption advocate à la Angelina Jolie? “Not at all,” says Hicks. “The Wesley story is a deeply personal one, in many respects he felt a part of our family for so long, that it seemed a very natural move that he would live with us permanently. But, each child’s story is so individual, it would be very hard to generalize about it.” While she had her reservations, the move has “brought a lot of goodness” into the family, proving Hicks, once again, is correct when it comes to her bravery and gung-ho spirit, tackling life and taking chances.
Photography by Michael Raveney