Shaping the Kitchen with every Apron: Chatting with Hedley and Bennett

Until now, my only memories of aprons send me way back to childhood summer vacations at my grandparents’ house where I was forced to wear them while washing the dishes. They have never provoked much attention from me, and not just my grandma’s tacky floral print versions, but most aprons out there were just as non-appealing to wear. They had fussy ties, were ill fitting and a chore to put on. It wasn’t until I was introduced to Hedley & Bennett that a whole new light was shed on kitchen apparel.  I checked out what the brand had to offer and instantly began my love affair when I noticed the words ‘Japanese selvage denim’. Brilliant!

The brand creates fresh new takes on kitchen apparel, specializing in aprons. Using beautiful patterns, colors and materials, founder Ellen Bennett combines her real world experience at top restaurants with a tasteful eye to create functional styles that you’ll actually want to wear. We were lucky to catch up with the busy young entrepreneur on a recent trip to L.A. to get the inside scoop about her background, the inspiring products and the start of her company.

The moment we arrive, Ellen and her English bulldog, Patrizio, greet us and her charismatic personality instantly sends a jolt of energy through the downtown studio. Within the first few minutes, we are already pulling aprons off their shelves and Ellen is telling us stories about their makings. Describing them with words like ‘vanilla straps’ and ‘squid ink black’ makes it apparent that her love of food pours into each design. With quality products founded on a passionate foundation, this young brand is bound towards a bright future in the kitchen, and perhaps beyond. We are inspired, and excited for what’s to come.

Hi, thanks for sitting down with us today. Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself to begin? 

EB: I was born in Glendale in Los Angeles, lived in Mexico, and now have returned to my homeland after completing culinary school.

So, how did you get from graduating culinary school to designing aprons?

EB: Well, I’ve always hated the ugly aprons we were required to wear in the kitchen, so I wanted to create something that I was excited to wear… in a way to be stylish in the kitchen. I’ve always wanted to do something relating to food, and maybe not have to cook in a kitchen forever…and now I’ve found my calling. I can get inspired by food and create something totally different from it.

How’d you come up with the name Hedley and Bennett?

EB: Well, Bennett is my last name. Hedley was my grandfather’s name. He was English and very posh and proper. The Hedley side is the sophisticated, proper side of the idea and Bennett is the crazy, always running around like a chicken with the head cut off, me!

I also love the names designated for each apron…

EB: A lot of the aprons are named after people we know, the style of fabric, streets and most importantly FOOD! For example, J Dory is named after a fish. Kumamoto is named after an oyster. Dearborne Ave is a beautiful street I love in Chicago.

Is that what you had in mind when you were designing?

EB: Not necessarily. I’m usually thinking about all the chefs, artisans, carpenters, woodworkers, barbers… Pretty much anyone who could use a functional yet stylish apron.

Can you describe the overall brand aesthetic?

EB: Simple and clean with big bursts of color

Well said! I would only add the quality factor in all your materials used, something I notice right away when I feel your aprons. Any favorites in the collection thus far? 

EB: Currently, the Eagle Scout. So sexy!

“I’m usually thinking about all the chefs, artisans, carpenters, woodworkers, barbers… Pretty much anyone who could use a functional yet stylish apron.” – Ellen Bennett

You must have so many special clients asking for your designs?

EB: Absolutely! Definitely one of our most special clients was Alton Brown. But also famous chefs like Ludo Lefevbre, Nancy Silverton, Michael Voltaggio, Vinny Dotolo use our aprons on a daily basis.

I’m sure your experiences in the kitchen have played a large role in all the details which make your aprons really stand out. So which restaurant do you also work at right now?

EB: Providence, in Los Angeles. 

Is it true what I hear about chefs being just as superstitious as designers? Do you have any rituals in the kitchen or design studio?

EB: Well, I often stand out on our fire escape with my production manager, yelling out the things we want to accomplish in the world! From the tenth floor! Also, I like brainstorming while I’m chopping! For instance, at Providence I have to cut special triangles out of these hearts of palm. When I do that, I’m always thinking of what else I could design, jotting down ideas on little kitchen tickets.

Hilarious! I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t ask, so as a fellow foodie, what are some of your favorite places to eat in L.A.? Or the world?

EB: Definitely Daikokuya (Ramen), Guisados (taco joint), Bibimbap (korean rice bowls), Sun Ha Jang in L.A. and Chupacabras (a taco stand under a freeway in Mexico City).

The story of the brand is such a great tale and I’m so happy to share a glimpse of it with all our readers. Is there a life lesson you’ve learned in all these experiences?

EB: Be willing to give everyone a chance and a second chance. I walked through the back door of Providence and asked for a job. If my chef didn’t give me a chance, this all would never have happened.

Lastly, what is it that you envision for yourself and the company for the future?

EB: To have a store, to get my aprons into culinary schools, to have my aprons all over the world. To make it an actual category. I want to become a kitchen staple. Like you would get All-clad pans, Kitchen-Aid standing mixers and a Hedley & Bennett apron. To just completely rejuvenate the culinary world!

Written by Angélique Chmielewski

Angélique Chmielewski

June 07, 2013

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