Fashion: Shopping local never looked so stylish
Shopping local has more to offer than food and drink. Lisa Millard talks to three designers building home-grown fashion brands
Melbelle – Haverhill, Suffolk
Fashion’s love of a cowboy and cowgirl is pretty constant. What’s not to like about a well-cut Western boot, wide-brimmed hat and a dress straight out of Little House on the Prairie (go look it up)?
Melanie Fielden’s just-launched brand Melbelle is born out of her ‘inner cowgirl’ and vivid memory of sitting on a horse age seven. “It has been my life-long dream to be a cowgirl, living on a ranch somewhere warm in America,” says Melanie, whose family nickname for her is Melbelle. Despite Suffolk being home for most of her life, the frontier has always beckoned. “I’m a huge country music fan and had noticed a sharp rise in its popularity. I also noticed how difficult it was to find fashionable western-inspired outfits in the UK. I wanted to offer a solution.”
So smitten with the cowgirl life is Melanie that she’s shelved her job running a networking community and members club for businesswomen called Pioneer Chicks, which she built from scratch, and is now part time selling microscopes in her father’s business while she grows her own. “I felt it my duty to my inner cowgirl self to explore where this might take me, so I launched my new brand and finally get to live out my dream.”
Melanie is carefully curating the luxury collections she sells which are currently small but beautifully formed, including authentically crafted cowboy boots, Fedora and Gambler hats and a winning hand-finished floral boho-meets-Laura Ingalls maxi dress. The fashion photography for the brand looks straight out of the wild West but is shot on location at an off-the-grid cabin in Norfolk.
“Melbelle is a blend of western and bohemian style. My inspiration is drawn from the fashion and lifestyle of the American southern states – think Nashville x Texas x Charleston. My last holiday before the pandemic was to Charleston and I fell in love with the beauty of this city, with its pastel colours, gorgeous florals and classic, elegant and vintage style.”
Plans are to increase the Melbelle offering with boots from the USA, some graphic tees, skirts and dresses and cowboys might be catered for – while being very picky: “I believe in investing in quality items that are your own style and will last for years, as opposed to following trends with a throw-away culture.”
Ariat Heritage cowboy boot £160
Ariat short cowboy boot £180
Nevada hat £119
Location: Albion Nights off-the-grid cabin in Norfolk, @albion_nights and albionnights.co.uk
Photography: Caroline Opacic Photography, @carolineopacicphotography and carolineopacicphotography.com
VOY, St. Neots, Cambridgeshire
“I have loved fashion from a very early age and always knew I wanted to start a fashion business. Even when I was working in a bank, after studying business, I got myself a Saturday job in a shop on Oxford Street to get my fashion buzz,” says Vesta Okyere-Yeboah, the woman behind the eponymous brand VOY. A life and career in London, after leaving Ghana as a child, saw Vesta working in various sectors of the fashion industry for companies including French Connection/Nicole Farhi, Bruce Oldfield Ready-to-Wear, and DAKS Simpson Group.
Starting her label in the late 1990s, Vesta is now based in Cambridgeshire. “Lovely green spaces to walk the dog, easy access into London and basically more space to live and work in. Having a home studio is a great bonus,” says Vesta, who is shadowed as she works by her black Lab called Hector.
VOY designs feature elegantly simple shapes and uncomplicated, natural lines. The love of classic tailoring is evident in every piece, but there is a contemporary twist. Colours are demure and muted, taking inspiration from vintage items and antique oil paintings. The stylish dresses, skirts, shirts and jackets have recently been joined by a range of gorgeous linen aprons and cotton cross-body bags introduced to the collection during the pandemic when home working saw a slow-down in clothes-buying.
“When I started my brand I was very much inspired by the style of Audrey Hepburn on and off screen, , and in some ways still am. The VOY Classic Audrey, Vintage Audrey, and Golightly dresses were all homage to her and became very signature to my label,” says Vesta. The Vintage Audrey dress has enjoyed a silver screen moment when it featured prominently in Madonna's directorial debut in the film W.E. that tells the story of the romance between Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, and Wallis Simpson.
“I like things with a story, a history, be it an item of clothing, oil painting, furniture, even architecture all inspire me and have a place in my designs. I love simple lines with interesting details or texture,” says Vesta, who also champions sustainable and slow fashion and sources her preferred natural fabrics in the UK “We make what we need so that we do not over produce. Some pieces are ready-to-send and others are only available made-to-order to minimise waste and avoid over production. Producing according to demand ensures that I am able to offer reasonable prices by cutting waste related losses.
“I always knew that I would start my own thing at some point. The feeling I got when I first heard someone describe something as "very VOY" was just brilliant. It showed that I had managed to create a recognised brand and that had always been my aim.”
Cambridge crossbody bag £55
Cotton long bubble-hem skirt, £145, and wrap linen shirt £65
Golightly classic black dress £105
Linen aprons from £27
Linen wrap dress £125
Photography: Will Morgan (Golightly dress picture)
Photography: Kristyana Appiah and Vesta Okyere-Yeboah (all other images)
Models: Holly Morris, Lilly Taylor, Katie Freeman
Juliet Anna Barnes, Cambridge
Brought up in Brittany, a love of style blossomed in the young Juliet Barnes. “I grew up in a very creative family with interests in all sorts of arts, fashion and culture. I believe my French heritage helped me discover this world too. Fashion is very important in France and my mom taught me and my sisters about fashion and how to dress. We would always have fashion magazines at home and talk about the latest trends, designs, collections, fabrics and styles,” says Juliet, who launched her brand Juliet Anna Barnes in March last year.
Cambridge has been her hometown for six years and is where she studied fashion design at Cambridge School of Art enjoying internships at an agency in London and retailer Jack Wills. “After graduating, it was difficult to find an inspiring and ethical brand to work for. I always wanted to be able to express my creativity freely and having that freedom to work in particular directions is very rare when employed by someone else.”
With a clear vision for the brand she wanted to build, Juliet started to create her own collections in her own way. “The designs are inspired by the sea and my childhood in France – my Breton heritage. My brand’s mission is to create environmentally friendly, timeless, and unisex garments,” she says. “In order to reduce fabric and clothes waste I make made-to-order garments and our fabrics are sourced mainly in the UK and Europe. I work with small independent fabric suppliers to help independents like me."
Blue, the theme of this summer’s bijoux collection, features Marina, a tiered cotton voile dress that comes in an ocean blue so deep it’s mesmerising, and Nérina, a crisp white short summer dress splashed with inky blue abstracts, and both come with matching scrunchies, pretty French seams and front buttons. There’s also unisex cotton poplin shirts and simple tees.
“My hand-made collections mix trendy and classic pieces,” says Juliet. “I have always admired the creative aspect of the fashion industry. Moving to Cambridge was a great opportunity for me to get experience and I volunteered at fashion shows backstage and fashion charities to gain a better understanding of the industry. Cambridge is an amazing city and I love the fact that it’s multicultural, young, dynamic and has so much history.”
Sustaining her brand during the pandemic has not been easy – “it has been difficult to gain visibility with no exhibitions and relying only on social media to showcase my business” – but Juliet is positive about the future. “I am only at the beginning of my business journey, so I have a lot of ideas. I would love to collaborate with local boutiques and develop a network around Cambridge to try out different markets and be in direct contact with customers. I would love to create a pop-up store in the city one day.
“In the longer term, I hope to develop the brand by taking on employees who have the same values and work on reducing the impact of fashion on the planet by finding more environmentally friendly solutions.”
Marina dress £105
Nérina dress £70
Poplin shirt £68.50
Models: Claire Zangrilli, Maciej Paliwoda
Photography: Joana Fonseca
MUA: Emma Burgess
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