Melissa Wheeler 

Freelance fashion writer, copy writer, columnist, PR consultant and editor
- Fashion & Lifestyle specialist


 As a freelance writer, my sole aim is to communicate with impact and resonance using words. To stand out above the noise and elicit the desired emotions in the reader. My experience is that the power of words can nurture your image and gain coverage for your brand. All of my work is designed with the sole purpose of helping you achieve your aims and drive success whether that be to the end consumer or to the market, or both. Naturally, your needs will be specific and my role will vary from client to client with a tailored, bespoke approach in each case. I write from the heart and from the head, varying the ratio according to the project.
My specialism is the fashion industry though I welcome opportunities across all sectors, so please don't hesitate to contact me if you feel we could work together or would like to learn more.
I am available for columnist roles in the fashion, lifestyle and wellbeing sector.

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Melissa's Musings....

By Melissa Wheeler 03 Jan, 2018

While a personalised number plate might be considered a little ‘flash’ by some, personalisation in fashion has undoubtedly become big business, especially in the Luxury sector where the challenge of counterfeit items continues to foster mistrust. Customising anything from your handbag to your heels - or even your mascara - has become a signifier of our changing attitude towards identity and towards consumerism in general. We’re overwhelmed with product and persuasion - from fast fashion to fake news - such that a personalised edit or customised product is a welcome respite and relief and, indeed, a luxury. These days, bespoke fashion is considered the epitome of luxury.Looking back, we think of London’s Savile Row, where people pay thousands for made-to-measure suits, or ateliers in Milan or Paris, where a predominantly female clientele commission one-of-a-kind handmade gowns. As consumers today, we too want to spend our money on something which is unique, which perfectly meets our needs and captures something of our spirit. While this bespoke experience has become democratised, we’re willing to pay a premium.

At the dawn of a new year, as fashion buyers open their books and shoppers reconsider their wardrobes, the smart money is being placed on a more discerning way of buying clothes. Aside from the fact that few of us conform to the fashion industry’s ideal body shape, there’s a growing disillusionment with the fast, furious and faceless fashion bought ‘off-the-rail’, which rarely seems to meet the level of fit and quality we expect, nor the transparency we seek. Bespoke garments are rapidly becoming the most coveted pieces with stores such as Selfridges creating dedicated bespoke ateliers in both womenswear and in beauty. " We see so many women who have access to premium merchandise, but clients are getting more demanding and want a personal connection with their purchases ," says Judd Crane, director of womenswear at Selfridges. In a homogenised world, where we can order Burberry's and Topshop's latest collections as we watch a live stream of their runway shows, and every capital city features the same glass-fronted, glossy temples to expensive designer brands, this is the antithesis of the marketing and hype surrounding what we traditionally know as 'luxury' labels.

In fact, those savvy shoppers who are spending their money on unique, made-to-measure or personalised pieces are part of what is being coined "the new luxury". And the beauty of this New Luxury is that, as with sustainable fashion and Luxury more broadly, consumer demand has resulted in its democratisation.

It might be that women such as Kate Middleton have popularised British designers and personalisation by supporting more budget-conscious dressmakers and made-to-measure cobblers, in place of the former route of haute couture, but it’s fair to say that this option is beyond the reach of most of us. And yet, just as those flamboyant catwalk pieces at London Fashion Week rarely see a shop floor while later informing high street trends, the essence and spirit of this demand for individuality and anonymity is determining the way we shop.

As any tailor who is respected in sartorial circles will tell you, expertly cut cloth and a flattering fit can create illusions of being slimmer, taller or curvier, highlighting or concealing your least or favourite features. It might be a question of buying a pair of morale-boosting heels which accommodate your pronounced arch or a hard-working tailored dress designed to conceal your tummy and flatter your hips. Moreover, a bespoke tailor will leave a lot of excess fabric in a garment, allowing for you to let the garment out by a few inches or alter the silhouette slightly. It’s about us all valuing what we buy, respecting who made it and seeking that will be truly ours. Forever.

Had I been actively searching for examples of this New Luxury of personalisation, I’d have been overwhelmed – just indulge yourself in an impromptu Google search – but as it happened, illustrations of this current of customisation simply came my way in my work, by chance.

Whether we fancy an everyday luxury such as a triple AAA grade leather handbag featuring our initials or a shamelessly sophisticated pair of heels which caress our foot shape and compliment our colour scheme, a connection with craftsmanship ensures that what we buy meets our needs in terms of lifestyle, fit and individuality. It feels truly ours.

British handbag and jewellery designer Nadia Minkoff – who produces affordable luxury handbags which are sold internationally – is introducing a personal touch with a range of handbag styles featuring options for customisation. As with any new venture and independent business, the offering will apply to limited styles – in this case, the UK-made Newington and Belgrave clutch bags:

We wanted to make our customer preferences more relevant and the items more personal. Customers can choose their colour combinations from a selection of leathers and they can choose to deboss or emboss a name, initials or a date on the bag externally or internally. We’ve worked very hard on the pricing too and settled on £3.50 per character and a 10% surcharge for colour preferences. It’s very exciting!” says Minkoff.

It’s not just accessories either. In answer to the eternal quest for the perfect foundation, there’s a new generation of forward-thinking brands launching savvy “bespoke beauty” services. The kind that enable us to find our perfect product, rather than having to do generic shopping off the shelves. From the mascara know-it-all Eyeko through to the Made to Match range being launched by Boots No 7 , the brands receiving our hard-earned cash are those offering the personal touch.

At the traditional ‘luxury’ corner of the market – but by no means unreasonably priced when compared to traditional Luxury labels – is Eyato London , a London artisan designer brand founded on the very principle of personalisation. “I simply became disillusioned with ready-to-wear luxury and what it gave me in terms of fit, experience and value for money”, explains Atiti Izogie, the designer and founder who designs from her home-based workshop in Watford. “I wanted to create items which captured the customer’s identity and which would be cherished forever, not just for one season”.

While a shoe merits customisation for reasons of function and fit, a bespoke handbag can accommodate those lifestyle needs which are specific to us, such as the number of external versus internal pockets, fastenings and handle options.

Customised garments were the norm one hundred years ago, but the trade-offs we have all made in return for factory-produced fashion and instant gratfication are many. One of the compromises is the limitations which machine-cut fabrics present in footwear, namely the shape of a vamp or the width of the instep girth. Handmade shoes – Eyato footwear is all handstitched in London - which follow the traditional techniques of Italian shoemakers, resonate with our current interest in wellbeing, health and comfort. The mood for ‘self-care’. If confidence stems from comfort, then a customised shoe must be the perfect first step.

Buying bespoke is not about making a statement with trends and flaunting labels: it’s an understated way of dressing that means we can feel confident wearing the most flattering garments. Our own choice of fabrics and detailing – such as neckline, hem length, sleeve shape – can prove the difference between an item which is pleasing and one which is personal. Advocates will tell you that once you have started buying like this, you rarely go back.

At a time when the attitude of ‘ Buy Less; Buy Better’ continues to gain traction and consumers show signs of fast-fashion and fake news fatigue, fashion and retail in general has never felt more personal.

 

By Melissa Wheeler 02 Dec, 2017

What do Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, the AW17 catwalks and Her Majesty the Queen all have in common? The answer of course is a certain natural yarn, discovered in China over 10,000 years and obtained to produce the luxury, slippery fabric famously used for all manner of luxury accessories, namely printed scarves. Yes, the iconic printed silk scarf, having suffered something of an image crisis in the Noughties and corrupted by Sloaney kitsch, is currently enjoying a revival reminiscent of the very Golden Era that glamorised it. And which public figure has stayed loyal to this luxury fabric throughout? Of course, it’s none other than our Head of State, the high priestess of the printed silk headscarf and now officially our style muse for AW17.

It’s hard to argue neither with the versatility of a square silk scarf nor with its social symbolism through the history of Fashion, Art and Culture. Indeed, the fact that you can still receive a lesson in how to knot your silk square in Liberty London – where Art Nouveau prints were championed in the 19th century - is a case in point. But for the hipsters and fashion queens of today, the silk scarf is just as likely to worn as an artsy headband, belt, wristband or even turban as it is a stylish neck-cessory. Thanks to French fashion houses such as Céline and Balenciaga , who recently gave the silk scarf a PR makeover for the AW17 catwalks, and popular icons such as Paloma Faith who democratised it, the luxury accessory traditionally associated with Hermes and Gucci is now a high street staple.

Few will have missed the exotic and rich front cover of Edward Enniful’s inaugural Vogue cover – featuring Adwoa Aboah wearing a bespoke silk turban designed by Stephen Jones for Marc Jacobs. Though some may have missed the way in which silk had already been seducing our style senses for a season, evinced in Victoriana silk blouses shown in primary colours for SS17 through to the slip-dresses and luxe maxi-skirts, which saw us through to autumn.

One of the wonderful things about the revival of the printed silk scarf, which I find particularly pleasing, is the way it captures the renewed affection for quality and respect for artisan design and craftsmanship that’s rippling through consumer consciousness. Not only is pure silk – I’m talking triple AAA grade fine silk – 100% natural, lending itself to hand-drawn and digitally printed designs, but it’s hypoallergenic too, thus meeting the demand for wellbeing and self-care. It’s also being designed and produced in the UK by and handful of small independent designers fusing art with fashion and epitomising wearable art. Basma Design is one such example. An emerging London designer who uses AAA grade chiffon silk as a canvas for printing shamelessly sublime scarves, Basma uses hand drawing and digital techniques to retain the texture and feel of the fabric in each design.

While Millennials continue to step away from Fast Fashion and Gen Y look for personalisation and individuality, the ethos of seeking quality over quality - the ‘Buy Less; Buy Letter’ philosophy – is weaving through our social fabric and into our wardrobe.

What I also love about the printed silk scarf is its capacity to transform a look. A simple high street dress accessorised with a printed silk scarf adds a sense of ownership to an otherwise non-descript outfit. It’s the ultimate power accessory and the savviest style trick for updating a wardrobe. Worn any multitude of ways, this luxury investment is the Swiss Army Knife of style accessories. For a long time, this timeless and simplest of accessories has semaphored joie de vivre. Just look at the witty way in which designers such as Celine and Balenciaga have reinterpreted the silk scarf for added functionality with the former producing a tote bag and the latter a silk jacquard pair of courts, both featured in Vogue UK. As sustainable fashion and individuality gather momentum, our desire for more than just product – essentially to be able to buy into a story, develop a relationship with a designer and express-ourself, will only grow. As Coco Chanel said, fashion is not just about clothes:

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening ”.

It’s a vehicle for communication, a means of self-expression and a reflection of the world we live in. The silk scarf has connotations of exoticism, indulgence, passion, purity and earthiness, while proudly averting any rules or constraints in how it’s used or worn. Indeed, the image of being tied up in silk bed sheets differs somewhat from that of the modest headscarf. It’s the most sentient and seductive or fabrics and its popularity would appear to chime with our concerns for wellbeing and comfort. We demand maximum utility from what we buy and where we spend our money:- ‘Buy Less; Spend it Well’, we say. Surveys and polls show that many of us would rather spend more on quality and craftsmanship to find the optimum PPW (pay per wear). New Luxury has a conscience.

Christmas - a time of year when extravagance, opulence, indulgence and down-right decadence (Champagne marmalade with your Champagne breakfast anyone?) is respectfully approved of – is perhaps the season for a celebration of the sumptuousness of silk. We have full licence for Luxe. Surely Gift Wrap should be just that? Gifts wrapped in a gift; gifts wrapped in silk. I shall be expecting nothing less!

As for fashion, it was Oscar de la Renta who claimed that “Silk does for the body what diamonds do for the hand” and, whether it’s around our neck, waist or wrist it seems we’re all tied up with Grandma’s silk scarf. The style status of the iconic silk scarf is a sartorial reminder that Grandma always know best.

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