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 25 Sep, 2017

Unless you’re a cave-dwelling ascetic or a self-denying Spartan, chances are you like nice things. Most of us appreciate quality when we experience it and know how to identify it on a rail. The price tag is usually a giveaway and few of us expect luxury without having to give something in return. But our preparedness to cough up cash is balanced by expectation too. A high price tag is (should be) justified by true magnificence, which few of us can afford. We pay with the assumption that we know what we’re buying and where it was made. This explains why some of us (those who can) shell out four figure sums of money for a pair of stilettos or a handbag, with the premise that the price tag is justified by solid brand values, heritage, skilled craftspeople and superior materials. We like to imagine that an Italian luxury accessories brand or a British ‘heritage’ brand will each be ‘made in’ their respective homelands.

But luxury brands are all over the place when it comes to disclosing where their products are made. All recognise the potential advantages of full disclosure but few — even those boasting a manufacturing heritage — exploit it. The majority go for partial disclosure.

Earlier this year, The Guardian  exposed Louis Vuitton for producing the majority of its shoes in Romania, not Italy (according to EU law, if shoes are “finished” in France or Italy, the company can still qualify for the sought-after ‘made in’ tags). Further, most of the world’s leading designer luxury brands rank poorly in Fashion Revolution’s 2017 Fashion Transparency Index . In the 2017 report , all of the "luxury" brands score less than 30 out of a possible 100, and the majority achieve a dismal rating of less than 10.

As I recently commented in Why Slow Fashion is picking the pace , more and more fashion consumers are demanding transparency - in materials, production location/social impact, and even profit margins. They’re willing to pay high prices for high-quality items, especially if they have an understanding of the history and impact of the product they’re purchasing. We like a story. It’s a shift, to a purchase being driven less by brand and more by information.

What’s in my Wardrobe?

Echoing the #whomademyclothes social-media backlash to the Rana Plaza disaster, what do we really know about the history of those items in our wardrobe? Is there a dark story confusing price, perception and product lurking in our closet? If we pay 10, 20 or even a hundred times more than an item cost to produce, does the price tag correlate with the magnificent , luxury ‘story’?

According to marketing professor, and luxury industry specialist, Vincent Bastien , it doesn't matter if the products are actually made in China or Transylvania. As long as the image of " heritage, country and craftsmanship " is continuously reaffirmed and nurtured, the prices can stay high. " The more [the product] is perceived by the client to be a luxury, the higher the price should be ."

That price bears almost no relation to manufacturing costs and that fashion remains the 2nd largest polluter globally, after oil, really doesn’t have much hanger appeal. It's the result of very deliberate effort, says Dana Thomas , author of the bestselling book 'Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre' . She’s in no two minds about what drives the industry :

"[Their] sole motivating factor is profits. The designers can dream up beautiful designs, but the number crunchers will cut costs wherever they can to raise the profit margin." How else to fund those prestigious flagship stores and indulgent advertising campaigns?

Scaling up Sustainability

A direct relationship with cotton farmers, supporting Mongolian goatherds – it’s all well and good, but conscious consumerism needs to be commercial. An industry founded upon consumption needs to cut its cloth carefully. Diana Verde Nieto of Positive Luxury , an online trust-mark scheme that rewards fashion houses and jewellers making a positive impact on society and the environment says “the objective of sustainability in fashion is not just creating a lot niche brands”. “If sustainability is to take root, it must be adopted by corporations and embedded into their very structures”.

As consumer behaviour shifts from excess to ‘Buy Less; Buy Better’, many brands are successfully bridging the gulf between image and value. It’s certainly the case with several high street retailers now embracing sustainability as part of their business model. To namecheck a couple that are completely transparent in production, sharing all manufacturing and production details, let’s mention – Thought Clothing and Gandys . And, to give credit where it’s due, two corporations at the opposite ends of the luxury barometer are beginning to change the way fashion is produced on the scale that Nieto is talking about: Kering , the French luxury-goods giant that owns 16 brands including Stella McCartney, Gucci and Alexander McQueen; and H&M with its Conscious Collection together with its Global Change Award . And, in fairness, LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton, has partnered with a Belgian tannery, marrying sustainability with its quest for the best materials and shifting some of the culture of secrecy.

Making the Grade

While exploring sustainable fashion, I’ve worked with some progressive and innovative brands, speaking to buyers and retailers, and monitoring the shift of consumer behaviour. The subject has introduced me to companies such as Waremakers , representing independent producers of high quality goods and providing in-depth information about each  of their partners. Ironically, many of the European producers they work with use the same materials and manufacturing process as the big designer brands in France and Italy, but have a fraction of the mark-up.  

It’s a fact echoed in the cases of many Private Label British manufacturers who, not only supply premium High Street retailers but, produce their own superior collections. These will have a higher price tag than the top end retailers they supply, while coming in at a fraction of the price of those luxury ‘designer’ brands. In one case – a leather handbag manufacturer who supplies premium High Street retailers - they will use AA Grade leather for their own label, while using Grade A for the Private Label products. This enables the retailer to maximise margins and cut costs. The growing number of sub-brands within ‘luxury’ fashion houses will be cutting costs and catering to demand by downgrading their materials this way.

To cite Oscar Wilde, too many of us know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Thankfully, transparency is now determining price tags much more than before and consumers will vote with their purses.  Economics of scale state that it’s the global companies who have the most capacity to foster systemic change, so let’s hope that ‘luxury’ leads the way.

Consumers care about the origin of their products. The Chinese — the largest nation of luxury consumers in the world — want their watches to be Swiss, their perfumes and cosmetics to be French, their cars to be German and their bags and shoes to be either Italian or French. As a fashionphile and avid supporter of the industry, I want the Fairy-tale as much as the next woman; I want my heritage British brand to have Britishness in its DNA and my Italian heels to be made in the country of amore . We expect the quality of a ‘luxury’ item to be truly magnificent . This is, after all, one of the meanings carried by the Latin word " luxus " and how we can justify the extravagant purchase. The other Latin interpretation is “excess”, which too has proven dismally accurate. Interestingly, the English meaning of ‘luxury’, in Elizabethan times, was “lust” or “lechery”. But that’s for another blog….

 

By Melissa Wheeler 01 Sep, 2017

I like nice things as much as the next gal’. More specifically, I‘ve been told have expensive taste (eeeek)! This is fine when the price-tag is attainable, but most often it’s a sartorial case of my eyes are bigger than my tummy. Said another way, I often can’t afford the stuff I ‘want’ and therefore ‘need’. Ladies – can you relate?

So, as a means of survival I’ve become adept at hunting for the perfect investment piece while avoiding the horror of rifling through Sale rails. Some women thrive on the buzz of the Sale rail; while others – including myself – would rather go without than see beautiful product tossed around like the reduced shelf at Waitrose. When it comes to savvy shopping, I get my dopamine hit from knowing that I’ve just found a unique, beautiful addition to my wardrobe and a timeless investment item. It’s a case of searching off-piste and knowing what quality and eternal style look like amid the abundance of trend-led tat’ (sometimes no other word will suffice!). To be able to decipher between a bargain purchase - in terms of original RRP and selling price - and a bargain investment in the long-term sense is a finely honed skill. A savvy style steal is only a ‘bargain’if the purchase promises longevity and staying power. In other words, if it’s not a whimsical, short-lived sugar-rush fix followed by a ‘why did I buy this?’ mental crash. We’re talking low-GI, sustainable shopping here. I remember one stunning black stretch bodycon dress I bought from Karen Millen a few years ago, just as Spring was springing and the LBD season was effectively over. It’s classic, classy, flattering and effortlessly chic and – at less than 50% it’s RRP – I knew I’d scored a shopping success which felt like a smug secret.

The location of my latest coup was Not on the High Street (NOTHS) – a retail mecca for expertly curated, premium product with personality, provenance and panache – and involved a high value purchase in terms of its problem-solving capability, practicality and effortless class.

Looking for something transitional to update my look in the dying days of Summer and the advent of Autumn - as the prospect of revisiting my autumn wardrobe gives me that annual frisson - I knew I’d scored when I found the Pimlico clutch from London designer Nadia Minkoff . In black and beige, 100% genuine leather, large enough to carry my essential clutter and featuring an intelligent interior design plus the signature tassel, it’s also sufficiently simple to deliver a clean, classy transition to September. Bearing in mind my wardrobe, it was a no-brainer to get my hands on this beauty, which was also reduced to £79 from £108 on the brand’s own site!

For Gin 'O' Clock at the Papermakers Arms - a swanky gastro pub in Sevenoaks, I decided to team it with my ever reliable failsafe Whistles smock dress from SS16, together with some black wedge sandals from Cara London . Planning a bank holiday weekend away, versatility would be key to choosing what to bring, so being able to also pair the clutch with an Aztec print stretch Lycra dress from Oui was very helpful for she who does not travel light. 

I love nothing better than sharing a shopping secret when I find one and, as such, my style muse mother is also now the proud owner of the Pimlico Clutch in cognac and beige which, is currently being acquainted with the South East coast and yachting life in West Mersea, Essex.

As shopping victories go, the Pimlico clutch on NOTHS scores big time. This cheeky purchase is a great example of spotting quality when you see it and compromising on absolutely nothing.

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