Clare (far right) wears jacket, £275, T-shirt, £50, trousers, £185, and trainers, £195 Model wears leather jacket, £450, blouse, £95, trousers, £195, and trainers, £195, all meandem.com
With the high street in lockdown, these unique, boutique-style labels have been breathing new life into our wardrobes – and dominating the way we shop
Clare Hornby started ME+EM in 2009, with the aim of providing busy women with a quality working wardrobe at an accessible price.
I began my career at Harrods where I was able to invest in luxury clothes thanks to my employee discount. However, when I moved into advertising that was no longer possible – I couldn’t afford them. It made me want to find a way for women to enjoy luxury fashion at an accessible price point.
We are a direct-to-consumer brand [bypassing third-party retailers] which means you can genuinely buy luxury for less. We’re as fastidious in everything we do as a luxury brand would be and every piece we make must be flattering, functional and timeless. We fit on multiple models, test fabrics and hone designs. It takes time, but it’s worth it for the final product.
Our typical customer is very busy and wants classic styles with a modern edge and the hard work done for her because she hasn’t got the time to trawl endless websites for clothes.
We’re best known for our trousers – I’ve been called a ‘trouser whisperer’ – but, unsurprisingly, our knits and loungewear did really well this past year, in particular our palazzo pants. The appetite for our shoes is growing, too. After the successful launch of our trainers last year, we have more footwear coming.
Lots of high-profile women, among them TV stars, royalty and actresses including Saoirse Ronan, Gillian Anderson and Helen Mirren. wear ME+EM. When it comes to ME+EM, the biggest compliment anyone could pay me is that our clothes have made them feel more confident – because that’s the goal.
Blazer, £325, jumper, £75, trousers, £325, and trainers, £195, all meandem.com
The winner for off-duty wow
Founded in 2003 by Mandy Watkins, Hush is beloved for its easy separates and comfort-first ethos – not least, its cult joggers.
The idea for Hush was born from my first British winter after I moved here from Australia.
The cold and dark came as such a nasty shock that my reaction was to hibernate, and I realised there must be a gap in the market for a clothing brand dedicated to making time at home special. When I was made redundant, it gave me both the time and a bit of money to follow my dream.
Brands often reflect their origins and I think me being Australian – Aussies are a pretty easy-going, optimistic bunch – shows in our products. Also, my husband is a journalist, so the lifestyle element of the brand was integral to Hush from the start and something we probably did before anyone else. Plus, we grew the business quite literally from the kitchen table, so it’s very personal. I hope our customers can see that intimacy and care.
We used to have a jumper that was our heroine style – until it started cropping up everywhere. Now it’s probably our leather joggers. My own favourite are the trousers I’m wearing [opposite] from our current collection – I love their colour, their androgynous vibe, the way they can be dressed up or down. They’re also comfy, flattering and don’t crease.
A customer once wrote to us saying Hush had changed her life. She told us she used to dread weekends because she never knew what to wear, but we’d given her a wardrobe that finally enabled her to look forward to them.
That meant a lot. I know we’re not saving lives, but putting a smile on someone else’s face is always a pretty great achievement.
Mandy, far right, wears T-shirt, £27, trousers, £79, and trainers, £145 Model wears cardigan, £69, top, £25, jeans, £69, and sandals, £89, all hush-uk.com
The go-to for relaxed glamour
Twelve years ago, Liz Houghton created Mint Velvet with friends Jane Rawlings and Lisa Agar Rea. In 2017 she was given an OBE for her business nous.
I wanted to create a business that was fun to be part of, with strong values and a sense of community. While we worked 24/7 at the start it never felt like a job and we made sure our families were part of the journey, roping our partners and children into everything from registering the web address to delivering our brochures. The importance of our culture was brought home to me seven years later when we lost our son Will in a cycling accident. The whole team wrapped their arms around me and continue to do so, finding ever more creative ways to raise funds for the Will Houghton Foundation.
We make clothes for women who want to be fashionable and confident but not feel hampered by what they’re wearing. Our customer is a modern woman with multiple demands for her wardrobe and she wants great clothes that will stand the test of time. It’s about attitude over age.
Whenever the likes of Holly Willoughby or Susanna Reid wear our clothes we sell out of the style. But our biggest moment was when the Duchess of Cambridge wore our trainers. We sold out instantly and get requests from all over the world asking about them.
Closing our boutiques during lockdown was a huge setback – I knew I had a great team, but their resilience and positivity has been amazing. Thankfully, our online sales have been strong – I think our relaxed vibe has been so right for the times.
Our loungewear, unsurprisingly, has been flying out, as have our denim, candles and beauty treats. Looking ahead, I’m excited about the launch this month of our collection of sophisticated occasion pieces and our swim and beach range for summer.
Liz, far left, wears shirt, £69, trousers, £99, and shoes, £109 Model wears jacket, £299, jumper, £79, trousers, £89, and trainers, £99, all mintvelvet.co.uk
Blazer, £169, T-shirt, £22, trousers, £79, and sandals, £89, all mintvelvet.co.uk
The champion of ageless style
With no design experience, Marielle Wyse began Wyse London seven years ago, starting with bright cashmere knits and growing from there.
While Wyse came about very much from the desire to design – selfishly! – for myself, I also wanted to cater to women who don’t want to be dictated to by fashion; who want to wear clothes that don’t wear them.
I started out making cashmere jumpers, but decided to branch out, first with print, then denim, partly because my work was being copied, but also I realised just doing cashmere was limiting. There are four of us on the design team now – we’re still a small business, but growing confidently.
Funnily enough, for a mainly cashmere brand, scallop dungarees are our hero piece. They’re comfy, but also have the advantage of dressing-up your top half, so if you’re on a Zoom call, you have this lovely scallop thing going on. The age range of women who have bought them is wide. We posted a picture of a 75-year-old customer in them on Instagram, and have never had such a positive reaction.
Over this past year we’ve grown like never before. When lockdown began, we took bags of clothes home and went on to Instagram, holding things up, asking: ‘Do you like this?’ We realised we could get customer feedback just by talking to people. It’s been a game-changer. And I’ve discovered we serve a much wider age range than I thought: lots of women messaged me saying they bought something their daughter has now nicked. Actually, the number of messages I’ve had from older women saying they’ve re-found their love of fashion because of us is wonderful. Real style is ageless.
Fashion Director: Shelly Vella
Interviews: Laura Craik
Photographs: Eva Schwank
Fashion assistant: Joanne Toolan
Make-up: Linda Johansson at One Represents using KVD
Make-up assistant: Olivia Cochrane
Hair: Alex Szabo at Carol Hayes Management using Rita Hazan
Hair assistant: Kirsty O’Brien
Model: Steph Hall at Models 1
Production and casting: Lucy Coghlan