It started off as one person making the occasional vintage-style dress for sale. But over time, Love Her Madly Boutique has become one of the leading lights in 1960s-dressmaking. We caught up with proprietor, designer and maker Melanie for a chat.
Where did you start? Are you a self-trained dressmaker or did you acquire the skills through formal training?
After quitting my restaurant job back in 2006 I was at a loose end not really sure where I wanted to take my career. I knew I wanted to do something creative. Then a Sixties night at Leicester University called Brighton Beach inspired me.
I needed a dress, something that no-one else was wearing. My mum used to make all of her own dresses in the Sixties and I knew she could help. We decided on a design, mum helped me make it, and I wore it that night. Many girls came up to me and told me how much they liked the dress. And as ‘Tin Soldier’ was playing and rocking the dancefloor, a light bulb turned on. This was what I was going to do. Make Sixties-inspired dresses for the modernist woman.
And with a few more lessons from my mum and many mistakes later, I admit I once sewed a sleeve on to the neck, Love Her Madly made her her debut on eBay.
It’s quite a step from making dresses to creating a brand and selling those dresses worldwide. Was it a gradual move or did you just wake up one day and decide to shift from the odd dress to create a clothing brand?
The five star reviews I kept getting on eBay convinced me I could take this brand further into shops across the UK and beyond. And I know this might sound like sales patter, but the quality of make and material for our price is just not available elsewhere, and happily retailers and discerning shoppers recognise this, too.
Are you still a one-woman band? Have you considered moving on to larger-scale production?
It’s just me most of the time. I’ve gotten pretty quick on the sewing machine, even with my eye for detail and perfection, and I’m a bit precious about letting anyone else make them. I do however have trusty people on standby when we’re busy. The brand is getting bigger so I might have to cut those apron strings and let even more people assemble my lovely frocks.
I think it goes without saying that your dresses are inspired by the 1960s. Is this a style and an era you identity with personally? Is there a decent-sized market for mod / sixties-only design in 2016?
For sure. I was brought up listening to Sixties music like The Beatles, The Who and Motown. During a show-and-tell lesson at school I took in an original Sgt Pepper album. I was obsessed with the cover. During dinner breaks I’d be at home listening to Jackie Wilson and eating cheese and salad cream sandwiches as my classmates huddled in circles listening to hardcore rave.
I think there will always be a market for the Sixties. Plus, I make dresses up to size 18, and it’s really hard to find anything vintage, in my style, in anything other than an outfit that would only fit Twiggy.
Obviously you have to keep changing designs as the ‘seasons’ pass. Where do you find inspiration from for new designs? Any labels past and present that inspire you? Any designers that inspire you?
I find inspiration by looking through old Vogue magazines and watching music videos. I try and make the seasons as part of the design. So colours that might be in fashion for spring, summer and fall.
Obviously, Mary Quant is a big inspiration. There is just something so classic about monochrome. It’s timeless. Peggy Moffitt is one of my favourite models. Our model, Nicki Donohoe, reminds me of her. I have Peggy in mind when I’m designing.
How do you actually go about designing a dress from scratch and how long does the process generally take from drawing board to store mannequin?
Most of my designing goes on in my head. I’ll be laying awake in bed, imagining I’m sewing a new dress. Once I’ve made a new design I’ll leave it hanging up for a few weeks in my studio, just to see if I really like it. I also share it with friends and get their opinion.
Have any designs found a permanent place in your online shop?
We have a few that are very popular. My favourite is dusty. She’s purple and yellow and looks very striking. We have an LHM ‘Classic Collection’ on the site which keeps the favourites always in stock.
We have a number of dresses pictured here and of course, you can view many more on your online store site, most for just under £50. However, you also do bespoke dresses. How does that work and how much does the bespoke experience cost? Can existing designs be ‘tweaked’ too?
We do offer a bespoke service, this is for women, who like me, aren’t your average shop size. Any of our dresses for sale can be made exactly to fit for £10 extra using the online form to supply particular measurements. Adding sleeves or collars and pockets is part of this service, too.
If anyone reading this wanted to try one of your dresses, are there retailers selling them or is it an online-only option?
We’re stocked from London to Glasgow in the UK, including iconic shops in Camden and Soho, and also have outlets in France, Belgium and Japan. And I hope, with the launch of the LHM Summer Collection, to increase our number of bricks and mortar stockists, as well as building our own online store.
I suppose one way of seeing the dresses is going to see the Small Faces All or Nothing musical. How did that collaboration come about?
I have to thank Mario and Daniel at Modfather in Camden for this gig. All or Nothing writer, and former Eastenders actress, Carol Harrison, had seen our clothes in their store. Mario put her in our direction and we were more than happy to supply dresses for what is already proving to be a hit mod musical.
Have you had much publicity off the back of it?
It’s been great, to be honest. To have our dresses on talented performers every night dancing around the 1960s set at The Vaults theatre is wonderful.
Is there anything else lined up along similar lines or are you just waiting for the phone to ring?
We’re always keen on new adventures and opportunities – so don’t be afraid to get in touch!
Do you plan to expand into anything other than dresses? Other styles of clothing or menswear for example? Or is Love Her Madly always going to be about the dresses?
Women’s clothing, for now, as it’s what we do best. But who knows what might be around the corner…
Finally – and I know we have briefly covered this above – but who would you like to see or have seen in your dresses past or present? Who defines the brand?
Ooh, Peggy Moffitt, as I mentioned. Grace Coddington had the hair and the iconic look, too.
Thanks Melanie (and Nick) for your time.
If you want to find out more about Love Her Madly, you can check out the label’s website and online store here. The website also has details of that bespoke service and if you want to keep in touch, access to the brand’s newsletter too.