On a bright, frosty morning in February, I met Melanie Press at her eponymous boutique, which since the summer has been located in a prime spot on Regent’s Park Road. Melanie herself is the epitome of that sought-after, effortless Primrose Hill look as she walks in with her cuddly Cavalier King Charles spaniel, called Brody. “Brody has his own fan club ‒ all the children love him,” she says, smiling. It’s an easy commute up from Camden, where she lives with her husband Paul, a photographer and video-maker.
Melanie grew up in North London and went to North London Collegiate School before studying fashion at Central St Martin’s, where she was a contemporary of Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo. She went on to work for Lynne Frank PR, famous as the inspiration for the Absolutely Fabulous TV series, before crossing the Atlantic to take up a design position at Ralph Lauren in New York. “It was totally luxurious and theatrical,” Melanie remembers. This was followed by a design role at Marc Jacobs, which had just been bought by Louis Vuitton. “Marc was lovely to work for, genuinely nice and a real character,” says Melanie.
“Women in Primrose Hill want new things. People here make a real effort to shop locally, to support their own small shops. I owe my longevity in the business to my clients. ”
After seven years stateside, homesickness got the better of her and she landed a job at Cacharel in Paris, just as Clements Ribeiro had taken over as artistic director. For two years she was a regular on the Eurostar, along with some of her fashion friends like Clare Waight Keller and Hannah MacGibbon.
Her first move into buying came with the position as creative director of Whistles. “I knew I liked retail,” she says, and subsequently she spent nine months fine-tuning her business plan before opening Press boutique on Erskine Road in 2004, right opposite the recently opened Triyoga ‒ “the place was buzzing”.
Melanie’s love for Primrose Hill has not faltered over the years. “People here make a real effort to shop locally, to support their own small shops. I owe my longevity in the business to my clients.” She has a keen eye for new, upcoming designers and was the first in the UK to stock such hit labels as Belstaff, Issa, Isabel Marant, Golden Goose. “Women in Primrose Hill want new things.” She still tends to select brands that customers can’t easily find elsewhere, such as Masscob, Soeur and the moreish Markberg bags. “But I’ve kept Golden Goose; they are just so comfortable and ground any outfit,” says Melanie.
“When Triyoga moved to Camden, I had to rethink things. For a while I’d had a desire to go back to design.” The result is her own exclusive collection, Melanie Press, launched in 2016.
It’s a small selection of updated heritage pieces with a London edge. She has a close relationship with her suppliers ‒ the lurex knits and shirting are crafted by a family firm in Italy; the lambswool and merino wool hails from the North of England (she used to consult for Pringle designs).
One of her devotees is The Times’s fashion director, Anna Murphy, who has praised the label for its impeccable quality and easy wearability. “She’s a great supporter of small brands,” enthuses Melanie. “When you buy from a small brand, all the value is put into the garment; whereas for a big brand it can be in the advertising and the runway shows.”
Melanie designs with her client’s lifestyle in mind: “She needs clothes to walk the dog, do the school run, go to work, summer in Ibiza … I want to empower her to be feminine, but with a boyish element to give it an edge.” Liberty florals paired with a boyfriend cardigan can be grounded with trainers.
Ralph Lauren taught her that clothes should not be ‘one-season wonders’, something that resonates with fashion’s increasing emphasis on sustainability. Melanie does her part in this respect: “We host pop-ups and trunk shows where customers can pre-order items; in this way we minimise waste.” Saltspin, the denim label stocked by Press, is unique in that it’s made with much less water than most other jeans.
And the clothes from Press are built to last, in quality as much as in their timeless style ‒ something that her faithful clientele confirm. “I hope that my clothes will make you want to get out of bed on a Monday morning, that they’ll enhance your life.”
Another thing that sets Press apart is its customer service: “We offer personal styling and wardrobe arranging. A lot of clients come back especially, even if they move away from Primrose Hill.” With the launch of the web shop and positive articles in The Times and American Vogue, the word is getting out, and Press has gained new customers as far away as Singapore and Australia.
She draws inspiration from vintage and cites Claire McCardell’s feminine workwear as her ultimate sartorial benchmark. “I design what I would love to find in an antique market.” Her Sonnet & Doll dresses have quickly attained cult status and can be found in many chic local closets.
A recent pop-up for the new yoga line from Sadie Frost – Frost London – had a great response. “People trust it: Sadie’s a local, she was a dancer and actress, her sister Holly is a yoga instructor and it’s made in Europe.” Another pop-up was that for Anna Mason, a favourite of the Middleton sisters, whose ‘occasion wear’ complements Melanie’s own collection of everyday classics.
She values being part of a community of shopkeepers in Primrose Hill and feels it’s crucial for the village to preserve a good group of businesses in order to make the area interesting. It’s sad when local favourites such as Elias & Grace close down.
Press’s recent move to Regent’s Park Road has brought heightened visibility and a new type of customer, but Melanie is thankful for her time in Erskine Road. “I figured out my brand identity there, I learnt from my clients.” Her vision for the shop is to add lounge seating and warm lighting and to host more events such as fashion shows and pop-ups.
In her spare time, Melanie likes to be outside: “Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath, going to the coast. And classes at Triyoga!”
The new spring collection has arrived in the shop and it’s a fresh take on some of the ubiquitous Press pieces – the cardigan cast in light grey merino wool, with customised ribbon trim and buttons, the flowing lurex trousers in green with a grosgrain ribbon stripe and a cord blouse with delicate Liberty flowers. These are clothes that are practical and dreamy at the same time, that you reach for again and again as they just work and make you feel good. And they’re all in limited editions, so you’re getting exclusivity.
When I take my leave and step out onto the street, the frost has thawed and spring is most definitely in the air.
Photos by Sarah Louise Photography