Tessa Packard [TP]: What led you to move away from the creative agency you founded and forge a career in journalism?
Melanie Grant [MG]: I’ve been a journalist for 25 years and when I was at The Times I decided to start my own agency. I had dreamed of starting a company for many years but never quite had the guts to jump. It was one of the toughest but most exhilarating journeys I’ve ever been on. I never quite left journalism though as I had lots of editorial clients and so nearly a decade later when I went back into it full time I felt like I was coming home.
[TP]: In your opinion, what makes the luxury industry so interesting to work in, and specifically why do you think British luxury has such a wide ranging, international appeal?
[MG]: I like the diversity of the luxury industry. From cars, clothes and travel to jewellery and leather goods, there is so much to learn. It is about art and craftsmanship at the highest level and I love being around people who are the best at what they do. The British are the originators of many items we call luxury today and we take it very seriously. The Americans, Chinese, Japanese and shoppers from the Middle East especially come here to buy handmade, bespoke goods because we understand the power of understatement.
[TP]: What is your view on the role of the ‘designer / maker’ in today’s luxury industry? Are they intrinsic to a brand, or can a heritage brand be built on clever marketing campaigns, high-profile events and tactical advertising or positioning?
[MG]: Some luxury brands (fashion is a good example) choose to champion the designer but this is often a risky strategy if the relationship breaks down. Others like say Cartier transcend the individual makers and present a unified design language that speaks directly to the consumer. Advertising and marketing plays its part, how else would you know about what is coming, what each collection means or how it can fit into your life? Yet smaller brands have to work harder and want to connect with seasoned collectors who can support them over the long haul. What they lack in resources they make up for in resourcefulness. Part of loving luxury is the joy of discovering small artisans in a world of big names.
[TP]: What are the most pressing subjects affecting journalism today, and what – in your opinion – shoudl be done to counteract them?
[MG]: Digital technology has changed everything. In the old days you would write a feature and an advertiser plus sales on the news stand would pay for the production and distribution of your magazine or newspaper. Sales and advertising have diminished in favour of free content online. Sales of print have gone into free fall. So media companies are putting a lot of money into developing apps, the web, film etc but there is no business model yet for making enough profit to sustain large numbers of staff. Quality journalism takes time and is expensive to produce so we have to find a way to do that in the digital age.
[TP]: What qualities or characteristics do you need to make it as a successful journalist?
[MG]: You need to be nosy. To be curious about the world and fascinated with how people think. It can involve long hours and travel, it can even be dangerous in some areas. I knew I wanted to tell people’s stories from a young age. I wanted to change the world or at least my part of it by sharing the human experience. To be successful you have to be determined, be slightly obsessive and not take no for answer.
[TP]: Who or what is your favourite luxury designer or brand, and at the other end of the scale, which mass market company or brand do you most admire?
[MG]: That’s tough one! I admire the philosophy of Patek Philippe as they take watch making to extremes and they create a level of desire that astounds me. I also like Chanel because even though they sell a lot of product I always feel like I’m buying from a small brand, partly because everyone I’ve met from the brand loves being part of it. Jewellery is my obsession however and if I won the lottery tomorrow I would commission small bespoke designers, like Tessa Packard London, because nothing beats the intimacy and sheer excitement of that kind of collaboration for me. Each have their place in the landscape of luxury.
[TP]: How would you describe your approach to fashion and your own personal style?
[MG]: I’m always rushing about so comfort is important to me. I enjoy great fabrics like silk, cashmere, velvet in discreet colours because fashion for me is a canvas for my true passion which is accessories. I dress jewellery first. On the flip side I also like bright red, blue, yellow especially in the summer. My boyfriend calls me his tropical bird because when that sun comes out I don’t hold back. Most days I’m in a well cut jacket, jeans and power jewels.
[TP]: If you could design any piece of jewellery, with no regard to cost, what would it look like?
[MG]: I’d design matching cuffs in yellow or rose gold with colourful stones. I like wearing jewellery I can see that catches the light. Selfish I know!
[TP]: What is the most extraordinary holiday destination you’ve been to and why?
[MG]: The blue mountains of Jamaica. The air is sweet and there is a stillness that scared me at first but which I came to love. Mountain people are fascinating and they see life in a profoundly simple way. Spiritually I felt at peace there.
[TP]: In terms of your mission, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt in recent months?
[MG]: I’m writing my first book and it’s terrifying but I’m learning to ask for help which I find difficult. I’ve learnt a lot about myself in the process, chiefly the idea that you should never give up. The thing you want most is often just around the corner so you have to keep going.
ON THE SPOT
Town or Countryside? Town
Favourite city? London!
Your perfect dinner guest, dead or alive? The Obamas
If you could time travel to any era it would be…? The court of the Maharaja of Patiala (1695-1765) who commissioned some of the most outrageous jewellery in history
The best meal you’ve ever eaten is? Japanese at Ikeda in Brook Street, London
The one essential you can’t leave home without? Juicy Tube lipgloss by Lancome
Pet hate? Unreliable people
Biggest extravagance? Prada handbags or diamonds
Favourite book? I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
What would your gravestone read? She loved a challenge
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