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To the manor born: Melissa Antonious

PUBLISHED: 11:19 15 November 2016 | UPDATED: 11:19 15 November 2016

Anna Smolyaeva wears made-to-measure Balmoral Green Tartan Coat, �795 by Melissa Antonious

Anna Smolyaeva wears made-to-measure Balmoral Green Tartan Coat, �795 by Melissa Antonious

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Emily Diamond meets Melissa Antonious - the Cheltenham-based fashion designer with roots in North Devon - for a unique photo shoot at the famously derelict Seafield House of Westwood Ho!

It’s a beautiful summer’s day in the idyllic coastal village of Westwood Ho! Amidst the cosy picture-book rental cottages and seaside holiday resorts – the epitome of the quintessential English seaside destination – the striking presence of Seafield House towers over the village and overlooks the water, where the road meets the pinnacle of a stunning cliff top. Melissa greets me outside the front of the house and I am struck by how majestic and proud the abandoned old guest house appears. Anything but sinister, this mysterious property almost looks as if it has been gifted a new lease of life, especially on such a fine day; shattered glass window panes sparkle and glisten brilliantly in the sunlight.

As fate would have it, a new chapter has begun in the story of Seafield House. Local business partners Rob Braddick and Michael Cannon purchased the property earlier this year and have long-term plans to develop the estate into a commercial establishment for Westwood Ho!

Having grown up near Bideford, Cheltenham-based fashion designer Melissa Antonious soon heard from her friends, Rob and Michael, about their purchase and was inspired to return to her roots for a very special pilgrimage – of sorts – and uniquely spell-binding photo shoot.

Melissa tells me: “My inspiration was my heritage and connection to North Devon and I knew that Seafield House would be the perfect location for a fashion shoot. I wanted to shoot pieces from the collection which would sit well against the backdrop of this derelict house.”

We discuss the dramatic presence and gothic thrall of the house and how the dark romanticism of its ruins provides a spectacular mise en scène to create some captivating images with Melissa’s lavish collection of luxurious pieces. She particularly loves the contrast of the opulent Balmoral Ruby Taffeta and Black Italian Lace Ballgown next to the splintered glass of the grand façade doors.

Candice Peachey wears bespoke Tweed and Wax Equestrian-inspired Jacket and Skirt, POA by Melissa AntoniousCandice Peachey wears bespoke Tweed and Wax Equestrian-inspired Jacket and Skirt, POA by Melissa Antonious

As photographer Martin Hathaway captures models Anna and Candice wearing numerous stunning looks from Melissa’s latest collection, Melissa tells me of her background and how she came to realise her dreams, when she formed her business from scratch in 2011, after graduating from a two-year course in Spatial Design from Gloucestershire College. At a loss for a suitable outfit to wear for the Cheltenham Races, Melissa designed her own jacket and wore it to the Gold Cup Ladies Day; she found that women kept stopping her to ask after the designer. Melissa then candidly explains how the divorce from her ex-husband empowered her to manifest her ambition into a reality; to design and create bespoke country-inspired pieces with couture-like details for discerning clients.

Melissa’s signature equestrian-style pieces are influenced by her heritage and passion for riding and country life. Her collections also reference her travels and specifically her love of feminine Italian designs. Sourcing high quality fabrics – lace from Italy and lightweight tweeds from the UK – Melissa captures the essence of traditional country styles, whilst utilising design elements, such as built-in corsetry, to accentuate the female form and create a contemporary twist on the classic models.

Within months of starting up her business, Melissa gained recognition and a celebrity following. Her pieces were featured in a shoot in Hello! magazine and British Olympian Sharron Davies commissioned Melissa to design her gown for the BT British Olympic Ball in 2012. The famed scarlet, union-jack-embellished dress became an overnight sensation and more celebrity clients followed – many of whom Melissa is not at liberty to disclose. She does name Carl Hester, British Olympic Equestrian Dressage medallist, as a friend and loyal client and she tells me of her passion for the process of creating bespoke, made-to-measure pieces for all of her clients. “The process from concept to creation takes between to four to six weeks, starting with a personal consultation,” and it’s this applied process which ensures that Melissa can provide her clients with the very best service and exquisite bespoke pieces, suited to their individual tastes.

With a passion for the evolving design process and an innate motivation to succeed, Melissa cites a recent photo shoot with Italian Vogue as a high point of her career thus far. As the only British designer to offer a bespoke service for formal country styles, Melissa hopes wholeheartedly to one day dress Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, for an event; she smiles and adds, “My luxury, country-inspired designs are perfect for her stylish lifestyle!”

Anna Smolyaeva wears made-to-measure Balmoral Ruby Taffeta and Black Italian Lace Ballgown, £2,500 by Melissa AntoniousAnna Smolyaeva wears made-to-measure Balmoral Ruby Taffeta and Black Italian Lace Ballgown, £2,500 by Melissa Antonious

Melissa Antonious, 4 Royal Crescent, Cheltenham (07852 175006) and via melissaantonious.com (design@melissaantonious.com)

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