Back for a third time this spring, the latest Finery Female to create their perfect Forever Piece is chef and author Melissa Hemsley. Known for her feel-good approach to food and wellness, Melissa is also a keen lover of dresses, so much so she has designed her perfect one. We caught up with her to talk confidence, cooking and why bold prints make her happy.
It’s taken us a while to pin down Melissa Hemsley. One of the first women we approached before launching the original Forever Pieces collection in April 2016, she has proved to be exceptionally busy. ‘I was gutted to turn it down but this time around was the perfect moment.’ Her first design for us was – true to form – a printed sundress. ‘I had a very clear vision for the dress. I knew exactly what I wanted to create before the process even began.’ One reason for this, as Melissa explains, is that dresses are her ‘thing’. ‘You will always find me in a dress, even if I’m at home cooking. I wear them with trainers in the day and do a quick change with heels in the evening and even wellies if it’s raining. Give me an easy-to- wear dress with a gloriously fun pattern and I’m a happy girl! It is this versatility that was so important to Melissa. ‘I often wear the same dress to meetings, weddings and on holidays so wanted it to be something classic that you could style lots of ways.’
Another key factor was how it made people feel when wearing it. As Melissa was keen to stress, she hopes that women wear it with ‘joy and confidence.’ ‘It’s a dress that makes you feel like your most comfortable yet powerful at once. It’s an item I hope people can cherish forever as it’s such a flattering fit that suits every body.’
Anyone who is familiar with Melissa will not be surprised by this positive approach. Melissa began her cookery career in 2010 after teaming up with her sister Jasmine to create delicious, healthy food delivered to people’s homes. This led to a column for Vogue.co.uk, a TV show and two books. Now working on her own, Melissa has recently published her first solo tome, Eat Happy. While this may have been ‘both exciting and a bit scary’ for Melissa, the result is a collection of recipes that are tasty, nourishing and – most importantly – achievable thanks to each dish taking no more than 30 minutes to make. ‘Often I was full to the brim with recipe ideas that I had to be strict with myself about what I wanted to keep and the 30 minute promise meant it was easy to be focused.’
For Melissa, food has long been a part of her life thanks to her mum’s own cooking. ‘My mum is from the Philippines and my dad was British and in the Army so I grew up on brothy soups and stews in both Germany and the UK.’ Not only did this influence how Melissa put food together, but it also impacted the way she viewed the whole process. ‘My mum taught me to respect food, never to waste anything and how to make a meal out of nothing.’
As well as being applied in how she cooks, these principles are also prevalent in the projects she works on, including her Forever Pieces dress. The buttons have been created from upcycled coconut while the production was done in Europe to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible. Even the makeup used in the shoot was natural, sustainable and ethical. She has also recently presented a podcast series entitled Live. Life. Better. which saw her discuss topics like mental and physical health, relationships and the secrets of sleep with authors, experts and contributors. ‘I adored researching each episode and engaging in such fascinating with conversations with my guests and learning so much. I feel very lucky and humbled to be part of such important topics of conversation.’ Melissa has also been spending time working with multiple charities and campaigns including The Prince’s Trust, Cook For Syria, Head Talks and future Dreams, all of which she is an ambassador for. ‘I love working to make food as accessible as possible and get as many people cooking from scratch as I can so whenever my time is needed in those areas, I will always be over the moon to give it.’
No wonder Melissa was too busy the first time we tried to work with her!
Photography by Jack Johnstone