Channel 4’s Crazy Sexy Cool presenter Meryl Fernandes might just inspire some serious life envy. We invited her along to Clarks SS16 Press Day to preview the new collections and chat about the fresh new fashion series, her chic Hoxton lifestyle store and a fiancé that’s one of London’s most lauded young chefs.
Meryl, we’ve been watching you recently on Channel 4’s shorts, ‘Crazy Sexy Cool’ where you delve into famous peoples’ wardrobes to find their crazy, sexy, cool outfits. How did that come about?
I got approached by a producer – it was over Twitter! As I’d made the crossover from acting into presenting we had a chat, and in the end it was up to Channel 4 and they went with me! I came up with the idea at the end of each film to do the mood board of ‘how to get the look’. After meeting the celebrity I’d go home that night and remember the three outfits then I’d check out every high street online store and put the looks together. I believe lots of people do their shopping via social media now, so it kind of works in that way. Also, fashion is my thing, so it made sense for me to talk about it – and it’s easy to do that if you’ve done the research!
At the start of each film you present you describe yourself as a ‘fashion lover’ – when and how did you discover fashion and find your own sense of style?
I think I probably discovered fashion from my mum. My mum and dad used to go to dances when I was young, and my mum always used to match her handbags with her shoes. She always had amazing outfits. She’s one of three sisters so the girls always used to dress up. And her father, my granddad – who I never met as he passed away – was a tailor, so my mum and her family were always into clothes and I think subconsciously I was always really aware of fashion.
I think my style changes. I used to have a vintage clothes shop, Found, which was partly inspired by living in east London and being surrounded by creative people and fashion students. I’d get the number 55 bus from Hackney into town and it was always full of amazing people, like fashion students, wearing the most amazing stuff! It was really inspiring! From secondary school onwards I was really into creating my own look and style, so I decided to set up my own shop. I used to collect vintage clothes and I remember looking at it one day and thinking ‘that’s too much, I should sell it’. I actually did a market stall for a while – at Spitalfields and then at Portobello – but the mornings were way too early and too cold for me! So I started to look around and I found this little shop on Hackney Road, and two days later signed the lease and it was mine! There wasn’t anything on that road at the time but I’m from east London so if ever I was going to have a business it was always going to be in the area that I know.
Tell us about your favourite Crazy Sexy Cool guests?
Well I have to say Gizzi (TV chef and cookery writer, Gizzi Erskine) – she’s a friend, so as it was my first show it was good to have someone I know. What's amazing is that she has an insane collection of vintage designer clothes, some stunning Vivienne Westwood pieces. She’s very into the 1950s and 60s so it’s a very curated wardrobe. That’s always been her vibe.
Dionne Bromfield was interesting because she was my youngest guest but she has always been in the public eye. Style-wise, she spoke about being given stuff – not many kids get given a limited edition Vivienne Westwood jacket where there are two available and she got one! She also loves British clothes like Fred Perry, which is probably influenced by Amy (Amy Winehouse, Dionne’s late godmother), so that’s very close to her and a big part of her life.
What I thought was really lovely about the Crazy Sexy Cool guests was that all of them said they didn’t really care what the press thought! As long as they were comfortable with what they were wearing they were happy.
We also know you’ve been busy with all other things design! Tell us about your lifestyle store in Hoxton, east London – Thethestore?
Well, I’d had my vintage clothes shop for seven or eight years, which was really fun, but the area has changed – now there are loads of wine bars and restaurants – so I decided to evolve with the area. And also with my own taste. When I opened Found there weren’t many vintage stores in east London – now there are loads. It took me a while to think about what I wanted to do with the shop – I never wanted to let it go, it’s my baby! I love independent designers and I love products and design. So I stock two fashion brands in thethestore – one is a denim brand and one is a basics range, and then I have things like ceramics and candles and Korean skincare, which is exclusive to me. It’s pretty stuff - people want to Instagram their house now! But it’s affordable too. The shop interior is very minimal, very white and clean. I love Scandi style and the new shelving has been created by Nonuform, a Swedish design company. When I look back, I used to love museum shops as a kid – the best bit was going to the shop at the end and buying a rubber! And only now I’ve done it I feel there’s an essence of that. I’ve always loved design, I can tell design-wise with products exactly what I like. I like championing independent brands, so that’s the concept behind Thethestore.
We also learned that reinventing your shop was off the back of interior designing your fiancé Tom Oldroyd’s eponymous Islington restaurant, Oldroyd? He was former Chef Director of Polpo so it must have come with a certain amount of expectation. How terrifying was that?!
It was such a joint project – and it’s funny because we didn’t argue once! Which I think is quite rare, both in a relationship and in opening up a business. But we didn’t because he just trusted me with the design and branding and he does the food and built his kitchen! So we have very separate roles. He wanted to cook the food that we love to eat and I wanted to create a space that we would want to eat his food in. There really isn’t a ‘concept’ – that’s just what we wanted to do. It’s been getting amazing reviews – four stars from Fay Maschler of the London Evening Standard – and she’s our favourite! Oldroyd opened four months ago – and then I opened my shop about a month later! We planned to open both at the same time but one had to come before the other – and I was happy for it to be the restaurant as it was such a big deal. It was a complete family project – Tom’s dad built the kitchen with him, my dad painted. We didn’t have a huge budget but design-wise I knew exactly how it should be gutted out and how it should look. I knew it should be blue and I wanted brass fittings. I knew we should spend money on the lighting and the detail. We’re completely addicted to projects now!
You’re obviously a brave, entrepreneurial, hands-on couple! How do you switch off?
We eat out a lot, that’s our thing! But we’re so in love with our work I don’t even know if we do switch off…! It doesn’t feel like work – which is such a clichéd thing to say – but it doesn’t. I have absolutely fallen in love with the restaurant and the food world. I totally believe I was meant to meet Tom and be in the restaurant industry. I used to eat at Spuntino which was one of his restaurants when he was with the Polpo group and all the staff knew me, but I never met him. Then we bumped into each other at a mutual friend’s birthday and he said, ‘You’re the girl who sits and eats in my restaurant every week!’ and I said, ‘You’re the chef and I’ve never met you!’ And eight months later we got engaged! So we’ve only been together a year and a half…but we’ve done a lot in a year and a half!
So what’s next for you?
I’ve given the restaurant loads of attention so now I want to concentrate on my shop – and I’m really excited about Christmas because I think it’s the perfect Christmas shop! I’d love to make another series of Crazy Sexy Cool and I’d love to do more presenting. For me it’s really important to do something I’m passionate about as you can’t really fake it as a presenter! And what’s great about Crazy Sexy Cool is that it’s about fashion and it felt so easy and natural. I think it can be hard to do fashion on TV without it coming across as pretentious or judgemental. It was so nice that talking about clothes led to such interesting stories.
You chose Orla Agatha in black croc from the AW15 Clarks Orla Kiely collection for our meet today. What is it about this style – and Clarks – that you like? Any particular favourites from Clarks SS16 Press Day?
I’m sure my first pair of shoes were from Clarks! I remember putting my tiny foot into the measuring machine every September when I went and got my school shoes.
I always look at Clarks collections as I think they do classic really well. And I love the Orla Agatha as the brogue has come back in such a big way, and I guess these play into that. I love the thick sole.
I remember seeing the Clarks Originals designs with Patternity – I’ve always been a fan of the collaborations. The SS16 Clarks x Christopher Raeburn collaboration is really exciting. I know him through a friend and he actually ate in our restaurant the first night it opened! I was meant to wear some of his clothes on Crazy Sexy Cool but we just couldn’t work out when to meet. I saw that he was working with Clarks and noticed the new collection’s sandal, Salek Sun. So it’s really interesting to have that connection.
Elsewhere from SS16 Press Day, I really like the chalk blue shoe, Chinaberry Fun. I just think it’s a really classic shoe. I love the colour, I would definitely wear it. I’d probably wear it with a different colour sock, like a pastel pink sock. But that’s something you could wear with jeans – it’s really on-trend. It reminds me of a pair of French vintage shoes I have with a tortoiseshell embellishment. I could see Gizzi wearing Chinaberry Fun. She wears a pump and occasionally a heel and she’d love the blue. I really liked the Clarks Originals black open toe with the fringe, Desert Kiltie. And of course I like the Raeburns!
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