How to / Build a Brand

5 years ago by

Photos Kate Berry

Julia Melbourne is a PR superstar. Think Samantha Jones (from Sex and the City!) at the height of her career, but without the shoulder pads or the drama. Rather, Julia is a consummate professional, a hard-worker, well-connected beyond belief, and kind and charming to boot!

Impressive, I know. In an industry that often thrives off of faux sincerity, Julia has managed to cut through the bullshit and carve out a niche for herself based on her caring and positive energy and her genuine excitement for the people and companies she works with. She also has a special knack for finding and attracting the coolest brands.

Her impressive list of past roles includes: working with Kate Moss on the launch of her Topshop collection and in-house at companies such as Stella McCartney, Agent Provocateur, and Maison Martin Margiela.

After years of experiences on the in-house side of the branded world, Julia launched her own consultancy, Iris PR London. Now, her roster of past and present clients boasts an exciting mix of huge, mainstream companies as well as cult-celebrated indie brands, including: Alexander McQueen, Byredo, Paul Smith, Maison Michel, Ralph & Russo, and Chylak.

Given all of this, I believe Julia is uniquely qualified to give us a lesson on branding and PR strategy. Whether you’ve had an idea in the back of your head for years that you’ve been itching to explore, you’re in the process of writing a business plan, or you’re considering the logistics of the freelance life, we all can learn a thing or two from Julia’s tried and tested tips and tricks…


…On the first step for someone looking to start a brand or go out on their own…
Step one is having the confidence to trust your idea. Whether you are starting a brand or setting up a consultancy, an agency, or even starting to freelance, really think about why you are doing it and focus on what you can offer that is different from what is already on offer within that field.

…On the next step after that…
Then, it’s important to establish a standard of professionalism. Whether the business you intend to build is a service or a product, always work with the same standards across everything – pay invoices on time, help people out, remember when people have helped you, always think long term and about the bigger picture.

…On collaborating with other creatives and the necessity of a network…
Even when you set out on your own, the beauty is that you’re still never working alone; you continue to build and extend on your existing network, collaborating with others who are doing their own thing too. From production to photography, styling, and casting–you’re always going to be working with others. Some of the best friends I’ve made over the years have come from trips where I’ve met similarly driven and creative people who inspire me. I’m always looking at new ways to work on projects with others, bringing new people in, and having a stronger offering through collaboration. And if you’re ever unable to take on a client or project, you’ll have a strong and trustworthy team to recommend.

…On her early career…
I didn’t have any open doors into the industry. But, as they say, you make your own luck in life…  I was studying French at university at the time and wanted to work in the fashion industry. I applied to some of the Fashion houses in Paris and was incredibly fortunate to be offered jobs at Chanel and Maison Martin Margiela. I worked at Margiela for a year and am so honoured to have been part of the original team. I had the pleasure to meet Martin in person … I am still friends with so many from the original team to this day. It was a wonderful era to be part of. I was one of the only English speakers on the team, working closely with Martin and some other amazing creatives who are now at Dries Van Noten and Hermes, as well as talented stylists who are forging their own paths. It’s so amazing to see how everyone is doing today.

…On how early experiences can shape a career and requiring a similarly high standard from her clients…
My early experience at Margiela has really served as a benchmark for what I’ve looked for in other professional relationships. I’ve tried to have this spirit of creativity and collaboration in mind when I work with other clients. You naturally end up working with lesser-known names as well as bigger ones. But ultimately, when you believe in a designer or brand, and share a vision of where you are headed, you can grow and enjoy the milestones together.

…On viewing a brand holistically and working with the client to grow…
The original reason I set up my consultancy was that I felt there was a lack of agencies / consultancies who worked with clients in a 360 way. Often the agencies separated their teams into categories, with separate teams for: events, PR and, celebrity. But most of the time, clients need a combination and require attention in several areas. Especially nowadays as the rate at which the landscape is changing so quickly, you have to be adaptable and work in a really nimble way to be able to get the best, most strategic results for clients.

I like to think of my consultancy as an extension of an in-house team. We are part of their extended family. It’s all about growing together, listening to each other, advising on the best way to do things, maintaining the vision of where you want to be and mapping out how we are going to get there together.

…On retaining authenticity in a world where it’s easy to sell out…
Most brands and designers start a project because it’s a passion for them. It is imperative for a brand / designer to have a clear idea of their muse and to always keep that in mind… you can definitely grow a brand with integrity if your muse and your vision remain in the foreground. Be patient, sustainable growth can take time. Don’t sell out, especially early on. Remember the initial passion…

…On not getting caught up on “it girls,” instead prioritizing a brand’s specificity…
So many brands and agencies go wrong when they approach each project with the same ‘set of celebrities.’ Instead of getting wrapped up in ‘it girls,’ it’s important to look at the client specifically and cast who is going to be the best fit for the aesthetic, longer term. Otherwise, you wind up with the same group of women at every dinner or event, regardless of who the client is, and it ends up all blurring into one…

I started working in the industry when the landscape was really different; celebrities weren’t paid large fees and they didn’t have the team of publicists like they do now, it was about nurturing relationships, understanding the subtleties, and growing together.

I have always been so inspired by emerging names in film, art, and music. One of my favorite things about the process is working with someone early on in their career so that when they become global successes and are courted by brands with big contracts, they still remain faithful to the designers who supported them earlier in their career.

…On staying true to your demographic and locale…
Having local knowledge is so important. Know who the relevant and interesting women are in each city—those who are aspirational and inspiring among their peers, rather than going for those merely with high Instagram audiences (who may be less authentic, thus creating a less genuine partnership).

Especially now, it is so important to protect a brand. Often, a large part of my job is declining partnerships and celebrities as much as it’s about courting them. If someone has a low number of followers, but you love what they are doing and their vision, you can grow together with them.

…On the role of a brand ambassador
The role of a brand ambassador is still as important as ever. So much consideration goes into this search. Much like casting, an actress or celebrity is representing your brand so you cannot compromise on the aesthetic and philosophy. There has to be a natural synergy. So long as this partnership is authentic and genuine, the role of the ambassador will always be necessary as it gives viewers an opportunity to see the products on real people and in real-world scenarios.

…On the importance of a larger (social!) mission and partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations…
So many women are using their voices in such inspiring ways these days. Two of my favorite examples are Adwoa Aboah and Cara Delevingne, who are both de-stigmatizing mental health. Or female collectives whose goals are to help other women in their industry or to engage younger generations in politics. These messages are really important and empowering. Rather than paying for a celebrity to post something on social media, a collaborative partnership with integrity and meaning has so much more value for both parties. Collectively use your platforms to help raise awareness and support bigger causes! Being relevant as a brand in the social/ cultural sphere also means you are more likely to have a higher impact with press and wider audiences long term.

…On finding inspiration in other women…
For me, Chloe Sevigny and Sofia Coppola are my ultimate muses. They both have such an incredible eye. The way Chloe wears archive pieces and thrift store finds is so unique, although it is a very much ‘copied’ look these days. And Sofia is always chic and timeless.

…On the most important takeaways for practical use…
Take your time – don’t expect things to happen overnight, it is more important to be true to your values and to create a brand with an authentic following (which will happen over time). It will be more impactful if you do things in the right way, rather than selling out too soon by making an impatient decision for a quick result.

Reputation is everything – remember that the industry is small and everyone grows with you. Some of the junior assistants I worked with 14 years ago are now fashion directors and editors.

Apply the same standards to anything you put your name to; whether it is a big brand or a smaller emerging designer.

Be selective about celebrities and who you work with, it is better to build something slowly rather than over-exposing the brand and burning out too quickly.

You can tell so much from a first meeting– read body-language and listen to what they say as this will give you so much insight into how they will be to work with. Always listen to your gut feeling!


Add yours
  • Version française ?
    de plus en plus d’articles non traduits….les lectrices francophones ne sont visiblement plus intéressantes….

  • Veronica January, 3 2019, 11:45

    hello! the french side has been updated. december got the best of us with translations but we hope to do better in the new year! x Veronica

  • Jorge Alexandre Teixeira December, 20 2018, 10:23 / Reply

    Really , really …really Impressive ! *_*

  • This was so inspiring and something I needed to hear. Julia Melbourne is a superstar and her values are refreshing in an age that can feel like values of authenticity can be considered not important. A great reminder to be patient, great at what you do and create something true, real and valuable. Thank you! xo

  • Love it – play the long game, do it with respect, kindness, and authenticity, and you will find yourself somewhere beautiful and unexpected, surrounded by incredible people. As it is and should be.

  • Talk about fresh content! Ohhhhkay… soaking this up.

  • Wendolyn Frech December, 21 2018, 10:45 / Reply

    Thank you, Ms. Melbourne, for your inspiring, direct advice. I’ve written several quotes down in my journal. I’m currently refocusing our brand, and your guidance applies as equally as it does to building brand. And yes to kindness, collaboration and respect.

  • I am not in the fashion/brand world at all, and yet I want to listen to this woman talk all day! Amazing piece!

  • Love this piece! Thank you for sharing the insight!

  • Love this. Guidance on funding brands would also be welcome. Taking your time…also takes cash. Thoughts?

  • Excellent interview! Thank you for sharing the thoughts of talented people.

  • After working as a fashion designer over 20 years, starting my own brand has been a whole new game. Thanks for sharing your insight, Julia! Be authentic and be patient is the message.

  • Thanks for this inspirational article! As i’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of my first ‘baby’ jewelry brand in 2019, I feel there is still so much to learn. Julia’s advice puts our nose in the right direction. Love, Delphine

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