It is hardly surprising Melanie and Frankie are finalists in the Mr and Miss Vintage UK competition this year.
However, on arrival, I am too busy fussing over the couple’s beloved poodles, Jet, Charlie, Coco, Dita and Bettie, to take in my surroundings. With their smart hairstyles, ribbons and sparkly collars, the pooches are every bit as glamorous as their owners and just as friendly.
But once the pooches settle, my compliments switch from the dogs to the decor, before I finally turn my attention to Melanie’s outfit, a delightful red and white halter neck dress from Hawaii “Tiki bars and Hawaiian culture were very popular in the 1950s, especially in America,” explains 47-year-old Melanie. “I have quite a lot of Hawaiian dresses. I just love the bright colours and bold patterns. That is what I like about clothes from the era in general. The war was over and there were so many beautiful colours and prints to choose from.
Nowadays there is too much beige and black around. I adore colour.”
Melanie and Frankie’s fascination with Hawaii is most evident in the rear extension, where they have created their very own Tiki cocktail bar. As I take in the pineapple ice bucket, palm tree, Polynesian heads, straw donkey, coloured lanterns and bamboo cane furniture, I can’t help but smile. I bet a party at Melanie and Frankie’s is a night to remember.
The Hawaiian theme spills out into the couple’s garden, where you will find an exotic haven in the heart of Howden-le-Wear. As Melanie poses for pictures by the lily pond, sporting white cat’s eye sunglasses and a red parasol, it is hard to believe we are in the North-East of England.
Back indoors there is plenty more to marvel at. The kitchen boasts an original 1950s diner set and a wall-to-ceiling bookshelf packed with old books and modern titles celebrating bygone eras.
Poodles are another reoccurring theme. For, as well as the dogs themselves, Melanie collects ornaments and wall mounts. A beautiful spaghetti poodle from Italy is her most recent indulgence.
“I have loved poodles since I was 17 when I first went to stay with my pen-pal,” she says.
“She had a gorgeous black standard poodle and I remember walking up to him and he put his paws on my shoulders. I fell in love with him and have wanted my own poodle ever since. We got Charlie as a rescue dog eight years ago but he is a miniature and I was still hankering after a standard so we decided to save up and buy one. Now we have five and there just simply isn’t room for any more.”
Upstairs, Melanie and 49-year-old Frankie, have opted for a country and western theme in the master bedroom but it is the couple’s dressing room that really grabs me. Melanie opens the door to reveal a treasure trove of vintage dresses, stylish suits, retro shoes, colourful hair accessories and elegant bags and gloves. It is a collection she has built up over decades, carefully selecting pieces at vintage fairs and second hand shops. She is not a hoarder, though, and often sells items to make way for her latest clothing crush.
“It is mainly American,” she says. “American clothes at that time were far more bright and fun.
I have always loved vintage clothing; ever since I was a child and I was shown photos of older relatives. I never followed fashion. I dress in the clothes and styles I love from the late 1940s and early 1950s. If I see something I like and it is not in my size or too expensive, I recreate it using original fabric. I have a huge collection of vintage sewing and knitting patterns.”
Melanie’s hand-made wedding dress is a prime example, featuring a neckline inspired by a gown worn by the actress and dancer Cyd Charisse.
On a typical day, at work at the couple’s shop, Fantasia Fancy Dress Hire, in Shotley Bridge, Melanie opts for turn-up jeans, retro tops and her trademark pin curls. Frankie also saves his gabardine and New Yorker suits for special occasions, preferring a more casual style for during the day. He has also dressed this way for years but cannot say what it is that draws him to the era.
“I just like it and I always have,” he says. “I was the youngest child so I grew up in hand-medowns.
It wasn’t called vintage then; it was just second-hand.”
Dressing the way they do and often accompanied by a sea of poodles, there is no missing Melanie and Frankie. These days, the attention is largely positive but it hasn’t always been that way.
“People used to give us a wide berth and shout obscenities at us. Some of it was very hurtful but we never let it stop us,” says Melanie. “It is more acceptable to dress this way in the UK now because vintage clothes are all the rage. It is lovely when people tell me they like my style or ask how I do my hair.”
- The finals of Mr and Miss Vintage UK are being held at the Twinwood Festival in Bedfordshire this weekend. W: twinwoodevents.com