GFW 2015: One to Watch…Melissa Villevieille
And when you meet her, you will realize they so need to be released for everyone’s safety. Talk to some grads at GFW and they may be a little shy, reticent or self-effacing even, not our Mel. What was her reaction to winning the award, announced on the second day of GFW? “Shocked. Shocked. Elated.” Then what happened? “Hugs. I hugged everyone.” As it turned out, my encounter with Melissa (it’s always going to be an encounter you feel…) was at the exact moment she had found out she had been awarded a First from Edinburgh. That’s two biggies back to back. Can’t help thinking there’s at least a big third internship/ job offer around the corner for this hard-working, talented individual.
Award winners often win for good reason. I was humbled by her dedication to her profession and her single-mindedness at giving herself the best possible chance for her collection. She had worked for the two-years preceding the final year saving up money (close to £4k) for her collection, “No holidays for me. The £750 award will probably go towards paying the outstanding school fees.” It is this feet-on-the-ground, level-headedness that one feels will keep Melissa focused on her own careful progression. It can’t be easy to keep it contained though. “I’m a 150 per cent person. I made virtually three new outfits in two weeks just before the show. I always want to do more. The same with most designers, never satisfied. I’m very passionate, I just love seeing the pieces get built.” Independently of winning the award she has just been invited to join the H&M awards in July, which will involve another catwalk competition. Things are already happening.
Her influences are a little leftfield, but very much quintessentially Melissa when you hear them. “I’ve always played violin and adore Tchaikovsky’s No.8 violin concerto, loving the off-beats, which were so unusual at the time.” Then she just took off on runway Villevieille. A staccato burst she had already fine-tuned with the 2 minutes of explanatory time she was given to explain her collection and the techniques she employed to the David Bandy judges. Sounding less like the articulate, eclectic, force of nature I had come to know, and more like a gum-chewing American urban banjoist, “I like, word-vomited.” Yeah, totally dude. It is however, charming when she says it.
“I paint strokes. I close my eyes while drawing, listening to the music. It’s like ripping energy from within. Bold strikes without thought. It’s about breaking your boundaries. I miss being a child.” It takes a grown-up to fess up to that. She then quotes Lars von Triers, The Idiots to illustrate, “if we didn’t have boundaries…if ever things get too controlled, I would try and release it – that’s why there’s a lot of zips.” So you see, always practical and always on message. Just need to wait for it to come round the bend. And she’s a classical draper from way back. “I do everything on the mannequin, starting with mini-mannequins. I get a fast reaction, make the shapes then draw into it. It’s a fluid, back and forth process. It’s too 2-dimensional just drawing. I want to get movement. And I keep examining, re-examining and know it when I see it, when the proportions fit.” At a moment of relative normal speed-speak, Melissa mentioned she is a big fan of the Japanese designers who design for how the woman wants to feel, allowing them to feel good on wearing the clothing. Not putting on the clothes in order to feel good. She is keen to ensure that her designs are all about people feeling comfortable, wearing what works for you. “My mother always said, ‘buy for quality’ and it’s the classic, fun detailing that I admire and will have in my own wardrobe.”
Melissa sourced her fabrics from far afield as one might expect, and within a student budget. The numbers just stack up to make it a no-brainer, at virtually a 30th of the cost sourcing from China. (Panda Whole for beads, and chords). To her credit and relief, no wastage, all used. There’s an openness to Melissa that is also one of her strengths, not afraid to reveal she doesn’t know, means she is willing to learn. Or adapt. “I paint with my hands, as I didn’t know how to digital print. I was always cutting threads and seeing all the thread fibres morphing together and wanted to recreate this. I started to experiment with latex and fibres in a blender. A mess. Melting plastic onto pleather didn’t work either. Then I just laid out the fabric and started weaving using a sewing machine.”
For this designer, it is very much about the artisanship, the craft of making. So much so, she elected not to cover up her handwork with linings. “With the tailored jacket or dress in the collection, there are no darts, just one corset-like carcass, so you can see the artisanship.” It may have been this very thing that cannily convinced the judges that she had the skills they were looking for – because they were evident on display and worded-up to order in 120 seconds.
Her designs need to be examined up close to fully appreciate the artistry and the scale of the endeavor. “Oh, around 500 hours for the big red coat.” The outstanding, signature piece with diagonally striped beading using red and black to create shading, is something of a show-stopping masterpiece. “I had to iron every bead on because the machine had stopped working.” Overall the designs are clearly about movement, freedom of expression and style, with great silhouettes, stemming no doubt from the drapery discipline, rigorously re-applied. There’s something about this lady that exudes quality, imagination and professionalism and you just know she will go far.
I spoke to Melissa’s tutor Mal Burkinshaw, Program Director of Fashion at Edinburgh at their university stand for his perspective on the process. “When the students struggle to get the fabrics they want or can afford, it leads them to being more innovative – no bad thing.” I asked him about this year’s event. “I think the exhibition is brilliant, especially now that it’s at Truman. It’s all about the students and this is a great showcase for them.” All tutors want their students to succeed and it must be a hugely satisfying seeing them get internships, jobs and do well. “We work hard to get brands to come to the show. Stella McCartney Snr buyer, H&M, Warehouse, David Fielding, Whistles, GAP…to name a few, all came to the show and were at the stand to look at the portfolios.” This was an area he had especially focused on, having witnessed how a lot of the portfolios all had started to look the same. “I wanted to get the students to be more professional and stand out. In Edinburgh, we still do it all. Our small year groups help to be able to get a lot of content and skills absorbed by the students.” He has a simple message for students wishing to succeed professionally. “You’ve got to be tenacious. In the end it comes down to a very simple equation. Hard work. Hard work plus professionalism and manners, equals a job.” Melissa seems to have heeded this philosophy in spades. One proud tutor. One award winner. And a lot of talent from this fashion college.
By Paul Markevicius