These days, it’s something of a rarity when the latest ‘it bag’ isn’t from a place whose name ends in ‘… berry’, or a prestigious design house so exclusive that you have to apply for a waiting list to get onto the waiting list. Lo and behold London-based meli melo, the very irresistible luxury accessories brand that has the fashion world on its toes, and which we can’t get enough of.
meli melo was conceived in 2005 by founder and creative director Melissa del Bono, who cites her upbringing on Italy’s Aeolian Islands as the inspiration to pursue a career in fashion design. It was an environment that gave her the freedom to express herself and feed her creativity from an early age. She cites early memories of watching old Aeolian women carrying wicker baskets as the perfect example. “I have a passion for all things with a story; the past is a great source of inspiration for me. I love travel and I love what I see in everyday life.”
When launching the meli melo brand, Melissa’s driving concept was to create handbags that were versatile, stylish and desirable, while at the same time subtle, led foremost by design and luxury materials. The label is based on the idea of creating accessories that are sophisticated and chic, yet practical and timeless. Not one of her designs is encumbered with oversized logos and symbols; instead they feature distinctive shapes that make them instantly recognisable. “I wanted a bag that could hold everything, while still looking stylish and elegant.
meli melo’s cult status can perhaps be owed to a growing legion of fans that includes an impressive list of style icons, among them Sienna Miller, Olivia Palermo, Poppy Delevingne and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who love her designs. Melissa reveals that each has been incredibly supportive of the brand. “It’s always such a compliment to see anyone carrying one of my bags”, she says.
Having had no formal training in fashion or design [she studied business at college], Melissa attributes her talent and creativity to family DNA. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs: my father owns a hotel, my brother has always owned restaurants and my brother Luca was one of the founders of Quintessentially. A strong, creative work ethic has always been instilled in me”. Before launching meli melo, Melissa worked briefly at Harper’s Bazaar and then did a stint in fashion PR which she says gave her the platform she needed to launch the brand, armed with knowledge of the industry from a different, more business-minded perspective. Today, the meli melo team is constantly expanding and the brand ever-growing. “We have a very talented and committed CEO – my husband! – as well as specialists in each department: sales, marketing, e-commerce, design and PR. It’s so exciting that it started out with just me – to have a bigger, all-contributing team is fantastic.”
The burning question is why choose Portobello Road as the location for the first flagship store? For Melissa, the meli melo customer lives, socialises in and loves the meli melo area. “I adore the buzz and character of North Kensington, from the wonderfully eclectic array of quirky vintage stalls to the high-end luxury stores – in essence, it’s everything that meli melo is”. With Melissa living only moments away on Bassett Road and the studio is nearby too, she felt it only right to have the store there.
And what a store it is. Exquisite from top to bottom, it has an Art Deco theme featuring hand-crafted Italian Carrera marble and antique-gold light fixtures, notably from Aflie’s Market in Marylebone. It’s clear that Melissa pored as much time, effort and love into the interior, which she designed herself, as she did into meli melo the brand. “I love interior design and after finishing my own home I needed a new project”, she says. “It’s my first store, so I wanted to ensure that every element was aligned to my vision for meli melo”.
Melissa, talk us through your latest collection…
It's all about colour! The collection is an ode to the brights of spring, inspired by the relaxed, free-spirited lifestyle that summer portrays. I wanted to incorporate our hero bags and so you will see the return of our iconic fringed Tallulah and of course the signature Thela. There will be new styles too… think urban mixed with elegance with the Utility handbag and clean simple lines with the new Sian shopper.
How was London Fashion Week?
London Fashion Week was hectic as always! It’s always a joy to see beautiful fashionable women wearing the bags at fashion week… This year was a great one, some stunning girls were spotted carrying meli melo to many of the events which was really nice to see. Lily Aldridge carried the Thela bag in New York and Jessica Stam rocked one of our leopard clutches here in London. London is such a great place to be during Fashion Week. We’re famous for our unique and inspired designers as well as our totally creative approach to dressing. You can really express yourself at London Fashion Week, even more so than anyone else in the world. I love the buzz of seeing the shows and supporting other British designers.
What's inspiring you design-wise at the moment?
At the moment I’m finalising my SS16 designs which I’m really taking back to my Sicilian heritage. Having grown up on Island Lipari, it's still definitely my paradise and ‘escape’ place despite living in London. I really wanted to bring a piece of Lipari into my design, even more so than usual. There will be more of our unique prints and lots of earthy colours inspired by all things Sicilian. It’s been a really special process for me, calling on my roots.
What trends can you foresee?
For AW15 we have seen that military is really coming back and that the 70s are still in full swing which I adore! On the other hand, I think the AW15 season will see the return of old-school elegance too. I’m hoping for nipped-in waists and clean silhouettes… For me summer will be all about hippie luxe, as well as delicate pastels… I’m loving purples and lilacs right now as seen at Prada and more… It’s such a brilliantly rich hue.
Where did you base meli melo before its flagship standing on Portobello Road?
meli melo was available from our website which we re-launched September 2013 into a shoppable, e-commerce site. It's also available at Fortnum & Mason, Avenue 32, Shopbop and other retailers globally. Launching the first store was a real milestone for the brand as it’s great to have feedback from customers instantly as they browse the collections.
Where do you think you may open the next store?
The plan would be to open a store in Mayfair as this is where we want to be amongst our competitors. I think it’s always good to have two stores in London one that is in and amongst the heart of it all and more of a ‘destination’ store. We are looking forward to expanding globally with a look to open in the US, China and Japan.
Do you have any plans to branch into another area of accessories?
We are currently focusing on the bag accessory market but never say never…
What do you need to make the perfect working space?
Tidiness helps you to clear the mind to begin the design process. I like to have a painted feature wall to give the room an injection of colour and my retro sixties dome lamps give a warm glow taking me back to island life! I like a quiet and peaceful environment hence the grey, white and taupe colour scheme. A good selection of pencils and art books at hand to inspire are also essential.
What does 2015 have in store for meli melo?
What doesn’t it have in store!?! There is so much going on for the brand at the moment, everything is at 110mph at the moment! I’m not complaining though, I love it, and wouldn’t want it any other way. The brand turns 10 this year which is a real milestone, so expect some extremely exciting news around mid-year… I can’t expose too much but a collaboration is in store! We will also be unveiling some of my favourite designs yet. I’ve been working on them for over 2 years so I am totally thrilled, nervous and ecstatic all at once.
View meli melo on the Domus Nova Fashion Guide
meli melo, 324 Portobello Road, London W10; melimelo.com