Melody Ehsani is as beautiful as anything she’s ever created. She experiments with fashion and makeup in ways that anticipate trends (she shaved one side of her head about five years before Cassie) and her presence single-handedly transforms a room she enters. Still, she’s soulful and her jewelry, worn by music’s biggest trendsetters, always seems to carry a story or history, or even humor (see the enamel “I’m Fly” jet plane ring). She’s intentional in every way, she holds a direct gaze and is generous and disciplined about keeping her word. Melody’s drive and focus have given her brand cache. And she’s just beginning.
Life+TImes: Tell me about telling your parents you wanted to leave law school to become a designer.
Melody Ehsani: I have to start off by saying that unfortunately, my parents have never seen me for who I am, so I knew I wasn’t going to get support for what I was about to tell them. Sadly, they were never seen by their parents and blindly imitated the culture because they had a desire to be “good.” They had a belief of who I should be and what I should do and they couldn’t get past that, so I can’t blame them for what they weren’t given. With that said, it was one of the hardest things for me, because I too wanted to be “good.” Telling them meant I had to vocalize breaking with the cultural and social code that I was born into and redefining what my parents had taught me my whole life. It also meant that I had to really believe it, because I was headed towards a long road of inertia. I know it sounds dramatic, but in the moment it really felt like I was in the movies and I was the one in the scene where I’m hanging off of a cliff and holding my mom’s hand, and either I let go of the ledge and we both die, or I let go of her and save myself. Luckily enough, I had found a couple people who saw something in me, and those one or two people gave me an incredible amount of emotional support. I had also arrived to a place where I finally saw myself, and I grew this inner assurance that served and continues to serve as a compass for me. In short, it was very challenging for the first two plus years with my family, but after I bought a house and started to receive some sort of visible success, they came around, and now my mom even comes in and freelances for me sometimes. It’s beautiful.
L+T: You entered design with no formal training, and more ideas than knowledge about how to structurally put something together. You learned a lot about design on the job. What are the biggest mistakes you made early on and what did they teach you?
ME: Yes, this is very true. This actually hindered me for some time. I don’t like to draw. I don’t consider drawing creative, I think its very technical. It made me question whether I was really intended to do this. I learned just enough technical skills to get by and then outsourced most of that when and where I could. The fact that I didn’t know as much as a trained student kept a silent insecurity in me that affected my work early on. I don’t know if I made any big mistakes per se, however, looking back, I do wish I was more confident in the skills that I did have. Creativity is inherent, it’s very much like a spiritual practice that requires a lot of faith because you’re creating things that haven’t existed before and you’re moving through the dark for a long time before you see a glimmer of light. The difficulty is remaining pure and sticking to your vision, no matter what. Too often, I listened to other people who were more technically skilled or trained and it compromised a lot of my earlier work aesthetically and quality-wise. It taught me to occupy my role.
L+T: Your trips to Asia to meet with manufacturers seemed adventurous. What can a designer learn from meeting with manufacturers?
ME: Everything! Its probably the most important part of the actual process because you have to really learn how to communicate what you want step-by-step to someone who is more often than not artistically challenged. The manufacturers role is purely function, so teaming up with that sort of mind frame has made me understand all the very practical aspects of design. In terms of shoes, I’ve learned all about heel heights, geometry and a number of materials. I’ve learned about how you can cut the material to avoid loss, etc. It sounds boring, but I live for it! It makes me feel like at any moment something can spark in me and I could invent something new that would serve the world in a different way.
L+T: Keri Hilson, Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, Badu and a lot of other celebrities wear your jewelry. Why is placement with a celebrity client important, beyond visibility?
ME: Personally its important because I get to connect with a different energy. I feel like I’m gifted in creating products that give people “edge,” for lack of a better word. It keeps me incredibly inspired and affords me opportunities to interact with people that I would never have access to otherwise. Aside from that, I create pieces that generally aren’t “safe,” so it’s great when celebrities wear them because it makes them seem more accessible to consumers, it also gives people a frame of reference so they understand how something can be worn.
L+T: Your shoes look like experimental architecture. Do you have design dreams that extend beyond fashion? Ever consider a building or home? If so, how would you describe your dream project?
ME: Yes, absolutely. I really believe that fashion is a starting point for me. At some point, I’d like to move onto different sorts of products that were more functional. At this stage in the game, if I were to have a dream project I’d love to be the creative director for the opening of a boutique hotel where I would oversee the architecture and design all the furniture and lightning, etc. I can see it so clearly in my head!