Marta Melani, lives in Italy and is the artistic director and owner of the Sue Clowes label. She talks about her ideas for the future of the label and what it was like growing up in a fashion and artistic environment with an Italian father and English mother and the roles they both played in shaping her point of view and fashion career.
What were your earliest fashion memories in your home life?
My father, Riccardo Melani, worked for a company that made Italian mens suits in luxury fabrics. I remember watching him laying out outfits on the bed for work for the following day – making sure his socks matched the tie, the shirt and the handkerchief in the top pocket. He was a stickler for style and perfection. He himself had grown up in a menswear environment because my grandfather, his father, started a business making raincoats for men just after the Second World War. “MELTRIS” was the name of the company, a combination of part of his surname (Melani) and his Christian name (Trieste).
My father was born in 1945 and working alongside his father lived through all the Italian styles from bum freezer jackets to seventies fist sized tie knots to eighties padded shoulders. He indoctrinated me on sartorial points from a young age. The first being “before all is said and done fashion begins with cleanliness. The all important key to a man’s presentation is first to be combed, barbered and smelling good.” Then the dressing began – with rules. There were rules for socks. Socks that go with a suit are dictated by the colour of your trousers and not by your shoes. Most importantly they must stretch up to the knee. Button-down collar shirts are never, ever to be worn under a suit jacket. Button down collars are a sport’s wear attire reserved only for picnics boating or seaside trips in the ‘automobile’. The necktie was the cherry on the cake for him and the handkerchief in the top pocket must never, note never, be of the same design as the tie. To pull this all off was true elegance. In Italy he said “To eat, you eat for yourself. But to dress you dress for others”.
My mother, Sue Clowes, is the total polar opposite to my father and my childhood could be judged as a schizophrenic experience! The irony is that both my parents tried to dissuade me from being a fashion designer. I did some fashion drawings when I was about eight. A top with one sleeve and trousers that unzipped into shorts. My mum said: “That one sleeved design will be a bitch to manufacture and what happens if you lose one of the zipped trouser legs!??”. She’d lost her company due to a season of manufacturing mistakes. But what I discovered through my mother’s eyes was painting, colour and a love of surface decoration. As kids my brother and I were given wads of grocery wrapping paper, bottles of paint and mounds of clay and we’d spend hours doing potato prints and making terracotta busts. My father’s perfectly creased ‘fresco di lana’ trousers and silk and linen shirts would have little coloured finger prints all over them!
So now you have played around with the Sue Clowes style what direction do you intend taking it in. Strickly menswear?
Menswear is the springboard for all my designs. I’ve work on sneakers and handbags for women’s wear companies which I love doing. But for my own line, menswear is my niche. I love prints and patterns on garments, and colour. It must be in the D.N.A. Fabric design is an art form for me. I’m really excited about the new collection of summer prints and garments about to be launched. I’ve worked hard to maintain the quirky Clowes printing style but for summer 2014 I’ve injected into the look a ‘high roller’ Vegas mob print with characters who drink dirty Martinis and float on lilos in kidney shaped pools. You could say I’ve maintained her unique printing style, which I’ve shaken, but not stirred!