At 21, Cuesta College fashion design student Melanie Berry decided to drop out. Not because she was discouraged, but because her fashion design classes were getting in the way of her fashion career.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- MODEL AND MAKER: Fashion designer Melanie Berry in clothing she designed herself.
Having learned to sew as a child with her mother’s guidance, Berry was lukewarm on the idea until about five years ago, when she claims fashion in her hometown of San Luis Obispo had become “degrading, absurd and revealing.”
There were “tons of butt cracks,” she lamented, adding, “You don’t have to be half-naked to be fashionable!”
Instead of just talking smack, Berry cultivated a look of her own. She enrolled in a pattern-making course at Cuesta College and began to create her own modest, vibrant, vintage-inspired threads. Some she sported herself, but others she sold at local consignment shop California Blonde.
On one fortuitously timed shoe-shopping excursion to Therapy, a Higuera Street boutique, Berry was “discovered” by the store’s owner, Jing Chen, who complimented her on the handmade clothing she wore. Berry showed her 12 more of her classy, 100% cotton pieces, and Chen was quick to place an order to sell at her Therapy stores in the Bay Area.
- PHOTO BY JOSHUA CAINE
- BEAUTY AND BRAINS : A model in one of Berry’s designs turns to literature.
“My teachers told me, ‘Experience is better. You don’t have to go to school anymore, you’re already in it.’” Then, Berry took her label to Myspace.com, a move that has garnered her a steady flow of orders from boutiques all over the country. Unable to accommodate the demand on her own, Berry delegated sewing and cutting to a Santa Maria manufacturing company, and focused
She has since moved from the cozy office she once rented, a workspace that teemed with beautiful things in the making, so colorful it was almost alive. Working out of her home office now, Berry makes the initial sketches, creates her patterns, and sews sample pieces. Though she uses only original patterns, her inspiration comes from vintage clothing, magazines, and the street. Her clothing “captures who she is—bright and bubbly,” remarks Joshua Caine, frequent collaborator and full-time friend.
- PHOTO BY JOSHUA CAINE
- ON THE STREET: ‘Tilly’ top by Melanie Renee.
INFOBOX: Where to find Melanie Renee:
Locally made fashions by Melanie Renee Design can be found at Therapy in San Luis Obispo and at Rouge in Pismo Beach. Though the designer does not take individual orders, her work can be seen at Myspace.com/melaniereneedesign.
Intern Anna Weltner doesn’t always say no to crack. Send her fashion advice via arts editor Ashley Schwellenbach at email@example.com.