Designing her own path – Melanie Sanh

I felt like I could easily become friends with Melanie – if I could actually get the chance to get to know her. A traveller, a fashion enthusiast and an experimenter.

“My inspiration? It could be anything!”

It usually starts with an obsession: an obsession over a colour, a material, a shape or an image. Intuitively, she begins collecting bits and pieces to visually complement the item she became fixated on, gradually building a story and discovering references and similarities with her “inspiration.” Then comes a messing around period, which she believes is the most important part of her creative process. This is the time when she actually creates.

With an open mind, she immerses herself hands on and lets her intuition drive her experiments, which can manifest themselves in the form of drawings, a collage, or a textile swatch.

When it comes to designing the final products, Melanie likes things fair and square. She becomes quite logical and methodical about the task at hand.

For Melanie, the creative process just comes naturally.

“I kept thinking that I was going to become a fashion designer.”

Having wanted to be a fashion designer for as long as she could remember, Melanie began equipping herself with the necessary skills from a very young age. It started with drawing lessons, and then she pursued sewing as a teenager. The latter presented itself as a challenge. She found that she didn’t really like sewing. She asked her mother to teach her how to knit and purl – a skill that allowed her to evade sewing but still be able to make a garment. Little did she know then that  learning this skill would be life defining.

When it came time to choose, Melanie picked Duperre, an art school in Paris, specialised in Fashion and Textiles, for her foundation studies. “I kept thinking that I was going to become a fashion designer,” she recalled, “but I realised a couple of months into the course that I was more sensitive to colours, textures and materials.” Once again, Melanie changed course and ended up choosing textiles over fashion. Perhaps, it came as a way to avoid sewing. But with a grandmother skilled in knitting and a childhood preference, maybe it was just life directing Melanie on the path fate laid out for her.

 “I am happy as soon as I find the balance of the little black dress with a touch of quirk to highlight the outfit.”

When asked to describe her personal style, Melanie chose comfort as her first priority. “I like to mix match casual with dress-up. I recently bought a pair of neon orange Flyknit, and I love to wear these with a feminine dress!”

And her designs?

“You can almost say that I have a minimal style. But how to create minimal without it being too plain?”

Melanie’s final collection at the Royal College of Art clearly illustrates this.

Drawing inspiration from the concept of contemporary architecture, the shapes she used for the garments are extremely simple, moulding the fabrics into silhouettes based around squares and rectangles with 45º angles. However, once you take a closer look at the fabrics, you will be able to see that each was cautiously chosen to reveal part of the concept of the collection. Each fabric has a sporty feel with a feminine twist.

One question I’ve always been curious about was whether fashion designers would have a different personal style than his or her design aesthetics. For Melanie, this proved to be false – “I suppose… my personal style influences my designs.” Both are her interpretations of sophisticated meets sports.

It’s no wonder then that she looks up to Alexander Wang and Raf Simons as influential figures. Resonating with the minimalistic aesthetic, Raf Simons incorporates in his work for Dior woman, what particularly drew her in were the ball gowns in Dior’s Spring 2013 Couture show, where, despite being heavily embroidered, they were still able to look very light and clean. Nowadays, as Raf Simons began bringing in sports code into the very feminine Dior woman, I believe Melanie feels an even stronger connection to his work. As for Alexander Wang, Melanie admires his work for its aesthetics and clever and experimental use of textiles.

“So as a Textile designer, my vision of Fashion really comes through the fabrics.”

Melanie never truly departed from her dream of being a fashion designer. Instead, her vision just evolved. “The shape of the garment is meant to enhance the beauty of the fabrics.” Fashion and textiles, after all, share a symbiotic relationship. Without textiles, fashion wouldn’t exist; and without fashion, the beauty of different textiles may not be fully revealed.

“I am not sure how it influences my design work, but I believe that everything I had the chance to see and experience polished the person that I am.”

Melanie is an avid traveler, having lived in Paris, London and Hong Kong, whilst visiting places like Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, New York… the list goes on and on.

Of the three places she has lived in, Melanie chose London as the best place for her. London was the combination of the best of Paris – brimming with galleries and museums – and the best of Hong Kong – a vibrant city with a convenient transport network.

As for her favourite place she has been to, her choice would have to be Japan, having visited Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. “It was the first time in my life I felt, as we would say in French, ‘depaysee’,” she described. This basically means being out of your comfort zone in foreign lands, but the change in environment wasn’t a negative experience, and on the contrary, it could be for the best!

“As for my future aspirations, I for sure have some. But in this transition phase when everything could change from a day to another, I think it is best I keep it for myself!”

Currently a freelancer, Melanie is now working on collections of knitted textiles, at the same time, treating this as a period of experimentation, so that she can think more clearly about her next step. Nonetheless, she is always open to new propositions, projects and collaborations.

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