Meet Melissa Fleis, an American fashion designer based in Los Angeles.
Melissa creates beautiful, artisanal clothing for women. Her ready-to-wear pieces are immediately recognizable by their bold, architectural silhouettes with a modern edge. She favors monochromatic pieces, and she has a true gift for working with leather! In fact, she started her business making customized leather jackets by hand for select clients.
Melissa appeared on Season 10 of Lifetime’s Project Runway where she advanced to show her collection as a top three finalist at New York City’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. She returned to New York City a year later to compete on Project Runway All Stars, Season 3.
I had the pleasure of meeting Melissa last fall at Fashion X Dallas, and we’ve had several opportunities to work together as she plans next steps for her business. On Saturday night, I’ll be sitting front row as Melissa’s latest collection is shown at Fashion X Austin.
Leading up to Fashion X Austin, Melissa agreed to give us some insight into her work from both the fashion and business perspectives.
FLB: What are you currently reading?
Melissa: “It” by Alexa Chung.
FLB: Yes, love her style! I may have to add that one to my reading list. Currently listening to?
Melissa: NPR is always on in my studio. I switch between L.A.’s KCRW HD1 & HD2 stations.
Melissa: The Good Wife
FLB: That is good television. But practicing law is not usually that … shall we say, dramatic. And, television lawyers are usually much better dressed than their real-life counterparts. What is the one thing that you cannot stop wearing?
Melissa: The Staple Cardigan from my last collection.
FLB: What is your signature/statement piece for Spring/Summer?
Melissa: One of the dresses from my Resurface collection.
FLB: What is the one thing you’ve designed that you’d save if the house was on fire?
Melissa: The very first leather jacket I ever designed and made. It’s called the “Vuut Perfecto.”
FLB: Hang on to it. It’ll be the centerpiece for a retrospective show one of these days. Name three things that should be in every woman’s closet.
Melissa: A leather jacket, little black dress, and a quality black skinny jean.
FLB: To be fair, although you’re not currently designing for men, what three things should be in every man’s closet?
Melissa: A leather jacket, favorite worn-in tee, and denim.
FLB: Given your leather-working skills and that making leather jackets launched your business it is no surprise that a leather jacket makes the cut in your list of staples for both men and women. When did you realize that you wanted your life’s work to be in fashion?
Melissa: I think I realized at a very young age, around 7 years old, that I wanted to be a fashion designer. However, it took me until I was 27 to actually make my move and go back to grad school.
FLB: Never too late to pursue a dream, right? And then you studied and worked abroad and did Project Runway. How has your design style evolved since Project Runway?
Melissa: I feel like my design style since being on Project Runway has definitely evolved and become more focused. I find myself listening more to my clients’ and buyers’ real wants and needs and incorporating those needs into my designs. How women live and dress has changed dramatically within the past 20 years.
FLB: Yet fashion as a whole seems to revolve around recycling and reinventing particular looks and designs – often in new ways but with the same foundation. It has to be challenging to design new collections season after season. What inspired your current collection?
Melissa: The inspiration for my current collection – “Resurface” – is architecture, space, movement, and time. The Resurface Collection is about how many times in our lives we must stop, reflect, and carry on. It’s with this kind of fervor that we continue to resurface and better ourselves as human beings.
FLB: An evolutionary sentiment that underlies a stunning collection and underscores your own creative evolution. It can be easy to focus on the artistic and philosophical side of fashion and the creativity in design. But when fashion is your livelihood there’s more to it than the creative process and the end result. For you, what’s the hardest part of being a working fashion designer?
Melissa: I think the most difficult part of being a working fashion designer/entrepreneur is realizing how much capital it takes to design and produce a single collection. What has surprised me most about the business side of the industry is the total cost it actually takes to produce just one single collection properly. It’s outrageous.
FLB: Based on your experiences in the fashion industry, what advice would you give to young designers?
Melissa: My advice would be to work, work, and continue to work harder because there is someone else out there working twice as hard to make it in this industry. Look for free internships, look to connect with people – get mentored and experiment with all aspects of designs until you figure out your true niche and passion to separate yourself from the rest. I believe that every experience you have will take you to the next step in your career.
FLB: What do you know now about business and legal issues in fashion that you wish you’d known from the start?
Melissa: Always protect yourself, your company, and especially your intellectual property. There are people and companies out there that will take advantage of you, if you don’t know how to play the game. Write as many contracts as possible, hire the right people to do the work you can’t or don’t have time to do, and remember: if it was easy to be an entrepreneur, then everyone else would be doing it.
FLB: Aside from Saturday night’s show at Fashion X Austin, what’s next for Melissa Fleis?
Melissa: What’s next for Melissa Fleis as a brand is launching my upcoming collection, attending trade shows, and getting into as many new quality stores as possible. As a designer, I would love to consult and collaborate with more individuals and companies.