Melissa D'Alessandro's unique and approachable jewellery designs of MLD have recently found a welcome home at the SUKU Concept Store. Inviting us into her own space, we joined Mel as she packed (lightly) for a trip to revisit the place of her ancestral roots, Italy. Amid questions on which items to take with her and which to leave, we gained insight into the way she experiences life as a young designer without any formal training, and how she draws inspiration from her background to create connection to her wider community. Mel's parting words before leaving to catch her plane? 'Don't plan anything, take heaps of photos'. And so, that's what we did!
We love the way you connect your jewellery with your family background. What does family means to you?
I have a very small family for an Italian, which I actually really enjoy. As I’m getting older I’m taking the time to appreciate and understand my heritage a lot more and in turn, this makes me feel more connected to my family. My mum also had a saying that was along the lines of “your friends are the family you choose” which doesn’t necessarily take away from the importance of my immediate family, but it’s nice to know I have an extension of family who are my friends that I love and am so grateful for.
Who are you the closest with in your family?
It’s hard to choose one because I go to each one for different things, but I have always been close to my Nonna. Her love is so deeply rooted into everything she does for me (and the family), and she’s also so bloody cute!
What is she like?
She’s a hard working, strong woman with a hard head and super soft cheeks. She loves gardening and has an epic vegetable garden at her house by the ocean. She says it’s her therapy. Spending time with her in summer is so lovely, and seeing her in the ocean and in her garden makes me so happy!
What’s your favourite thing about Italy?
The food and the language, amongst other things. I haven’t been for a while, but last time I went I ate fresh seafood on the beach with an ice cold beer most days. I’m about to go back for a few weeks and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with family I haven’t seen in a few years. I’d like to come back fluent in Italian, but we’ll see.
Is there a city or town your particularly love?
I’ve spent a bit of time in the north in Trieste where I have friends. It's so stunning and surreal being able to drive an hour out of Trieste and being in Austria or Slovenia where the language, food and architecture changes dramatically. I’m going to explore a few places where I haven’t been this time around, so I’ll probably have a new favourite place in a few weeks. I’m so pumped!
What is it feel like to have a jewellery brand?
It is still pretty surreal. It happened pretty quickly and I’ve had MLD for 3 years now – weird! I didn’t go to uni or TAFE to learn jewellery making, so there was no natural progression from school into making jewellery into running a business, but here I am. It's hard work, but I enjoy it and it's worth it just to see my friends in something that I’ve made, which is how I started off I guess – making for my friends.
How important is family support to running your own business and being able to stand on your own feet?
I didn’t really tell my family what I was doing until I started getting my first stockists and had an online shop. I was pretty casual about it all, but I was also a little scared of failure, so I wanted to wait until I had something of substance to show. However, the family are super proud, and dad is pretty stoked to have some pieces named after him. It’s pretty daunting putting things you have made out in to the world for people to see for the first time, but it gets easier, and I don’t really spend time thinking about that anymore – I just enjoy the freedom of working for myself.
What is a piece of advice that you wish someone told you when you first started your own business?
Don’t be scared of what people think and say. Just make something you are proud of, put it out there and do not give a shit. Don’t keep thinking about what you could have changed and just keep making stuff.
If you could sum up your current life into a song, which one would it be?
Can I pick a genre? Disco! And anything I can dance to. Dancing is a daily ritual for me. My housemate who lives below my bedroom can vouch for that.
What’s your current mantra?
I'm leaving for the airport in two hours to head overseas, so currently its literally been: pack light, don’t plan anything, and take heaps of photos. I guess it can apply to most adventures?