Falling in love with Meli Melo was a sparking affair for me. It happened fast and was a kind of lovethat would last forever. I had my reasons: the scrumptious Thela bag that stirred my feelings was British, but made in Italy from the softest, most delicious tan leather adorned with gold hardware (but thankfully, no logo). It was stylish, roomy, practical and perfect for carrying my life around. Above all, it was unique, like nothing I've seen before, adaptable in its uniqueness, transforming from a shoulder bag to a tote or a rather compact and elegant handbag.
Melissa Del Bono, the founder of Meli Melo and designer of the much-treasured bag, turned out to be just as wonderful as her brand. Not only she is creative, warm, beautiful (oh, that gorgeous olive skin the Italians have!) and smart, but shared my love for organic living, yoga, travels, Italy, chocolate and shoes... Of course, I had to meet her!
WHO: Melissa Del Bono, Meli Melo founder and designer
WHAT: beautiful hand-made handbags that are easily recognisable and will never go out of style
WHERE: shop at Meli Melo, Shopbop and Young British Designers, and stay in touch with the brand via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
WHY: when Italian craftsmanship meets British creativity, the result is something rather special - get your Meli Melo now, before their luxurious appearance is matched by the four-figure price tag.
LOOK FOR: Thela in a rainbow of colours or limited edition print that will put a smile on your face, Halo in gorgeous Neo Botanical or Giraffe print, art-deco Prepspex clutch and Cappucino tote that will see you through summer and Mediterranean getaways. Treat your beloved pooch to a Meli Melo collar. And keep your eyes open for stunning Allegra.
If you had to choose a moment from the past that inspired you to become the person you are today, what would it be and why?
I am not a believer in just one thing making someone who they are. I think life is about experiences and these all add up to make you the person you are. I am a believer in everything happening for a reason and good always coming from bad, I try to see positives every day, there's always something to be thankful for!
If I had to highlight a major moment for me it would be becoming a mother, I think that changes you forever, you see everything differently! In a business sense, I come from a very entrepreneurial family and it instilled a want for something of my own from a young age.
Would you consider yourself to be creative as a child?
Yes, imaginative and creative! I have always had a creative mind. As a child I would love to be outside - I had two elder brothers, so anything they did I wanted to do too! I grew up on Lipari, a beautiful Volcanic Island off the Sicilian coast, so exploring was one of my favourite things to do, I guess I would have called them adventures back then...
Do you remember your first "fashion adventure"?
This was through my mother. She has an elegance and timelessness that have always inspired me. She'd take me shopping with her and we would make costumes. She used to wear a lot of white and this also inspired the SS16 collection look book... wait and see! I brought myself a pair of Prada shoes with my first pay check at 21 years old - that for me was a real encounter, something so exciting about your first investment buy!
What is the most exciting thing about fashion?
It's never the same. Fashion is unique for everyone, it's a way of expressing yourself and that's what I love. I live in London and the fashion here is so eclectic, everyone has their own style. My handbags are made unique by everyone who carries them, they become yours.
How did you get into the industry?
I began as a fashion PR working for Harper's Bazaar and Asprey. This really gave me the knowledge, contacts and drive to want to build my own brand.
When and why did you decide to design handbags?
Looking back I just went for it. I have always been a total creative and an avid bag lover, it's one of those things you can enjoy wearing as a fashion statement to update your outfit without having to change your whole look and can totally make or break an outfit.
Growing up in the Aeolian Islands, the women in the villages would carry all of their belongings in these big wicker baskets. I wanted something pretty to carry myself, so I adopted a basket of my own! As time went by and I got older, I decided I needed to update the basket but keep some of the original design as heritage to my past on the Island. I created my first design and just ran with it.
Where does the name of the brand come from?
It's the nickname my family and friends would call me on the island! Nowadays I see "meli" as the urban London girl and "melo" as the free spirited Island girl. I live in London and am half British, so I love that urban edge to London, I am always inspired by the city. Lipari, the "island side" I speak of, is still my escape and my paradise, I become carefree when I am there.
How long did it take you to get form the initial idea to the launch of your first design?
It all happened very quickly! The first Meli Melo bag was inspired by my Italian heritage, something that is consistent throughout the brands DNA and means such a lot to me. I designed the bag inspired by the wicker baskets and had it made in some of the local Italian factories. The first bags became popular with Poppy Delevigne and Sienna Miller and this lead to it being launched in British Vogue as the brand to watch. it must have all happened in less than a year! It meant a lot of hard work, but it was all worth it.
What was the most challenging about the process if anything?
I think, the work-life balance was the most challenging for me. What it's your own business you are obviously obsessed with every last detail to make it a success. To begin with I ran everything from my London home. Sales, PR, design, shipping... It was crazy! As it was all run from my home sometimes it was difficult to separate myself from it all to relax. I now realise how important it is to give yourself a break to re-charge and get inspired again by the world around, it keeps you healthy and the mind open.
When did you release that you actually made it?
The problem with me is that I will always strive to grow. I feel like thinking I've made it is a means to an end, I can feel success and feel proud that I've achieved something, but feeling like you've made it to me almost feels like you no longer need to try for better.
Can we talk about Thela, the star and the beginning of them all...
The first Meli Melo bag was the BB Bag and then came the Thela Bag, an update on the BB Bag. I designed the Thela as the brand evolved and my style evolved. It's most finished and more timeless. It's named after my husband's grandmother, Thela. She was such a stylish, effortless woman the name seemed utterly perfect.
How is a Meli Melo bag made?
All of my products are made in Italy. This is something I care about greately as for me this is where the best craftsmanship is available. The people there care about the leather and the bags. All of my handbags are made with Italian leather. It really is like no other, the buttery soft feel, the rich earthy smell and the long lasting quality makes it so special. Overall it takes a week to make one Thela bag.
Apart from being very unique, Meli Melo bags have a rather timeless and classic appeal and no logo. Was it something you wanted to achieve from the start?
Yes this has always been part of the brand. I wanted to create bags that would be an investment, bags that a mother could pass down to her daughter without them looking dated.
Do you ever think about trends?
I notice trends and it's interesting to see them at the shows of course. As a designer I don't go to trend shows or follow what I think will be a trend as I like to create something unique to Meli Melo. I use my inspiration to design the handbags and this could be anything from something I saw walking down the street to an art exhibition.
You once admitted that Meli Melo are the only bags you carry... Would you say you are your own muse?
I would say that women are my muse. I love the way a handbag can make a girl feel confident. The Meli Melo muse is someone who does not need harsh branding or logo to show her authority or style. She chooses what she wears with confidence and the confidence makes people look and think "what is that bag?!" I still only carry Meli Melo, I believe in my product! If I didn't want to wear my bags all the time, I'd be doing something wrong with my design - if I don't want to wear them, why should I expect other girls to?
What's on your inspiration board right now?
New styles, beautiful print and further accessories, I am designing scarves as we speak. I'm feeling extremely inspired by the sea at the moment, so this has influenced my designs.
And how will it translate into the upcoming collection?
I hope in a timeless yet eye-catching way. There will be a freshness to it. You'll also see collaborations which I am very excited about.
What piece or pieces from the new collection you are looking forward to?
From AW15 it has to be my first structured bag, the Allegra. It has taken me three years to perfect and I am so happy with the result. The Mini Allegra in red calf hair has to be my ultimate favourite, it's a real wow bag.
What is your ultimate goal for Meli Melo?
The ultimate goal would be to open flagship stores in all of the fashion capitals. To see Meli Melo sold in its own stores across the world would be amazing.
5 THINGS ABOUT MELISSA DEL BONO
Your favourite quote or motto... Do it Now. Sometimes "Later" becomes "Never".
Your style in five words... Effortless. Unique. Timeless. Fun. Natural.
Favourite fashion decade... 1970s - loving my flares at the moment!
Your favourite son or album right now... Anything acoustic, I am loving laid back summery guitar tracks.