Written by: Susan Bates
Mellinda-Mae Harrlingten’s trajectory through design has taken her from haute couturier to bohemian artisan to stylist extraordinaire. After securing an honours degree in Women’s Wear Design and Technology from a prestigious university in the UK, she returned to Canada to launch MMH, a stunning collection of high-end apparel. Her exhilarating agenda included a conceptual focus on fashion illustration and the sourcing of fine fabrics from Italy and France.
The runway shows, showcased at L’Oreal Fashion week for two consecutive years, garnered a host of publicity including interviews, articles and television coverage. CBC World News Today presented a spotlight on the artist at her initial gala with a stream of compliments on her flirty and edgy line. The anchor underlined that the MMH brand had been embraced by fashionistas in Canada and the US—even by celebrities such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Jennifer Anniston. This positive media attention and interest from Hollywood facilitated the featuring of her avant-garde collection at luxury shops and boutiques across the country.
MMH knit attire was especially lucrative, and Mellinda-Mae elected to pursue a knitwear accessory line sourced and manufactured in Italy. Once again, the designer focused on quality as she selected cashmere and organic cottons as the basis for her warm and cozy creations. She worked on site with her Italian manufacturer to ensure excellence in craftsmanship and arranged to have the collection, 3by, retail exclusively in the UK.
Her career highlight was obtaining a substantial order from Liberty, a renowned and established department store in England. “I had the right sales team,” she comments. “There are certain people who just know how to work the showrooms. They build relationships with buyers.” Mellinda-Mae comes across with a startling humility, uncharacteristic of a designer of her stature.
And this trait is what seems to have led Mellinda on a trek through India and South-east Asia searching for simplicity and a streamlined existence. “I did the backpacking thing with a girlfriend—and realized that I didn’t need to spend what I was spending,” she shares. “We met other travelers who sold their made handmade jewelry on the beach and I just fell in love with the lifestyle.” Jewelry design appealed to Mellinda for a variety of reasons. There was no huge overhead and this eliminated the stress of meeting exacting sales quotas. It was also more “hands-on.” With haute couture, she had focused on conceptual design. “There is a fairly long lag time between preliminary concept and finished product, and that can be frustrating,” she confides. Mellinda rejoiced in the ease of conceiving of and handcrafting alluring creations all by herself. There was no need for a large staff or the multitude of administrative duties involved in running a fashion enterprise. Suddenly and without warning, the haute couturier had become a bohemian artisan!
But Mellinda-Mae was both a bohemian artisan and a stylist extraordinaire. Just one glance at her lookbook reveals how she brought the glam from the fashion industry into her very first jewelry collection, Love Child. Presentation makes all the difference and this full-on fashion shoot exhibits the wares in an engaging and professional display.
The line was co-designed with her travel companion and incorporates handmade raw crystal creations and imported rings and bangles from India. Love Child was a potent initiation into jewelry design, but it wasn’t long before the budding artisan had the inclination to kick-start her own personal collection, Bones + Stones, employing her signature stylist know-how.
Being a stylist is all about creating a look to sell a product to a specific market. “You work with a photographer. Who’s our girl? Who are we targeting? What is our image?” elaborates Mellinda-Mae. The artist sees the Bones + Stones’ image as bohemian with a modern edge. She specializes in massive crystal quartz necklaces on chunky chains. Their sheer size commands attention and imbues them with power and spirit. And this strength of spirit is indicative of a designer with an intuitive knowledge of style and fashion—one that she brings to each and every reinvention of herself and her art.