Photography: Diamonde Williamson
When you discover Melanie Mueller’s designs for her accessories line, Mel Boteri, it’s sort of impossible not to be obsessed. Custom handbags and shoes? Please and thank you. But once you meet her and get accustomed to her down-to-earth and effortless personality, you realize that she – like her designs – is one of a kind. The designer who once upon a time interned for Zac Posen, started her line in fall 2009 and hasn’t looked back since. Everyone from Daily Candy, Charleston Fashion Week & Project Runway’s Mychael Knight have all given her the appropriate co-sign, naturally. We took some time out on a ridiculously gorgeous “it’s hard to believe it’s March” day and played dress up with some pieces from the Les Nouvelles showroom. We laughed, ooohed & aaaahed at fantastic pieces and discussed quitting our day jobs to become stylists.
You’re a fabulous designer. What’s the story behind Mel Boteri? How did you get your start?
Mel Boteri is really a product of years of shopping frustration. In a marketplace oversaturated with “one-size-fits-all” merchandise, I found myself constantly struggling to find exclusive, yet sophisticated pieces which would meet my individual needs. During my time as a business graduate student, I quickly found that I was not alone in my frustration. First hearing the concept of custom-fit shoes from a visiting professor, and then experiencing multiple shopping disappointments first-hand while interning in NYC, I realized a true demand for unique, made-to-order accessories. I decided to use the concept for an Entrepreneurship class project, and pushed forward to start the business upon graduation. Mel Boteri was officially launched in the Fall of 2009 with a small collection of women’s custom design handbags, on the premise to provide a more personalized, one-of-a-kind shopping experience.
While you create amazing accessories for others, what are your go to accessories when you want to make a statement?
Right now, my “go-to” accessories that I constantly find myself throwing on when I have little time to think but still want to stand out are my Rachel Zoe (love her!!) long, faux fur vest and a collection of contrasting bracelets. The bracelets vary from day to day based on my outfit and mood, but I almost always include two brightly colored, beaded pieces that originated from my mom’s hometown of Colombia.
If you could only wear three pieces out of your closet, what pieces would they be?
A black Theory trench-coat that can double as a dress, these killer Gianni Bini satin and jeweled pumps that were a total steal and surprisingly comfortable, and one of my stand-out Mel Boteri clutches.
Who’s the ultimate Mel Boteri girl?
The ultimate Mel Boteri girl values herself rather than worries what others are doing, saying, or wearing. Her confidence allows her to stand true to herself, and her uniqueness is what ultimately makes her an influencer rather than a follower of trends. She is fearless and can easily adapt her mood, style, and overall demeanor to any situation.
Where do you turn to for inspiration when it comes to design or style?
My life experiences and the wonderful people I meet along the way. I typically have someone in mind when creating a new design, and I use their unique style and lifestyle as inspiration to create something both fashionable and functional. Just wait and see there could be a Mattie style one of these days!! ;)
Obviously, we love your bags. But if we dumped out your purse right now, what would we find?
I tend to swap out my bag a good bit, but I will not leave the house without my taupe & patent magenta wallet (a custom Mel Boteri style of course), “Skinny Dip” lip gloss by (Pl?) Beauty (one of my fave beauty lines), my iPhone and business cards.
What are some of your favorite Atlanta spots to shop?
Les Nouvelles has an amazing site where you can find coveted as well as up-and-coming brands, but what makes this chic boutique stand out to me is how they have combined their impeccable eye for unique style with big web technology! A customizable closet and stylist tool on the site is not only fun to play with, but they have completely redefined the virtual shopping experience. And for those of us who still rather touch, smell, and feel a product before buying, their newly opened showroom in Atlanta offers an added perk! Another spot I recently discovered and love for their chic yet easy weekend wear is Moops Boutique in The Avenue, East Cobb.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be doing right now?
I’ve always been a huge animal lover, and actually considered veterinary school before opting to study business. As a child, I remember wanting to keep and save any animal I came across and actually befriend a neighbor’s cat to the point where they ended up giving him to me. If I wasn’t designing handbags and growing Mel Boteri, I would probably be running a non-profit animal rescue group which is still something I will consider doing one day in the future.
How do you live what you love?
My first job out of college was in banking, and although I learned a lot in my corporate position I think the greatest lesson during my short 2 year stint was that you have to love what you live. I feel extremely fortunate that I now live everyday building a company that I am truly passionate about. That is not to say that every day is sunshine and smiles, but I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. That belief along with my strong work ethic helps me live what I love day in and day out.