Adventures, Ampersand and Accessories: an interview with artist Melanie Kyles.

I go through phases of loving people, things, events, art, experiences, foods – when I love it, I really love it! An artist I met recently Melanie Kyles is one of those people currently on my girl crush radar – I’m in love with her work at Ampersand Inventions, in love with her studio, in love with her accessory business, in love with her embroidery, in love with her stories of visiting New York, in love with her co-creation Fashion Lab and the last time we met, I was also in love with her shows.

With it coming up to International Women’s Day, it seems only right to give some shout outs and love to some creative women that I am really admiring at the moment.

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A week or so ago, I spent the afternoon with Mel talking shop, creative stuff and getting to know her practice, big ambitions and how being made redundant recently, has really triggered a new chapter of entrepreneurial creativity.

Hi Melanie, so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about your practice?

I specialise in hand embellished and embroidered fashion and artwork. I’m very passionate about what I do; I’ve been interested in both fashion and fine art for as long as I can remember, and I’ve practiced hand embroidery and embellishment for almost a decade.

For my self-titled accessories business, I design, make and sell bespoke and limited edition fashion accessories designed with timelessness in mind, mostly occasion pieces with elements of luxury such as a silk lining, an ostrich feathered trim or Swarovski embellishment. There’s a lot of attention to detail, from the accessories to the matte black luxury packaging, and I always picture a sensual bold woman who is confident in her own style and enjoys a little indulgence.

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Depending on the piece, a lot of hours can go into it from start to finish, from the initial inspiration through to design ideas, sampling, creating a surface pattern template and creating the final piece. I create everything by hand, and have gone to great lengths to get things perfect, whether it includes tracking down pure silk ribbon in the correct width from a place in California for a bow I want, or sat till 5am with a hairdryer on the lowest heat setting between my knees (a bit extreme, I know!) carefully fluffing a feather trim I’ve dyed to match a lingerie set for Newcastle Fashion Week.

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I apply a similar aesthetic to my art work, I previously used existing vintage objects as my canvas and used my skills to turn them into pieces of art. This started a couple of years ago with art books (Botticelli and Da Vinci) from the 20’s that had been abandoned at a school, and I embroidered traditional and often religious imagery using white and silver metallic threads with Swarovski, silver leaf and pearl enamel. I built up a collection and had my debut show, titled ‘Holier Than Thou’, to launch Praxis gallery, which is in my studios Ampersand Inventions. From there I went on to embellish vintage tools, taking away their functional value and replacing it with an aesthetic one, and a wire mold of a ‘Venus De Milo’ figure.

Tell me about some recent projects?

Over the past six months, my main projects have been exhibiting in Manchester and New York, an incredible experience and my first international show, and also being asked to create a fashion accessory to honor La Di Da magazine’s 3rd anniversary issue.

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My trip to Manchester was to take part in Manchester Contemporary, where I had my gold embellished sculptures on display; the vintage tools I mentioned earlier. They were titled ‘Division of Labour’ as my Dad who is a welder fused some pieces of the sculpture together, and it’s the idea of more than one skillset being used for a singular final outcome, though it’s more than that as it also has heritage. We both create things with our hands, manual work if you will, and his Dad, my Grandfather was also a welder, so it was quite a personal project.

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At the same time as this was happening, I was also commissioned to make a bespoke neckpiece for a shoot for La Di Da magazine. I’ve been friends with the editor for over a year now, and I was honored she asked me, and a few of my friends in the fashion industry, if we would create a shoot for their third year anniversary issue. Of course we jumped at the chance. I made a hand-cut embellished neckpiece made from metallic pewter leather, leather being the third year anniversary gift tradition, and we had a four-page spread in the last Autumn issue.

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Last but certainly not least, and the highlight of my career so far, was having my work exhibited in Art Helix in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the ‘Exchange Rates’ exhibition with Ampersand Inventions and Vane gallery. I collaborated with my friend who I share a studio with, and who is also co-owner of The Fashion Lab, Helen McClafferty, on a set of twin metal sculptures.

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Our brief as a collective was titled ‘Off The Map’, so given we are both from a fashion background, we applied the theory of borders and territory to female figures, Helen’s focusing on a borderless landscape with exaggerated terrain and myself using bejeweled barbed wire and chicken wire to define continent borders and territory. It was incredible not just to exhibit, but to meet all of the artists there, visit the open studios that weren’t too dissimilar to our own, and generally absorbing all of that influence and inspiration, both in the galleries and on the streets…it’s definitely changed my outlook and has forced me out of a box I didn’t realise I was in!

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently going through a transitional period, as I only went full time with my business a month ago and I’m adjusting to suddenly having an extra 20+ hours in my week. Really I’m just finding my feet and making sure I have a solid foundation, I’m working freelance on a bridal commission and delivering workshops, but I’m also giving my website a facelift and working on a new range of accessories, so definitely still keeping myself busy!

You’re getting involved in participatory work….. how is that going?

It’s very early stages at the moment but from what I’ve experienced so far it’s going really well. I’ve always loved working with people, and it feels rewarding to be at the stage where I can give something back and inspire and help others.

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Often under ‘normal’ circumstances, being self-employed can be isolating, but thankfully the environment I’m in buzzes with social and creative energy, and I’m lucky that those I’ve worked with in the local fashion industry are supportive too. Being able to help others in a way I haven’t been able to previously feels like a natural progression, and is something I’d like to do a lot more of this year.

Tell me about Ampersand Inventions? What goes on there? Who is there? Can people visit?

It’s an amazing place! It’s where my studio and The Fashion Lab are based, and it’s a creative melting pot of studios, lectures, events and its process gallery ‘Praxis’. It’s not open to the public, other than events, classes and exhibitions, it’s invitation only if you already know someone in here, but if anyone is interested in visiting the space I would highly recommend contacting the directors Jonpaul and Peter; both are brilliantly supportive.

Tell me about The Fashion Lab?

The Fashion Lab is a workspace that leads on from mine and Helen’s studio, and it used to be an old workshop room. With the help of Jonpaul and Peter, we’ve transformed it from an old banger into a Ferrari, where was once dark carpets, brick wallpaper and a wooden bench is now a bright clean space with slick blinds and space for us to spread our work, and the biggest mood board known to man!

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Up until very recently, things have been put on hold for reasons beyond our control, but we have had a couple of meetings this last week and I’m very excited for what we have planned…I wish I could share but I’ve promised to keep things under wraps!

Do you know what you’re doing for the Late Shows this year yet?

Yes but that would be telling!

What’s on your creative bucket list this year?

Ooh that’s a tough one, but given everything that happened last year I have high hopes! I have a lot of plans workwise, some of which include mastering gold-work and launching The Fashion Lab, but truthfully the most important thing for me is keeping a good balance. I want to take my business and my art career to the next level, and I want a sense of adventure, one that involves both travelling to make connections and showcase my work but also, something very important to me, is travelling to see some of my closest friends that have recently moved away to Glasgow and London. I’m also going on my first holiday in years (it’s only three days in Blackpool, but that still counts right?), and a couple of my good friends are getting married at the end of the year, so there’s a lot to look forward to all around!

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Well Melanie Kyles – my new favourite person and artist of the moment; what an inspiration! I get the sense of someone on the ‘edge of glory’ if you will – full of the exciting unknown, uncertainty and a brand new creative adventure awaiting.

Here at Culture Vulture HQ, I am super excited to see Melanie’s next moves and the launch of The Fashion Lab. I’m also buzzlight years excited to see her next pieces of work and to support her on this journey in a variety of forms. I will be championing you pet!

And that office – proper office envy!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – but I will be writing a separate post on my tour of Ampersand Inventions so watch out for that over the coming weeks.

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