How, “What Can I Wear?” sparked a divine outfit creation and a lifetime fashion career.
1965: Los Angeles, California. Our visionary La Cienega Melendy Galleries was preparing to move the award-winning sculptural fountain ‘Exaltation’ created by my husband, artist, and sculptor, Tony Melendy, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural gem, the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael, California. ‘What can I wear? I don’t have anything to wear,” circled my anxious mind.
I was already nervous about attending an important social event, and I had no idea what to wear. I panicked after visiting a few stores. As a young and busy wife, mom, sculpture studio assistant, and art gallery manager, I wore shirts and jeans day in and day out because I could never find anything that made me feel comfortable in a multi-creative life.
When I got so stressed that I decided not to go, created even more stress and made me feel even more conflicted. Tony needed my help with the sculpture. There was no escape. I had to go. What to do?
Finally, I asked the right question to the universe in desperation, “If I could wear anything, what would I wear?” I asked myself for the answer and received the answer!
Immediately Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Red Boy paintings appeared in my mind as if they were still hanging in my mother’s living room. I had always imagined wearing velvet outfits whenever I gazed at them as a child and teenager.
Epiphany turned to action. Pepe’s custom wedding tailoring shop was next to our Melendy Galleries on La Cienega Boulevard. When Pepe left with a client, I visited Maria, his Brazilian wife, who worked night and day creating custom clothing from luxurious fabrics.
I showed Maria photos of the younger casual style Red Boy and the older, tailored Blue Boy. She loved my idea of combining both designs in a deeper richer blue velvet. She took my measurements and I gave her funds to purchase the fabric, then breathed a long deep sigh of relief.
Excited and fearful, she whispered caution, “No, tell Pepe. Our secret.”
Award night was hectic as the long drive followed by a long day of many hours devoted to installing the fountain left little time for getting ready. After a quick shower, I opened Maria’s package and picked up the deep Lapis Lazuli blue velvet jacket. As I slowly released five velvet-covered buttons from their buttonholes, I glimpsed a surprise cobalt blue lining and my heart skipped a beat.
I felt the silk in wonder, then held the entire outfit next to me as life paused in a sensation of silken soft beauty. Heartbeats pounded in my chest. Eyes moistened. Happiness burst from my heart as I connected with something bigger than myself.
A memory vision merged into an awakened body sensation of touch that shifted from a protective instinct to one of welcoming comfort. Body tension released. I breathed more easily, as words came into mind, “This sensation is important. Remember this.”
After a time I slowly slipped my arms through silken sleeves. Silk fell over my shoulders before I buttoned the jacket. I pulled on the silk-lined pants before stepping into black leather Capezio slippers, all as if my life had become slow motion.
My body had arrived in clothing that allowed a surrender to an ecstasy of skin sensation. A quick brush of my long black hair and a swift comb through my bangs, a look in the mirror, and I was ready. Remarkably newly tuned to a heartbeat dance of a fresh cycle of becoming, I ran to the event. I was on time in my personal world and late for the award ceremony.
Encompassed in silk softness, I walked into the Frank Lloyd Wright ‘Growing Edge of California’* award ceremony with a smile. Instead of feeling the fear that usually gripped me, I paused before the crowd of organizers, artists, media, and award winners, and shifted into natural ease. Noticing that I was the only woman not wearing a dress and heels, I smiled at their smiles, raised eyebrows, and turnings away.
Then I experienced a social, emotional, and mental shift that gifted me a new way of perceiving the world from the inside out. This was the first time new thoughts became part of me, and I said to myself, “I can smile, enjoy myself, not care what others think, and simply be myself.” And I did. It was the sixties. I could be anything I wanted to be, anything I could imagine.
The full-body silken softness surprisingly encouraged a forgetting of what I was wearing because the fabric felt like part of me. I shone confidence from the inside out. Over the evening, women ask me where I got my pantsuit. Men joined the circles when I told the Gainsborough story that put everyone at ease. The velvet pantsuit became a sensation and I enjoyed being myself. To me, both were miracles.
From then on, touch, by hand, arm, or face informed me whether a fabric would give me comfort, and ease of movement to be myself within a cocoon of woven threads. A fresh discovery of what is right and true for me didn’t solve all my social problems. Clothing creations helped me overcome shyness, but it wasn’t always easy. I didn’t know then that my sensitivity to touch, feelings, voice, and scent would one day be put to good use in the healing arts. I could not have imagined who I would become, though I came closer that day.
Although I did not and do not always wear silk, I still chose natural or experimental blended fabrics carefully that feel good and allow a feeling of space and free movement, as well as the sense of a protective cocoon, and most importantly, easy care.
I banned expensive dry cleaning, and long wash and dry spins from my life as clothing became part of creating my life. And I enjoyed washing beautiful fabrics by hand. I did not know the word, lifestyle, at that time, but I was creating my own style in my own life – thus lifestyle!
I give thanks for the day when I felt the desperation that led to the right question that gifted a way to be more comfortable in my body and being. In a rough and tough world, decade by decade, I am gifted with the never-ending joy of creating with colors and weaving that support giving my best to the challenges as well as the blessings that come my way.
Maria encouraged further creativity that blossomed from experimental outfits for daily living to a line of clothing because happening people wanted to buy what I was wearing. I rented a studio on Nemo Street behind The Troubadour music scene and soon after leased a boutique space just east from the famous Whiskey A Go Go music nightclub, and almost across from The Source Family Cafe on Sunset Strip.
Tony decorated the space in silver space-age style enhanced by his sculptures and visionary black light. Customers lined up around the block to purchase creations that celebrated their participation in the emerging cultural history of the sixties.
Maria invited me to accompany her to downtown Los Angeles and browse manufacturer remnant shops for textile treasures. Each shopping expedition recovered treasures from piles of discarded silks, velvets, brocades, metallics, and the latest stretch fabrics that inspired visions of transforming an active lifestyle with easy-care.
I could not wait to make pants that stretched around my leg without a side seam. I dreamed of clothes that would never need ironing or long-time drying. I longed for a one-piece jumpsuit. It might be the sixties but it was also the space age.
As Maria as I worked secretly to co-create my new fashion style, I rented a studio on Nemo Street, just behind The Troubadour, a famous 60s folk, rock, and comedy venue. After spraying the ceiling, walls, and floor silver from spray paint, I set up the front room with the display window overlooking the street with a cutting table and rack. A sofa bed and play crib for my oldest daughter, who I was still nursing. My large studio window overlooked a garden. A passage to the sculpture and jewelry studio continued to a small kitchen, washroom, and shower.
Commissions happened because of proximity to the Troubadour nightclub.
Designers from Star Trek ordered a collar necklace.
Peter Fonda, The Trip, envisioned a dress for a woman to walk on water, so I created a silver dress with a hood over the head, or in front or back. The original movie opened with an exquisite walking on water scene of a woman wearing the shimmering silver hooded dress. Unfortunately, the opening sequence was replaced with a couple kissing, though the woman still wears the silver dress.
Troubadour customers looked in the Nemo Street shop window at night and visited in the day.
Inspired by the response to my jewelry that sold out at the Love-Ins and Renaissance Faires, I built a display cabinet with a handle that opened into a silver interior of earrings, necklaces, and bracelets hung on pins and hooks. With my daughter on my hip, I took the case around Beverly Hills boutiques and visited designers. Rudi Gernrich bought samples with cash or placed orders, and Judith Brewer, the creator of paper clothes, invited me to play around with her paper clothes. We decided on a larger wild space-age look as the luxurious designs would create a contrast to the simple paper clothes.
Judith loved the samples. Inspired me with her enthusiasm and the deadline of her opening show, I evolved free-flowing plastic multi-layered iridescent enameled arm and wrist jewelry that complemented her disposable clothing patterns.
On the night of her opening, I wore the blue velvet pantsuit with bracelets and earrings. Judith’s tall models displayed the jewelry as they showed off the paper styles and posed for cameras and TV. Judith was a strong tall presence that dominated the opening with her intelligence and vision. I enjoyed seeing the arm bracelets flash in the lights as she gestured and showed off her fashions.
When the gloriously beautiful Baroness Fiona Thyssen visited Judith’s paper clothes shop, she placed a large order for her Swiss boutique.
Maria and I evolved our friendship into a creative team that manifested a Sunset Strip fashion and art boutique, The Psychedelic Conspiracy. Maria divorced Pepe and, riding on the increasing income from my ever-growing fashion business, rented her own small shop a few stores down the Strip. We produced a constant flow of costumes for rock bands, and personal clothes for Jim Morrison and Pam, the Source Family, and amazing outfits for the costumed co-creative participants of Love Ins and Renaissance Faires.
When Maria could not handle all of the commissions and stock replenishment, I brought in Genie The Tailor to help me with custom work. After a time of working together, Genie asked me to help design rock star outfits. The first commission was a set of jumpsuits for the Iron Butterfly group for their opening session for The Grateful Dead on the Santa Monica Pier.
That night of the Grateful Dead opening, I wore a silver iridescent ring linked mylar dress and a matching Egyptian styled mylar linked hood that covered my hair, an outfit that reflected the strobe lights and camera flashes. The crowds disappeared as I was in another world inside a suit of astral armor as I danced in living light.
After the show was over, Jerry Garcia and Pigpen walked down the pier with Tony and I where we sharing a wild rare moment where music and fashion mingled. Tony, in his space-age silver pants and top and a silver belt with a plastic iridescent buckle I had created for him, and myself like an Egyptian ninja in a sparkling suit of astral armor.
Jerry commented that it was cool how they could see my light show outfit dancing in the strobes while they were playing their song of life. The dress was hung like a light show mobile in the window of the Psychedelic Conspiracy, and we received orders for copies.
Years later, I lent the dress to a member of the Buddhist organization, Nichirin Shoshu, to wear in a parade in Santa Monica. She never returned it, no matter how many times I asked, and I never got a photo of it in the parade because I was in a Scottish outfit dancing the Highland Fling!
When Judith took me to San Francisco for an interview on the Gypsy Rose Lee Show, I wore a soft moss green stretch jumpsuit, and samples of my thermoplastic spontaneous jewelry. Gypsy was fascinated by the beauty of the iridescent layered plastic bracelets and asked me how they were made. I told her I found a heat gun used in plastic factories that enabled me to burn through layers that received enamel colors in extraordinary combinations of visually exquisite shades.
Then I added, “And if my hair needs drying (I had waist-length hair at the time) I simply put my head down and use it for a hairdryer.” Shortly afterward hair dryers hit the market.
Decades later I discovered a Parisian couture house had created velvet pantsuits called Le Smoking. For me, it was not about copying a male style but adapting the ease of wearing a comfortable jacket and pants. Men have worn dresses and tunics all through history, and women wear pantsuits in many countries. The pantsuit is for humans, not for just men. I freed the pantsuit for The City of Angels in the sixties and never looked back.
Years later, in the early seventies, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I refused surgery and through natural self-healing over two years, healed myself and shifted my lifework into the healing arts world. I never stopped designing my own clothing.
When I travel, I search for handwoven and embroidered textiles. I love to support women who provide for their families in remote regions and feel privileged to wear their textiles. I purchase multiple yards to create combination layered outfits: India: Gandhi handwoven cotton and silk iridescent silk yardage, Bangalore bordered silk saris, men’s fine linen lungis, temple gold-bordered saris from Kerala, Kantha embroidery from the Himalayas; Thailand textured and light silks; Laos: colorful cloud weavings.
From 2017-2020, I focused on texturing Cambodian golden silk fibers, softened for everyday wear. Golden glow silks are sustainable, hand-washable, quick-dry, light as a feather for travel, never need ironing, and are breathable, adjusting for cold, warm, or hot temperatures. Imagine infinitely layered clothing that glows and shimmers as it surrounds you with iridescent comfort. Check out the website page to view some of my personal fashion creations over the years.
Want a Sixties Read? Flower Child in the Summer of Love, available on amazon, smashwords, and kindle, shares the magical California sixties years. Asking the right question led me into a new world. Knowing what I truly need to make my life work makes all the difference to enjoying living the life I love to live no matter what challenges come my way. No matter how tough life is at any given moment, if I rise, fulfil my practice, bathe, and then dress as if I am on top of the world, I can fulfill my duties and responsibilities and be a positive influence on the life around me.
Feb 4, 2020