Written by Leanne Esposito
The life and times of a design creative
To discover the humility of our very own Melea Lang has come as a profound awakening to me. I write the article with a close personal point of view. Melea’s mother Christine Smith, who is an award-winning marriage celebrant and I previously collaborated on stories about love, life and style – particularly home design.
Many years ago, I was aware of the success of Melea’s jewellery range, which was sold through a local store on the Esplanade. Beyond that I was clueless. I know her as an engaging and articulate individual who presents an effervescent personality. Today, I believe she is enchantment personified. Totally unaware of her charms, her large beguiling eyes captivate an unacquainted audience. A broad easy smile invites a positive response.
Beyond the beauty, Melea is mother to three children and nursed her youngest son Jack through a difficult and ongoing medical emergency. In recent times she has suffered her own health battles. Despite the struggles she’s encountered, it is a re-emerging creative talent which endures.
Melea is a woman of extraordinary flair and imagination. Discovering that she has rubbed shoulders with fashion royalty and movie stars is highly illuminating. Haute-couture Designer, Member of the Australian Design Hall of Fame, RAQ award winner and fashion icon Richard de Chazal is a close personal friend. They’ve bonded over their mutual love of style and worked together on hair and makeup on race days. Nicole and Antonia Kidman were clients of her jewellery range Melea Lang Designs in its hey-day. She gives me an overview of that world.
“I remember watching the RAQ fashion awards. Richard was so flamboyant. When I found out Richard was coming to a race day in Toowoomba I was excited to meet him. I had on my black jersey Dogstar dress and, rather than a hat or fascinator, I wore a vintage broach in my hair. I introduced myself and because it was election day, he asked me to accompany him to vote. He calls me his country girl. I wanted that to happen and I made it happen.
“I managed the Chanel counter for Myer. I’ve worked backstage for the Sportsgirl Fashion shows in Melbourne and was even approached by a modelling agency in the Queen Victoria Building on a weekend away.
“I would fly to Sydney and take my jewellery, cold calling with my drag bag. I sold to stores in Byron Bay, Paddington, Hasting Street Noosa and Toowoomba,” she said.
It is this colourful past which is as intriguing as it is inspiring. The chic bon vivant she’s inhabited throughout her life has me totally fascinated. Not only has her image graced billboards and covers of fashion and feature magazines, but she also scored an acting role in the telemovie The Starter Wife which starred Hollywood actor Debra Messing. Locally she’s starred in television advertisements for the Hervey Bay RSL.
Melea is not one to boast, or even to hint at her accolades. I was aware of her uniqueness and sense of style, but totally unaware of her past successes in the world of fashion.
To understand how she evolved as a competent creative character we need to circle back to the beginning. The family influence was strong, and as luck would have it a significant intergenerational inspiration pervades. She tells me that her grandmother never left home without her red lipstick and matching shoes and bag. Melea continues the tradition choosing red lipstick as her trademark.
“My grandma and mum both sewed. As long as I remember mum had an old tea chest of clothes and fabrics that she would use for weddings.
“I did ballet from a very young age and mum made all the costumes. There were sequins and bits of satin and tulle all over the house.
“Of course, mum and dad had an interesting way of decorating the house and other things. I grew up surrounded by textiles and art.
“My cousins and I were always putting on concerts and fashion parades, swathing ourselves in fabrics,” she said.
While Melea did well at school she was never much interested in mainstream subjects. Creative pursuits suited her well. Academia was not for her so she left school to undertake a hairdressing apprenticeship. Melea excelled in hair, makeup and fashion.
“I worked at John Le Court on the Sunshine Coast and Stefan Hair Salons. I won awards and ended up training other apprentices, even before I was qualified.
“My whole life has revolved around fashion, art and creativity. I was a hair and makeup artist on the Fraser Coast for a long time doing, weddings, formals and other commercial work,” she said.
As a teenager she was totally immersed in the world of fashion. Posters of Kate Moss, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista (the original supermodels) were plastered across her bedroom walls. Later Melea’s innate aptitude for costume design and fashion flair saw others copy her unique designs.
“We used to run a dance club in Toowoomba. I was a paid dancer and always had to have an interesting outfit. I would make hotpants and velvet body suits with gold lame. One night I hand stitched clear plastic record covers together over my pants which was funny because they fogged up.
“I would muck around with designs and other people would start to copy them and wear what I was wearing.
“I did what I thought was fun and ‘out there’. I made a pair of lace flares out of vintage curtains which still fit me today,” she said.
It’s clear that Melea has been upcycling, which is also known as creative reuse, now for decades. Her home is filled with an eclectic array of fabrics, patchwork, craft, crochet, swathes and other bits and bobs which she turns into outlandish lampshades or creative costumes like angels’ wings for a recent charity trivia night. The ability to take something of no use and give it new life, or a second chance is her forte.
“I always loved going to Gardhams in Brisbane. At Dew Drop In in Hervey Bay I found their secret stash (of expensive fabrics). I go op-shopping for inspiration. I find things and pull them apart.
“Leelee West gave me a dress and I liked the style. I copied the shape of it adding patchwork and crochet pieces. I used fabrics, and even doilies, and sculptured the dress.
“I got an old tablecloth and random table scraps. Each fabric has a memory attached. I chuck it altogether. It doesn’t cost me anything and when I look on social media I see similar styles appearing,” she said.
While Melea is clearly comfortable creating something from nothing, what is intriguing is the reason why and how does her creative mind work. Totally at ease with who she is now (favouring red lipstick, leopard prints and fancy underwear), she often questioned her differences. A latent diagnosis for ADHD may well hold the key. Melea describes the diagnosis as life changing to a point where everything finally made sense.
“I now understand neural diversity. Thank goodness for differences and how we see and sense the world,” she said.
Apparently persons with neural diversity look at life through different neural pathways. Dr Sue Wilkinson explores this further in an article published October 23, 2019, titled Creativity and neurodiversity – is there a link?
“The brain regions associated with perception and pattern recognition light up more in neural divergent individuals. Creativity is borne from not only being able to view the world differently, but also by being knowledgeable in a particular area or subject.”
It seems that neural diversity can be highly beneficial. Melea sees the world in a novel way which is advantageous to her creative leanings and combined with dexterous abilities and a design skillset, she is entirely unique. Melea explains her process.
“There would be times late at night when I can’t sleep, and if my body is feeling alright I’m inspired to create. I do with whatever I have in the house. I am excited about the challenge. I give myself the task and I have enough stuff to use,” she said.
So it seems that knowledge is power and her diagnosis has further fuelled her desire to create. She now finds herself in such a positive mental state that her motivation for creativity and ability to produce has increased.
Completely liberated she is often found in a state of flow where new, exotic and creative pieces literally fly around her living room. It’s almost like that spoon full of sugar moment when Mary Poppins declares “in every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap – the jobs a game, and every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake.”
But seriously, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies this state of flow as where we feel our best, perform our best and fulfil our potential.
Apparently it is a beautiful state and he summarises that it is characterised by the sensations of feeling where our sense of self disappear, time distorts, and we feel a sense of serenity and focus. He said that people often describe flow as being in the zone. It’s exactly how Melea describes it.
“I feel upgraded. As if I’ve been released from confinement. It’s a state of bliss, love and light. I’m like a conduit sometimes, in a total state of flow.”
I can see how peaceful and at ease she is in this process and how finally she can accept her amazing talents.
Creative people often struggle with their variances in a world where the perceived normal is different for them.
It’s delightful knowing that the multi-talented Melea will always bring a colourful flair and flamboyance to our often-dreary old world.