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Generation Next Q&A: Melody Ehsani

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Melody Ehsani’s stock is on the rise. She has three collaborations in the works with Erykah Badu, clothing brand See You Monday, and Reebok, and her fans are the ladies you’re a fan of, namely, Alicia Keys, Badu, Ciara, Keri Hilson, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. All this after launching her namesake label in 2008.

How did Ehsani quickly get to where she is now? The Los Angeles-born Persian designer, who specializes in accessories and footwear, eschewed law school to pursue her creative passion. After she became a designer, she started to receive messages at her MySpace from stylists to use in photoshoots and fittings.

Ehsani’s personal style then caught the eye of Badu after she met the singer backstage at one of her concerts. Badu still rocks Ehsani’s accessories on and off the red-carpet -- most notably on the cover of her album, “New Amerykah.” As for Ehsani, this is just the beginning of her growing fanbase amongst stylists, fashion editors and celebrities.

We asked Ehsani about her inspirations, career changes and supporting women.

ESSENCE.com: How much is “Melody Ehsani” and how much is “them” when it comes to designing for artists?
MELODY EHSANI: It’s a case-by-case basis. Most of the time it’s my interpretation of what I think they want. I remember Badu called me one time and said, “I’m going to Paris next week. I’m meeting with this infamous palm reader that lives on top of a mountain and doesn’t see anyone but has agreed to see me. I’m doing a show. I want you to design a piece for me that’s inspired by the chakras.” It’s usually a Bat Mission like this. It’s very rare that the artist will send me references or will know what they want. They just know the feeling they want to convey and I take care of the rest.

ESSENCE.com: Where do you draw your inspirations?
MELODY EHSANI: Hip hop was an inspiration in my first couple collections. It’s still a part of me but I don’t feel like it has remained an inspiration in my work. Inspiration is ever advancing. To me it’s listening to the direction in which your soul is trying to guide you to. On a very surface level, it’s also connected to what magazines, blogs and books I’m consuming and people I’m interacting with.

ESSENCE.com: Can you describe your label’s appeal to the hip hop community?
MELODY EHSANI: Hip hop is such an extension of my upbringing that I think it was inevitable for any of the pieces that I made to not contain some of its influence. No one had interpreted the pieces that were big in the hip hop world -- three-finger rings, bamboo earrings -- the way I flipped them. I pioneered the movement of bringing back those pieces in different materials. I created the first pair of bamboos with Swarovski crystals on them and made multi-finger custom rings made out of plastic. The reinvention of something so classic in materials that were so new was edgy, exciting and attractive to artists.

ESSENCE.com: Who are your favorite hip hop artists past and present?
MELODY EHSANI: I love Big Daddy Kane, N.W.A., Salt-N-Pepa, Hieroglyphics, Lauryn Hill, Pharcyde, Biggie and so many more for the past. More recently, I love what Nicki Minaj is doing.

ESSENCE.com: Were your family and friends supportive of your career change?
MELODY EHSANI: Not really. They were very confused by my decision. Everyone acted like I had “changed” and I wasn’t being loyal to what I had been taught. I had to go up against inertia for a long time before people started to see me a little better for who I was. Unfortunately, the only reason why they finally started to come around was because I gained some sort of financial comfort and started working with big names who co-signed for me. Despite the process, I’m happy that they have come around at this point in my life.

ESSENCE.com: What triggered the career change?
MELODY EHSANI: I was on a quest to find “my passion.” The thought of waking up every morning for the rest of my life and going to a job that I didn’t absolutely love sounded worse than an arranged marriage. I was drawn towards law because I wanted to change the world. When I was able to see beyond the eyes of what my culture had made me believe, I saw nobility in design, and in turn finally saw nobility in myself and my gifts. At that point I had to break with what I thought was “good” for who I was and what I know I was created to do.

ESSENCE.com: A portion from each pair of your shoes purchased will go toward the advancement and education of women, how important was it for you to include charity to your label?
MELODY EHSANI: It was interconnected. I couldn’t really see how I would do one without the other. My whole reason in creating products that cater to women wasn’t only because I wanted them to look good on the surface, but I want them to have an emotional connection to how they feel and who they are and what they're doing in the world. I’m all about each one, teach one. You take all you have and you pay it forward.
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