MEET MELINDA MARQUARDT, THE VALE’S FOUNDER AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR
PART 1: THE FORMATIVE YEARS
Tell us about your childhood... where did you grow up?
Melinda Marquardt: I was born in Chicago. When I was 1 year old, my parents moved our family to London because my father got a job in finance, investing banking in Russia. We went over on the QE2 in 1989. I grew up in Chelsea from the age of 1 until I was 18 years old. [Chelsea is an affluent, cosmopolitan district in Central London known for its posh residents, high-end shopping and popular football club.] The street we lived on was The Vale, which is now the name of my company. Over the years we moved to different houses, but we always stayed on The Vale. My parents just loved it. Each of my collections is named after this part of London: 'Beaufort' as in Beaufort Street, 'Sloane' as in Sloane Square, 'Oakley' as in Oakley Street, and 'World's End' as in the World's End district in Chelsea.
Where did you attend school?
MM: I went to all British schools. My parents didn't want me to be the foreign girl in London. They wanted me to grow up in British society because they knew that I was going to be there for a long time. So instead of sending me to the American School in London, they put me through a proper British education, which I feel very lucky to have had. When I was 16, I went to boarding school at Bedales in Hampshire, England. Bedales is a very artsy school and has a reputation in the UK for being a little bit out there. The students call their teachers by their first names, you can wear whatever you want, and all of the classes are mixed with both boys and girls. It's very liberal compared to your typical British boarding school. From there I returned to the US to go to university at Skidmore, a private liberal arts college in upstate New York.
Were there any members of your family that nurtured your love of the creative arts?
MM: It's really weird. We don't have any artists in the family. It makes no sense. My mom is creative. She worked in fashion as the head of personal shopping at Harvey Nichols. She was quite famous in her day, dressing people like Princess Diana and Oprah Winfrey. Wherever it came from, they noticed my artistic streak at a young age. I remember very clearly always wanting to get the kids' sets of paints and markers. I was always getting them as gifts from my parents and my aunts and uncles, these elaborate artist sets for kids. And every time I got one, I was so taken by all of the colours. I was this little girl who was constantly, constantly drawing. I literally had a notebook on me at all times. I found a bunch of them recently when my parents moved houses, and looked through all of them. There are years and years of sketchbooks in there, including a lot of fashion drawings from when I was 10. So yes, they all found it interesting that I was so drawn to art, but they didn't really know if it would go anywhere.
A lot of your collections are inspired by travel. Was travel a big part of your upbringing? Was seeing the world something that your family prioritised? Being a student of the world?
MM: 100 percent. My father very specifically wanted us to be more worldly. I remember him forcing us to read Newsweek articles so that we would be aware of what was going on in the world. Three times a year we would travel. And we would have our one big family trip that would be very educational. It would always be somewhere very important like Egypt or Russia. He would hire historians and tour guides to ensure that we got the most education out of it. The man loved learning!
As a kid, did you enjoy these educational trips?
MM: When we were really young, no. But now, thinking back on the trips we took when I was a little bit older, I did—very much so. I mean, I don't think I truly appreciated going to the Vatican when I was 13 [laughs]. I was like, 'Why are we here?' But as a young adult, when I began studying the history of the world in school, that's when the interest started. I remember being in an art history class at Bedales and then going to Rome that year. My mindset totally shifted. I was connecting with the art and the architecture because I was seeing firsthand what I was learning about. If you just go, and you have no frame of reference, it's more difficult to engage a child.
In terms of your formal education, where and what did you study?
MM: In the United Kingdom, the format for education is very different from the United States. WHen you turn 16 in the UK, you're forced to pick your four favourite subjects for study. You're not picking your career, you're just saying this is what I'm interested in, this is what I like. I picked design and technology, fine art, english and business. It's funny... I remember specifically choosing Textile Design, which is so weird because I had no idea that this was going to be my career. The following year, you're asked to drop another subject, so I dropped English. By the time I got to university, I was already on a path—arts and business. But it wasn't until Skidmore that I was able to be fully immersed in all of the fine arts, from painting and drawing to photography and graphic design. I was able to learn every aspect, and it really did inform where I am today. Because without that formal education, I wouldn't be able to do the graphics, the photography and the marketing—all of the other things I do at The Vale.
The majority of what The Vale produces is hand-drawn. How much drawing were you doing at university?
MM: A lot. I was fine in high school, and of course got into university with my portfolio, but I hadn't been formally trained yet. Iona Parks was my drawing professor at Skidmore. She was so hard on everybody, but it made me very good. She taught me how to draw properly. And my business degree from Skidmore has been way more useful than I thought it would be [laughs]. Roy Rotheim, the head of the Department of Economics, invited me into a by-invitation-only, entrepreneurial partnership program. The professors partner you with businesses in town in Saratoga Springs, and you work with them as a consultant. That was the most crucial education I ever received. Rotheim was the best professor I ever had.
To be continued...