Where dress becomes part of the design

I noticed the logo on Haresh's pinstriped shirt and asked him if there was any significance of the design. He replied it was the depiction of the Greek mythological character Medusa created by famed fashion designer Gianni Versace. Most of Versace couture consisting of high-end apparel, jewellery, watches, fragrances, cosmetics, and home furnishings has the unique Versace Greek print of Medusa and / or the Greek key motif. After the death of Versace in 1997, his sister Donatella Versace stepped in as creative director of Versace and dropped the motif to modify the brand. But the new line was discontinued soon after its inception due to declining sales.

This conversation took place at Long Beach Airport, a suburb of Los Angeles in August of 2007. Haresh had a licence from famed designer Roberto Cavalli to open a Just Cavalli Store in San Diego. We were going to see the flagship Just Cavalli Store on the famous Fifth Ave. in New York City which was under construction. Our plane was delayed due to bad weather, so we relaxed at the airport lounge with a cup of coffee and engaged in a conversation about the journey Haresh Melwani took from Pune, India, to the high-fashion world of Italian designers.

After getting a degree in chemistry from an University in Pune in 1969, he was faced with the prospect of living on a salary of Rs 400 per month. With an affinity to all the good things in life, he quickly discovered that this amount would not be able to pay for his wardrobe let alone food and other necessities to live a fulfilling life. In those days, Hong Kong welcomed everyone from the Commonwealth countries and was in the process of formulating an Immigration policy, which would require a Visa for everyone who wanted to travel there. So Haresh boarded the last available flight before the new system went in effect to start his new life.

   

Glossy white one metre squares of thick flooring were getting installed, light fixtures with unique trims were getting in place and carefully blended into the ceiling with drywall muddy paste

 

 

The vibrant city took Haresh towards a career path far away from the world of science and chemistry; he discovered the world of fashion! Haresh became fascinated with the world of colours, patterns, fabrics, textures, shapes and styles and how it all came together and affected the feelings of the people. While working as a sales person in a women's boutique, Haresh's passion for fashion intensified and he knew what he would do for the rest of his life.

 

Hong Kong was the perfect place to learn about the nuts and bolts of the fashion world. Haresh got first-hand knowledge about the industry. He knew who the players were and how the process evolved from a concept to a creative mind and to the various steps that it needed to undergo before a piece of clothing was displayed on a rack in a boutique and finally someone looking and feeling fabulous once it became part of his / her wardrobe. After spending five years working in the women's fashion industry in Hong Kong, he migrated to he USA in 1974.

When Haresh arrived in Las Vegas in 1974, he saw abundance of opportunity in the city. The Las Vegas in those days was very different than it is today. In those days, Vegas was primarily a tourist destination. People went there to stay in hotels on the strip, and gamble and watch their favourite celebrities perform live in shows in various hotels. The city had very little to offer in other arenas and the local wealthy people went to Los Angeles and New York to shop.

Armed with the fashion know-how acquired from Hong Kong, Haresh saw lots of opportunities in what he was most passionate about - fashion. He discovered that many of the celebrities who starred in the lavish shows produced could use a hand with their fashion coordination. He started working with the celebrities and building wardrobes of singers, magicians, dancers and the casts of people involved in the business of entertaining public. He used his connections from Hong Kong to fulfil the unique needs of the showbiz industry on the strip. His passion with fashion increased more and more. He became extremely fond of designers Gianni Versace, Gianfranco Ferré, Missoni and Yves Saint aurent. This fondness eventually led to the opening of his first boutique in Las Vegas featuring clothes of his favourite designers. After the success of his Las Vegas store, Haresh opened a boutique in Los Angeles, supplying wardrobes to movie studios for stars of soap operas including the main cast of the Bold and the Beautiful.  

 

Haresh became fascinated with the world of colours, patterns, fabrics, textures, shapes and styles and how it all came together and affected the feelings of the people

   

 

A trip to Milan in 1991 and meeting Versace's organisation the same year led to Haresh getting the franchise to open the first Versace store in Las Vegas. The store was to be located in the first shopping resort visualised by the developers Simon Company. It was a bold step since at that time Las Vegas was not viewed as a shopping Mecca as it has been now and everyone went to Beverly Hills to buy their designer clothes. The Versace store opened its doors in 1992 and this store deepened Haresh's relationship with high-powered Italian fashion houses.

 

Our plane landed in New York five hours later than it was scheduled and by the time we reached the hotel it was 10 pm. The next morning we went to the Just Cavalli Store under construction, the store was slated to open in few weeks and the place was buzzing with activity. The wall fixtures were being installed by the team which made them. Glossy white one metre squares of thick flooring were getting installed, light fixtures with unique trims were getting in place and carefully blended into the ceiling with drywall muddy paste, the fibre optic strands were carefully run and their tips carefully punctured through the ceiling to create buds of light to simulate stars in the sky. A young lady who was in charge of the project jokingly stated that she had to run all over New York to stock up on imported Italian beer to keep the workers motivated.

After seeing the store, the passionate vision, which made the concept unique became apparent. Along with becoming familiar with components of the blocks that constituted the fabric of the store and gathering technical information which could help with the execution of the project, the most important thing I gathered was the spirit of the concept. That undesirable, intangible yet undeniable essence had permeated the experience. A mindset altering event had transpired.

For the Italian designers retail is all about storytelling, they are dream weavers and everything blends in with the concept of a boutique. The clothing in the boutique weaves into the store design and attention is given to all the details. The clothes are not just thrown onto racks; the racks are designed to respond to the clothes. Every detail is important since it has to maintain passion of story.

Designing the Just Cavalli Store in San Diego was an exciting journey. Every major element of the project came from Italy; the fixtures and furniture, lighting, signs, flooring, even the door handles. Those which were local were the framing materials, sheet rock, storefront glass and local construction labour. To some people it may sound like very prima donna to have gone through such painstaking details and the expenses. However, after seeing the finished project all doubts disappear. The finished project tells the story. The price tag of the dresses displayed is justified by the environment in which they are displayed. The dress becomes part of the design and the design becomes a part of the dress, they are both inseparable.

When the Just Cavalli Store in San Diego opened in November 2007, even the flowers in the vases were white thus contributing to the storytelling and reinforcing the purity of the concept.

When I asked Haresh what his secret of success has been he replied Intent with Integrity. When one's intent is single-pointed and honourable, it permeates every being of one core. When the intent is pure and the vision is clear all the pieces fall into place. With this philosophy, he has been able to achieve what many large corporations with their billions of dollars have not been able to achieve, having famous designers give them a licence to do their stores. Haresh has recently finalised the deal for the first flagship store for designer John Galliano at the Forum Shops in Las Vegas.

(The writer is the Founder & President, DRV Design, San Diego, USA. He earned his B Arch from Sir J J College of Architecture, Mumbai, and moved to the US in 1974. He can be contacted at feedback@drvdesign.com)