top of page

An Interview with Melanie Wong

I first discovered Meadow Land through an Instagram ad. As much as I hate to admit it, the Instagram algorithm has me down to a T. I saw doll heads, lace, and a heart shaped sign and I knew I had to find out more.

At the time, Meadow Land was doing a pop-up at a souvenir store. Because of the bizarreness of the location, coupled with the unusual decorations, I thought it might be performance art and I wasn’t sure if the articles of clothing the photo displayed actually were for sale. I was headed home for the holidays, so I couldn’t visit the pop-up in person, but I was so intrigued. I visited the Meadow Land website and was immediately enchanted by the menagerie of tapestry jackets, silky slips, and subversively feminine aesthetics that greeted me. I knew I had found a kindred spirit.

A vest with Victorian dolls on it caught my eye right away, and conveniently I saw on Instagram that Melanie was having a sale for their birthday so I DM’d them and the rest is history. The doll vest is seriously one of the coolest clothing items I own, and I’ve been wearing it religiously this winter to add intrigue to my drab turtleneck outfits. I also recently bought a haunted doll off of Etsy and I think wearing the vest makes her less likely to curse me, but that’s a story for another time. A couple of weeks ago I grabbed dinner with Melanie and we discussed everything from Craiglist to using recycled materials to making puppet costumes. Read the full chaotic transcript in all its glory below:

Can you tell me about your inspirations and influences?

It comes from everything. I get a lot of inspiration from old Butterick and Simplicity sewing patterns. My memory is really poor so I’m not too good with references. I like to get inspired by going to museums and thrift stores. I never remember the names of anything so I just like to take photos and sketch as I exist in the world. Lots of home decor inspires me too, because most of my stuff is made from home decor. I also get a lot of inspiration from Craigslist.

Related to that, I’m curious about how you started working with the tapestry blankets?

I have no idea where the tapestry blankets came from actually. I know quilt jackets are a big trend right now, but I’m not too quilty because I think it’s too grandma-ish. I’m always trying to not cross that line of being too grandma. Of course, it’s subjective. A lot of people would look at my style and say it’s grandma-ish, but for me it hasn’t crossed that line yet. I’m always trying to not cross too far over into grandma or Lolita style. I want it to still be edgy somehow. I think the idea of working with blankets probably came to mind because I saw so many things made from quilts, but that didn’t speak to me so I started working with tapestry blankets instead.

How has Craiglist influenced your work?

That’s the thing. I don’t know how but I’m convinced it does. I think when you’re an artist, everything is relevant. All of your downtime is as relevant as your work time. I’ve never made art about Craigslist ever. I should and I’ve considered it before but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Something about the Souvenir Shop was very Craiglist-y. I like when you can just jump into things, and Craigslist is an easy way to jump into other people’s universes very quickly and out of nowhere. When you scroll through that website, it’s like a new world in every single listing. I think Craiglist influences how I present the brand conceptually rather than the clothing itself. The Souvenir Shop is definitely a byproduct of my Craiglist addiction and a byproduct of my time in Serbia as well. When I was in Serbia, I worked at a puppet theater.

Wait, really? That’s so cool. I’ve been super fascinated by puppetry lately. I’ve been reading all these books about the philosophy of puppets and stuff. That’s so fun to meet someone actually involved in that world.

Like Being John Malkovich

Love that movie

That’s a good movie.

I’m trying to teach myself ventriloquism right now but it’s not going well.

Do you just watch yourself in the mirror while twitching trying not to look like you’re talking?

Pretty much exactly.

When you said “practicing ventriloquism,” I had to get a mental image of that, and that is not a cute picture.

No, it’s very creepy. It’s very frightening even to me. But anyways what was your experience working in a puppet theater?

I had no experience in puppets when I got that job there. I was trying to go to the circus, but I went through the wrong door. I ended up meeting this guy who made puppets, and I asked him if he needed help, and he said “Sure, come by tomorrow.” So I did and I ended up working there for three months. I worked at a hostel at that time, and I knew no one. I had all this free time when I wasn’t working at the hostel so I just kept showing up there. He never once asked for my resume or asked for my qualifications. I just told him I could do it, and he said to do it. That’s not something that happens in New York at all. You need to know someone that knows someone and have all these qualifications. But this guy didn’t care about anything. He’s one of my best friends, my mentor, my boss, all these things. I think about that whole experience of living there and being part of that making community. Everyone was very self-sufficient. We didn’t have much money, so we would dumpster dive to get all the materials for the puppet show. You have to be very flexible when you don’t know what your materials are gonna be. Here, something like that is very audacious, but there it wasn’t. We just didn’t have the money, and needed a way to make this puppet show. Theater is an ideal medium because, at least in props, your job is to simulate the world. That could mean anything.

What did the puppets you made look like?

I wouldn’t say I made them. I was like a puppet assistant. He went to school for puppetry. Most of them were wooden, lots of foam, lots of paper mache. I was mostly sanding, and then I made a lot of the costumes because that’s where my specialty came in. But that experience definitely made me the artist I am today. There were moments where I would get asked to do things I’d never done before, and that freaked me out. But I had this like 14 yr old toxic masculinity boy in me that was like “You can do it, don’t ask questions just do it.” I was asked to unclog a pipe in the kitchen and he explained over email what I needed to do. He said, “You’re going to have to untwist everything and a lot of shit will come out. Like solid pieces of gunk will come out. There will be water everywhere and it will be hell.” And I was like, “ok.” It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever done in my life. Just because someone told me I could do it, I did it. The next day, I was really hoping to get his approval, for him to be impressed that I did it. But he was not. He was just like “Ok, you did it. Wasn’t it gross?” To him it was like nothing.

Yeah I was going to ask you if you’ve been involved in any other artistic disciplines aside from fashion, and how that has informed your practice.

Yeah that experience is exactly that. And theater. Oh my god, fashion people look down on theater people all the time. But I’m so glad I was involved in theater because it gave me the ability to flow freely with my craft. I’m not as scared. I teach sewing too, and when I do private lessons, people will be so scared to cut fabric. And I get it. It feels like something unapproachable. But I try to remind them that it’s just scissors, it’s just fabric. There’s something called The Fixer’s Manifesto. It’s like ten rules about people’s right to fix things. It’s kind of lost today. You look at Apple, and they glue the parts of Airpods together so people can’t fix it. Or they make iPhones unhackable so no one can have that authority. But anyways, theater has helped me not be intimidated. Sometimes there’s time constraints, and things need to be done on the spot even if it’s not perfect.

How would you describe your style and how has it developed over time?

I have like 10 different personalities when it comes to style. I’m only dressed like this now because I know what I’m going to be talking about and who I’m seeing. But half the time I’m dressed in streetwear. I don’t have a set style which makes my closet way too big. But in terms of dressing in the aesthetic of Meadow Land the brand, I’d say it’s really kitschy, cottagecore, sort of Victorian, and scrappy in a way. When I think of kitsch I think of very organized things. Sometimes kitsch is in bad taste because things are placed so perfectly. I like to mix that with the scrappiness of DIY. When I make a lot of my things, I’ll just drape them and sew them as they come, so it comes really organically.

What’s behind the name Meadow Land?

That’s because my uncle couldn’t pronounce my name. My name is Melanie and Meadow Land is a racetrack in Jersey. Chinese people love betting on horses. So he knows the name of the racetrack but he couldn’t pronounce my name.

Could you describe your process for designing a garment?

I don’t want to make things that are too unwearable because that can happen very easily. But I want to sell things too. And balancing those things is really hard, because I want this to be not just a side project. In terms of my one-offs, I’ll usually put it on the form and just pin, and wherever it goes it goes. I like to look at runway shows and try to replicate those kinds of patterns into what I’m doing. I don’t sketch though, because sketching implies that you’re making something from start to finish, and I don’t feel like I’m ever doing that, because I’m using something that already exists out in the world. But with the blankets, they are hard to sew so I try to keep the silhouettes straightforward so that I can make it. The process of making clothing, if you work for a design company or go to fashion school, is very rigid. It’s very clean and organized. I went to FIT, which was very prestigious in the technical sense. But it kind of makes you scared to just let things flow. It’s not like painting or any of the traditional visual arts, and I kind of want to go back into that way of making things. In school, if I just draped and sewed, I would fail. Because a factory could never remake it. So I’m trying to unlearn that. But it’s always a mix of things that are really organized and more spontaneous.

How did you go about starting your brand?

I started my brand from a grant in 2020 called Trashfest. It was a grant for artists to make things out of trash. This was during the pandemic and I was waiting to start my job in Italy, but I ended up staying another year in New York. In that year, I got this grant. So I just took my parents’ blankets and started making clothes. My first collection was about exploring cottagecore but with a POC twist. When you get into that aesthetic, you realize that all the blankets that you want to use with dolls on them are covered with white dolls. And you look at movies that have this aesthetic, like Marie Antoinette or Virgin Suicides– they’re all white people. I haven’t revisited that theme yet but I’d like to soon. It’s strange because the aesthetic is sort of romanticizing a past where there was more white supremacy. One thing people have said to me a lot with my Barbie jackets is “Do you ever do Black Barbie?” because they think I’m designing the material but I’m not. There are no Black Barbie tapestries. But I always feel really bad. Even with the Souvenir Store where I had a bunch of baby dolls for decoration, it was kind of hard finding POC baby dolls. These are all things I think about. I’m always thinking in my head, how can I make this aesthetic less white?

Yeah, especially since you’re using materials that already exist. Have you come up with any solutions as to how to make things more inclusive?

In terms of the doll blankets, no. I can’t really do anything about that. I try to balance it out by not making those as much of a focal point. If you’re working with things that already exists, you can’t change that. So I just try to direct attention to other things. I’m hoping to revisit those themes. In the beginning, I was doing a lot of chinese silhouettes with lace and tablecloths and stuff like that.

Do you have a favorite memory since starting Meadow Land?

Probably the Souvenir Shop. That was the first time I could say the brand was not just a brand, but also art. That whole Souvenir Shop wasn’t really a store so much as it was a performance piece. This is something that I’ve been reflecting on a lot in the past few weeks. I could never make money at the Souvenir Shop, that was never something I expected. Every hour, maybe one homeless person would come in on drugs. This was near Port Authority. It was German and French tourists and someone on crack. It wasn’t my target demographic. No one really goes into souvenir stores in general. I don’t know how they make the money to stay there. Souvenir stores are really suspicious in general. But anyways, it’s my favorite memory because I think it was my first realization of space for my brand. Like, what are the things that surround this brand that make it a whole universe? What is the aesthetic of it beyond clothing? Technically it was a store and a showroom, but really it was a child’s lemonade stand. That’s how I see it. It’s very crafty, very DIY, kind of going against what people think of when you say “I’m going to start a fashion brand in NYC.” That area is very expensive, it’s the garment district, it’s near Times Square. It’s on Fashion Ave. It’s like technically, I’m not not on Fashion Ave, I’m just at this souvenir store. I also had to work at the Souvenir store in order to get the space, instead of paying rent. I would haggle with foreigners and unpack keychains from China.

What stands out to me, looking back, is that it was a performance piece. It was kind of anticapitalist in its approach because I avoided so many of the traditional steps to becoming a fashion designer and having a store. I’m from New York, and I see it as the epitome of capitalism. It makes you feel like you have to specialize in something in order to survive. People get very tunnel-visioned, and that prevents them from becoming self-sufficient and exploring other things, and they don’t have that childlike ingenuity to just do anything, and that’s what the Souvenir Store was about. I grew up thinking that there was a tight path to do anything, and it was nice to skip over that and do something roughly and scrappily.

I’m glad you mentioned that element of performance because when I saw your ad on Instagram, I did think it was a performance art piece and I wasn’t sure if the items were actually for sale or not. I was like, “I hope they are!” What kind of visitors came to the store, and did anyone buy anything? What were your buyers like?

Only two people came to the store by accident and saw my sign outside, and actually wanted to come in and see what I had. They looked like influencers from Instagram. But in general, no one really noticed it. It was fascinating how little people noticed it. Tourists would come in to the souvenir store and didn’t even notice it. At first it was discouraging. To me, my area of the store was obvious. There were doll heads on hooks and I had a glittery sign and I was sewing and everything. But then it became interesting. I was right behind a shoe display, so if I turned behind me, I could see people looking at shoes and pretending like I wasn’t there. I think because NYC has so much going on, people don’t bat an eye at anything. People didn’t question my existence there which I thought was very New York. One thing that was strange, people would pick up garments and stuff, and once they saw the price they didn’t even bat an eye. Which was weird because they were haggling over T shirts that cost $5. But when I’m like “Oh I made that, it costs $375,” they’re just like “Ok.” They didn’t buy it, but they didn’t care about the price.

What was your experience at FIT like?

I honestly can’t complain. It was such a good school. Usually fashion schools cost a lot of money, but at the time that I went FIT was $8k a year if you lived in New York. It’s one of the most technical fashion schools, I think. When I think of like Parsons or The Royal Academy or Central Saint Martins, their programs are designed to train you to be a creative director. The truth is when you go into the fashion world, there’s not actually much sewing. So when you get a job, you’re not going to be working with your hands probably. But in school, you do a lot of sewing. And at FIT you’re trained to do a lot of it perfectly. That helped me to feel comfortable with making. But it hindered me too. Because a lot of my peers didn’t start fashion brands, whereas you see that more with Parsons grads and other schools. I think it’s because FIT grads are so stuck on things being perfect. Like I was saying earlier, with draping things and sewing them, I feel like if you submitted that kind of work at Parsons, you would do fine. But at FIT, you would fail because it’s all about makeability. Because of that mindset, a lot of people are very anxious about what they’ve made. This new approach I’ve taken of unlearning that means that I get side-eyed by some people that went to my school because it’s not perfect. But it was also really helpful because I got very comfortable with sewing and creating. If you look at a lot of indie brands that are out at the markets, you’ll see that most of the designers are not actually fashion designers, they’re artists. Because when you don’t come from a specific background, you feel comfortable making mistakes because you never learned to do it the right way. That’s always been a very frustrating but very motivating thing for me. They’re fearless and their stuff is made really bad. It’s inspiring to see people going for it. And it motivates me because I know I can do better. I feel really nervous when FIT people come to see my stuff because I know they care about construction in a way that the others don’t. But I feel pretty comfortable with my construction skills. One of the highest compliments I’ve ever received in my life is when someone took one of my Barbie coats to a dry cleaner’s and the cleaners were really impressed by the hand-sewn details.

Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve made?

Yeah, it’s from the first collection I made. It’s a top made from a table runner. If not that one though, then the Victorian doll jacket. But with that one, it’s really the print that makes it. It’s hard to convince people to get expensive things though. With the jackets, they draw people in, but they don’t sell. It’s rough. I need to find my Commes des Garcon heart T-shirt kind of thing. For me right now, that’s probably the slips. I’m trying to get into jewelry as well. I made a choker today.

I saw that on your Instagram story! It looked really cool.

Thanks! Lugging the jackets to markets is just so difficult. I wanna have something small that sells well so I can make more creative larger things.

My last question is: what advice would you give your younger self?

I don’t know because I feel like everything I’m doing now is the result of everything I’ve done in the past. I think I did everything fine. The only thing I would say to myself is not to stress out too much during the process. Obviously I didn’t know where I would end up. I went through like 20 different aesthetics before I landed on this one. My first fashion show was not like this at all. I was eighteen, and this is like proof of the whole FIT being judgemental thing. One of my friends came to the show and was like, “I’m so impressed by this, I could never do it. I overthink too much.” People in our generation overthink everything and don’t get things done. Anyway, this friend said to me “I was looking at it, it’s not sewn perfectly at all but you did it!” It was a really backhanded compliment. I just did the best I could. I thought it was sewn pretty okay. But yeah the advice I’d give to someone is to explore different aesthetics. I’ve been thinking of doing another brand or studio because I have these ideas that I can’t figure out how to mesh with Meadow Land.


bottom of page