Melinda Huff’s bathing suits take off
Story and photograph by Zoë Zellers
Swimwear images courtesy of Melinda Huff
“I think I was always sort of on the fringes,” says Melinda Huff, the engaging, pint-sized designer of Mirame, the smart, sexy swimwear line for women 25 and up. The aptly named Mirame, Spanish for “Look at me,” was launched in 2010 out of her Yorktown Heights home/studio, a mélange of family mementos and cultural artifacts.
“My family is really a smorgasbord of cultures and for me that really is a plethora of ideas for design.”
Her mother’s family emigrated from Honduras while her father’s comes from the former East Germany. Both her grandmothers worked as seamstresses back “when the Garment District was still downtown on the Lower East Side.”
Melinda actually grew up across the street from the eclectic house she lives in today, once the home of her paternal grandmother who with her sister made ready-to-wear dresses – “for Zsa Zsa Gabor and the Upper East Side ladies who lunched.”
Needless to say, the time Melinda spent watching her grandmother sew later influenced her appreciation for skilled craftsmanship, local and female-owned businesses and intriguing style.
“I started sewing, because I wanted to wear funky clothes and growing up in Westchester, it was really limited,” she says.
So she took trips to St. Mark’s Place “back when it was still edgy” and taught herself alteration to fit her petite frame.
For her eighth grade graduation, she couldn’t find a dress so she showed her grandmother a picture of what she was looking for.
“‘Oh, that’s easy,’” she said and surprised Melinda by delivering that perfect dress.
“It was just such an ‘a-ha’ moment for me. It was like,” Melinda tries to explain the first-time feeling, “this was in my imagination and now it’s real.”
Working with Norma
The same could be said for Mirame, which was recently recognized by the Women’s Entrepreneurial Development Center with its prestigious LEAP grant.
But Melinda’s fashion career took an unconventional path first when she decided to attend a Buddhist college in Colorado.
“I wanted to pursue new things…. It was all about going inward and exploring your own thing…. It’s really helped me working in the fashion industry, because it’s such a brutal industry and I think when I start to get caught up in it, I go back to those Buddhist philosophies.”
At 19 she left college to spend five months in Hawaii.
“I brought my sewing machine with me, because I always go everywhere with my sewing machine,” Melinda says.
“I had like a little side job collecting shellfish and exporting them, but I felt guilty. We were taking and sending them to like pet stores,” says the Buddhist, “so I wanted to find another way to make money. I just started going to fabric stores and sewing and selling swimsuits… and people really liked them. That’s how I first fell in love with swimwear.”
She went back to college and lived briefly in Washington, D.C. But New York City and fashion were on her mind again.
Given Melinda’s intensive sewing background, innate eye for design and comprehensive understanding of the body and movement, her fashion internships soon led to full-time positions at various fashion companies. Each experience taught her lessons in quality control, negotiations and time management. She speaks fondly of the important year and a half she spent working with Norma Kamali in 2009 in her “very cool self-contained unit” – a freestanding shop, sample and design space on 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
Norma’s attention to anatomy and movement, interest in health, use of stretch and mesh, color-blocking designs and body-conscious looks completely spoke to Melinda’s personal ideas of what fashion should be about as well as her background in health and healing.
“I was just so drawn to working with Norma, because I saw an alliance there and I just wanted to see somebody who’d been into it for so long, you know?”
She points out that Norma would make her team start and end the day with a to-do list and summary of daily accomplishments, and that’s a habit Melinda still uses to manage booking shoots, fashion shows, reaching out to local stores, designing her latest collection, raising an 11-month-old daughter, Salali, and planning her upcoming destination wedding to Dr. Christopher Saltpaw. (She’ll design her own white “traditional but interesting” bathing suit for the occasion).
When Norma Kamali lost her contract with Walmart, “she suddenly had to put on the brakes,” and Melinda was let go while she was pregnant with Salali.
“My skills in working with stretch were really advanced there, and so I felt once I left, I have to do this now and I have to do it while it’s fresh in my mind.”
Melinda returned to swimwear, thinking, “I want my suits to really be elegant and so then I thought, Well what kind of women are wearing that? They’re not necessarily 16-year-olds with these amazing bodies. They could be, but I was thinking about all of the women I know….There’s just not much out there for women who want to be covered up but they don’t want to wear a tent, you know what I mean? I really saw a hole there and I knew I had something to offer.”
Her unique, tasteful swimsuits (domestically made on 38th Street) range from $165 to $215 and are “definitely geared more toward the luxury market, more towards women who are going out to resorts in the South of France rather than Jones Beach,” she says.
“i want my suits to really be eleGant and so then i thouGht, well what Kind of women are wearinG that? they’re not necessarily 16-year- olds with these amazinG bodies. they could be, but i was thinKinG about all of the women i Know…. there’s just not much out there for women who want to be covered up but they don’t want to wear a tent, you Know what i mean?
“I really am a classic dresser and I want whatever I put out into the world to also be classic.”
Her clean, sculpted designs take their inspiration from a variety of sources, including vintage jewelry and tribal ornaments. “The Avengers” inspired an in-the-works Superheroes collection. But its color palette was drawn from the Hudson River’s silvery sheen, something that struck her as she crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge during the night of the recent supermoon. The idea of the Superheroes swimwear was further inspired by the “amazing real-life superheroes” she met through her women’s entrepreneurship course and by her youngest superhero, her daughter.
“Salali is a Cherokee name, and it’s an animal totem that represents friendliness and community but at the same time, precociousness and thinking about the future,” she says smiling. “Yeah, we’re sort of hippies.”
Melinda Huff’s swimwear is available at Beehive Co-Op, 337 Main St. in Mount Kisco, and at Stand Up Motion, 3 Bank St., Croton-on-Hudson. You’ll also find it at mirameswim.com, cargo.com and shopdeen.com. Zoë models “Ellen,” a suit from Mirame’s SS13 collection. It retails for $185 and is available for pre-order by contacting email@example.com.