Interior designer, Patrick Mele grew up, he told us, “in a chicken coop on a farm” but the chicken coop was pretty near Greenwich, where his family owned and ran high-end restaurants. He knew the Greenwich way of life, shall we say, but as he puts it, “I was so immersed in it, but so not it.” Both his style and his career are richly influenced by so many things, old Connecticut, Kate and Andy Spade, for whom he worked, the fashion world and knowledge of store design picked up from a stint at Ralph Lauren. Then of course, there is his own very good eye. His apartment is charming without being that dread thing, “whimsical” and there’s a confident glamour to it as well: curtains spill on to the floor; a deep velvet sofa is truly comfortable while vivid color thrown against a black-and-white foundation draws the eye and enlivens the space. The apartment easily made it on to our (rather short) list of places we would want to live in.
So we know that you worked for Andy and Kate Spade early on in your career—how did you meet them?
At eighteen I met Andy and Kate Spade when I was at Syracuse studying architecture and design but I was really interested in these fashion courses they had. I took some electives and the head of the department asked me to be the, what do you call it … the student representative to go pick up these fashion designers and bring them around campus. There was a lecture series so I met Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and Kate and Andy were doing a lecture. We really hit it off and they asked me to come an intern with them that summer.
Oh you lucked out!
Were you able to talk easily to people like Oscar de la Renta?
Oh my God, I was so overwhelmed! But you know I’ve been reading every fashion magazine since I was probably eleven years old. It was like … “What are you reading Patrick? It’s not your science homework …”
What did your parents think of this?
My parents both love design but I grew up in the restaurant business. They opened restaurants in and around Greenwich and Westchester. We’re out of the business now—we sold them.
What kind of restaurants were they?
They were contemporary American, sort of Danny Meyer-esque. My dad designed all of them. For Restaurant 64 (now closed) in Greenwich he took over this hideous, horrible place and he took apart a 1920s mansion in Scarsdale that was being torn down, took out the spiral staircase, took the carriage doors from the carriage house and created this whole restaurant out of a 1920s Georgian home.
Oh, so the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
When people are like, “How did you get started?”, I mean I grew up around it. And my parents’ friends were interior designers, artists, gay, black … a diversely rich group of individuals. I grew up in a chicken coop on a farm not some big colonial house, you know. I was so immersed in it, but so not it. I love and am inspired by people from all walks of life, regardless of their position in society.
Why do you think Andy and Kate Spade picked you?
I don’t know. I am curious. I think they liked my work ethic, probably. I didn’t mind packing nine million boxes. I didn’t mind doing anything. I was really interested in what I was learning for the first time ever. High school was great—well, I got through it, but I couldn’t wait to be an adult. I couldn’t wait to get to New York … I just couldn’t wait.
Can you explain what you may have had in common with the Spades and their aesthetic?
They have a real American point of view but not a prissy East Coast point of view. They really knew about design. They had these people on their team who had real expertise, like people who knew about font design from the 50s and 60s or they could reference different authors. Their knowledge was interesting. I would go with [my boss] to Brimfield and go shopping. We would buy oil paintings or pottery from the 50s and 60s, so I would learn about that. It was about a whole lifestyle brand. It was very sort of like 60s … Slim Aarons … Michigan 1967 … school girl … Royal Tenenbaum-y … a little bit eccentric, a little bit weirded off … never, like the sexy girl, always the inquisitive, geeky kind of girl who was sexy at the same time.
Did you understand that?
I was getting to understand it. I was sometimes like, “Why this dorky thing?” I always really loved glamorous.
What do you like now?
So many things … at the moment I love Dries van Noten.
And you worked for Ralph Lauren too, didn’t you?
I had an amazing job. It was crazy. I was 22 and on my first day I was picked up in black Mercedes, driven to the airport and then I travelled for two months to Milan, London, San Francisco, Dallas … to go and make the stores look beautiful.
Ralph Lauren seems to have a few fixed themes, Downton Abbey, colonial Africa, the Southwest and so on … it seems restrictive in a way.
It’s always the same maybe six or so themes with variations on the theme. They’re wonderful themes, very cinematic, but I’m interested in more … I’ve always wanted to have my own business and my own brand. Like, the Southwest is a category that you can keep going and going on … but I’m like, “Can we dissect a little more?” They’re very literal. It’s polished and like a Disney version of the real, authentic thing. All of that is an illusion.
But everyone is selling illusion to somebody, right?
Are still surprised at how susceptible people are to fantasy?
No … because I am!
Are most of your clients young?
No. Actually most of them are late baby boomers … like my parents’ age.
You seem to use a lot of zebra skins … what do you like about them? I just learned a fact about zebras—they never look as if they’re starving and you can only tell if they are starving by their manes, which droop.
Really? Yes I love zebras. But I like a lot of different things, so the black and white is just a clean foundation. I dress in black and white mostly. It’s easy. It’s chic. It’s clean. I feel clean, you know like, scrubbed-clean. I never get tired of it.
How are you with technology?
Horrible. Always been. I’m as good at it as I need to be.
Where do you like to travel?
I was in Europe this summer. I love London … maybe it’s an American fantasy of it.
Where would you like to go?