Mel Wong of Mel Scouts dreams of making American vintage jewelry accessible and wearable for all women. Though typically thought of as pieces for themed or costumed parties, Mel believes that vintage jewelry can easily be worn everyday, just as it was 50 years ago. Vintage pieces have history, and we can only imagine the stories they’d tell.
Mel’s love of scouting through flea markets and her passion for the history of every piece inspires the Dreamer in us all.
Darling Magazine: Why is it important to you to make American vintage jewelry accessible to all women?
Mel: I want women all over to understand that American vintage jewelry is relevant and very well made. Despite its age, American vintage simply feels better constructed than pieces found at major retailers. Also, the natural patina on many vintage pieces simply cannot be reproduced.
I also want women to realize that wearing vintage jewelry can be for everyday wear and not just for themed period parties (Mad Men parties). In the 21st century, the trend is to blend different pieces — both high end and low end — together. Certainly, the same can be done with blending different periods.
I have arranged vintage into different collections. The Classic Collection gives women the chance to find pieces that are simple and minimal and can easily be incorporated into many assembles. My Uniquely You Collection, on the other hand, has more personality where I hope the customer is able to find a piece that they can really relate with.
DM: What fascinates you about vintage jewelry?
Mel: A few years ago, my husband and I bought a small, yellow, 1910 Colonial Revival house in Alameda, California. I came to love the architectural details of the house. As we were furnishing the house – many of our pieces were sourced from antiques markets. We mixed new and old pieces.
Through this exercise of furnishing our house, I began realizing the same practice could be applied to my own style. I began buying vintage jewelry and discovering the quality and handiwork in those pieces. My choice in clothing is simple and clean lined. I enjoy being different, and by wearing vintage it allows me to have small details that not everyone has.
Also, the dreamer in me appreciates wondering who could have owned the piece. Was she going through a moment of celebration or was she facing rough bumps in her life?
I enjoy being different, and by wearing vintage it allows me to have small details that not everyone has.
DM: Are there any pieces you’ve found that have stood out to you?
Mel: Back in 2011 – on my first scouting trip for Mel Scouts, I picked up a beautiful ivory mid-century bird in flight. I was taken by the overall beauty of this piece – the simple shape, the creamy backdrop with contrasting tiny black dots at each wing. To this day, it has become one of my most treasured pieces for its aesthetic and what it represents.
The clean lines of the bird personify the aesthetic direction of the many pieces that I curate. I love finding pieces that embody the feeling of grace and beauty. This bird represents freedom. I feel free to make my own decisions and take action in my own life. A large part of my twenties were spent going with the flow and doing what was expected of me by society’s standards. The idea of freedom got me thinking about what I wanted to achieve in my life and less about following standards. Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers has given me insight about success. My belief is that using the three ingredients of talent, hard work and opportunity are all essentials to leading a successful and free life.
DM: What is your process like while looking for the jewelry?
Mel: In the curation process, I have to be extremely picky about what goes into my shop, hence requires that I go out weekly and look through many pieces to get to a handful of quality pieces. I do find many of my pieces at weekend markets. To get in the zone, I typically start hitting the markets early in the morning before other weekend shoppers start. The quiet allows me to focus.
Once I have found a potential piece, I apply filters of excellence: quality, condition, material and construction. Looking for markings to see who manufactured the item allows me to do further research.
At times, I also love to ask the vendor questions like when it was made, who previously owned it, and what it is made out of. I want to disclose as much information to my buyers. The market is my classroom and the vendors are my teachers – I am sure to learn something new each time.
DM: Where is your number one place to scout vintage finds?
Mel: Most of pieces are from the San Francisco Bay Area. My number one place to scout is right literally just in my backyard right in Alameda – the town which I call home. Monthly, the Alameda Antiques Faire at the old naval base is where we have 800 vendors with the majestic skyline of San Francisco as the backdrop. I came to discover the Alameda Antiques Faire in the most organic way. Back in 2006, on a lazy Sunday, I was riding my bike with my boyfriend (now husband) and we literally bumped into the antiques faire. I was intrigued from the start.
Every few months, I head to the Los Angeles area for a wider range of scouting. When I am in the LA area, I have a chance to catch up with my dear friend Vivian from Etablir who owns a beautifully curated and styled vintage rental business.
Keep up with Mel Scouts via her blog here, and follow @melscouts on Twitter and Instagram.
Images courtesy of Phil Wong