I am thrilled to kickstart my Creative Conversations blog series with an insanely talented stylist with whom I love to create visual stories.
Melle Van Sambeek (also known as @sailor_and_scout_home on Instagram), is an Australian- born, Auckland-based multi-talented stylist who I met a few years ago on a photoshoot.
We clicked immediately over a shared artistic sensibility and have been collaborating on many professional and personal projects ever since.
Melle is a creative dynamo who is never not doing something beautiful. She has a natural ability to make people dream with the visual stories she tells. I recently caught up with Melle to discuss her creative process and understand what keeps her so passionate and inspired.
I felt so energised and ready to create at the end of our conversation that I hope it will equally inspire you.
HB: Do you remember the first time we collaborated?
MELLE: Yes, I was the hair and make-up artist on our photoshoot and I had this idea of using lots of feathers on models. You were so open to ideas and to playing creatively that I immediately knew we had a similar way to approach creative solutions.
I love that you give me honest feedback and are always so constructive.
HB: Your transition from being a creative doing hair and make-up to lifestyle and interiors styling was seamless. Why do you think the evolution was so natural?
MELLE: When I was a kid, I used to draw plans in my room and change it around all the time. I was already obsessed with magazines and I would look at the pictures, get inspired and transform my room. I grew up in a small town in Western Australia where I didn’t know what these things were. I knew I loved what I saw but I had no idea you could style rooms professionally or dress the pages of a magazine. It was simply not something I was aware of.
I found school tedious, probably because I was a creative and that the dry academic program simply didn’t resonate with me. I wanted to do concrete things instead of sitting on a school bench listening about theories. I was eager to work so I did an hairdressing apprenticeship and soon I was travelling the world doing hair, and then make-up, on photoshoots.
I would make mental notes of places and interiors that I found beautiful and I would bring back objects to style my house. Interiors was always a passion.
Eventually my house was featured in a magazine and the then editor of Your Home and Garden told me that I had the eye of a lifestyle stylist. I had never thought of it but when I thought about it, I realised that I had been lucky to watch other creatives at work for years and that in a way, I had been trained by great pros. Over the years I had learnt what height and scale means, what adding and subtracting means, what makes a shot, what is needed to create a story.
Sometimes it takes one person to say out loud what you’ve known all along. Styling interiors and lifestyle comes naturally to me because it’s been a lifelong passion. But because I had become a hair and make-up stylist, I didn't think of it as a professional skill. I don’t take this extra skill for granted and I am constantly learning, whether taking courses to hone my craft or reading about new materials and ideas.
HB: What does it mean to be creative for you?
MELLE: When I was younger, I never really felt that I was that good at anything. Often, when you are creative, you don’t fit in the regular mould. I was not particularly good at school and because of that, I didn’t think I was good at anything. When I started doing hair, I had to think creatively, so I understood at that time what being creative meant. Working on sets and on locations around the globe has taught me that being creative is a way of thinking differently about the world. It’s only when I got older that I realised what I was good at.
I am a maker. I can make something out of nothing. I think this is what I am good at: problem solving creatively to make things work and be beautiful. This is what Sailor and Scout is about: a creative expression of that unique skill.
HB: How could you best describe your creative style?
MELLE: I do question it, all the time, so my personal creative style is ever evolving. Eclectic is bandied about a lot. Bohemian, glamour, eclectic, these words comes to mind. I love mixing old and new, high-end and mass. I like a bit of old in a modern setting just like I like when things are not perfect, because in both cases, you guess an interesting story behind what you see.
I don’t like what feels like cookie cutter but professionally, as a stylist, you have to be flexible to communicate what your client needs or wants. So I can adapt easily and deliver on the style that I am briefed in.
I often have to create 3 rooms in 3 different styles, so when I am on a job, I immerse myself in the brief.
I actually love delivering on a style that is miles away from my own personal taste because I want to push the boundaries and do things that I am not. That creative challenge is very enriching and empowering.
HB: You can definitely do everything but what I love the most in your style is that you have this defined, rich textures aesthetics. You are drawn to textures, florals, organic materials. You have this ability to connect and use nature’s elements. I sense the richness of Australian outback in your natural colour palette.
HB: What’s important for you to do when prepping for a shoot or styling?
MELLE: I am still trying to find my best creative process. Once I have thought a few ideas, I go through magazines for colour inspiration and research for visuals that resonate with me.
I find it hard to style from virtual visual only, I need to touch objects, see them in real, in a store, so I do a lot of on-the-ground research. I find that the sensory approach really ignites my imagination. And imagination is my best tool. Once I am inspired, I imagine the visual worlds I will create and the stories I will tell. It pours in and keeps on flowing until the shoot is done. You never switch off when you’re styling so even when the shoot is over, I think of what I will do next.
This constant creative process makes me happy. When I don’t have projects to think about, I feel flat, so I make sure that I am always creating.
I feel so much happier when I can create. I am a better mum, better partner and better friend when I am creating.
HB: How do you work together with other people to create a world and tell a story?
MELLE: Trust is important. For instance, when we work together neither of us are worried. The flow is easy. There is no walls. We respect each other as creatives and allow the other the space they need to create.
HB: What brings us together is that we bring our ideas together.
MELLE: Yes, it is easy. We both love flowers and have an appreciation for similar aesthetics so we want to do this together.
You lifted me up when I started as a lifestyle and interiors stylist as I was struggling with the idea of people accepting me in my new role. I felt like a fraud. I felt people wouldn’t accept me as a creative expressing myself in this other way.
HB: Which is incredible since you had been obsessed with styling interiors as a kid already, and that your natural ability and skill as a stylist was obvious to everyone else.
You don’t need long to earn someone’s trust, because you have talent bursting out of you and you also have the right people’s skills to collaborate creatively with others.
HB: How has social media affected your creativity?
MELLE: Social media affects our own judgement of ourselves as we compare to others. We are constantly bombarded by images. It becomes confusing, overwhelming.
It is important to keep some distance so it remains positive tool.
I used to think too much about it, overanalyse what I posted. As a creative you can self-doubt and compare yourself too much. But it is stifling creatively.
I now use social media as a way to connect with people but I also see the Instagram grid for what it is, a gallery of images.
What makes you special is your own aesthetics, you bring your own thing to a platform. When you post something that people don’t like, it is easy to overanalyse. But to me a perfect grid is not authentic to what I do, so it needs to reflect what I create. Whether it looks together is not so important.
HB: If you were given an exhibition space with online broadcasting, what would you create? What would be your theme and why?
MELLE: Difficult question, I will have to think of this one.
As we were socially distancing and using tech to converse, Zoom crashed on Melle’s side at this point so I haven’t got her answer.
But my guess is that she would create a world you just feel happy to live, dream and create in. Because that’s the kind of world Melle creates over and over, without ever stopping wowing her clients, audience and collaborators.