Melissa Simon Hartman Story

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Letter to Melissa Simon Hartman aka Wonder Woman

Photo by Larri Alleyne Courtesy of Melissa

I have been writing this article for about ten months—almost a year–and I am not proud of it. I call it a letter to Melissa, because it’s an apology and a tribute to her. Mostly, though, it is all about me and my need to do the very best I could while telling her story.

At first, I got caught up in juggling so many hats (like women do), trying to please everyone and do so many things at once, that I lost my original notes. I remembered most of what Melissa shared with me on the initial call which was fortunate because I was driving and my daughter was taking the notes. I still don’t know where those notes are, but I do remember that they were very, very much incomplete. They did not even touch the tip of what I gleaned from Melissa on that first call.

Though I promised my good friend, Mr. Caribdomain that I would still write the article, I kept stalling. I did not want to admit to Melissa that I had lost the notes. I am too much of a professional for that. Right? But he kept pushing and finally, I was humbled when Melissa gave me another opportunity to speak with her. We talked again and I walked away with confirmation of what I felt the first time, but still I thought I’d lost some of the nuances.

Mr. Caribdomain kept pushing and I kept stalling, and… well, I thought that there is something really strange going on here. As much as I researched and tried to write something intelligent, it just didn’t feel right. I felt like something was actually preventing me from writing the story that I wanted to tell. I researched Carnival. I researched Comic Con. I read everything that Melissa gave us, everything that Mr. Caribdomain forwarded to me, and I stalked her Facebook page. I read about Peter Minshall, and I read about the Notting Hill Carnival, it’s history, its players (hell, when I read that Darcus Howe had died earlier this year, I knew who he was. I had watched videos and I knew his contribution).

Still, it wasn’t working for me. I was thinking that I was on the verge of writing something witty, something inimitable; something so clever that it’d put me on the map! Not!  In fact, I struggled to write the following, which is only about half of the initial 1500 words I wrote because, like I said, Mr. CD just kept pushing (in fact, I believe we might be dangerously close to the end of our friendship. Hold on CD!).

So, what am I saying, in this long introduction? I’m saying that what I wrote below is all true, and I am encouraging you to read it, but it wasn’t what I wanted you to know… and here’s where the magic comes in. I wanted to tell the story of a real-life, dynamic, Super-Woman. I wanted to tell you how much Melissa inspired me and I wanted to tell it in such a way that you end up inspired too. I figured out while Mr. Caribdomain was hounding me that he wanted me to write facts and I get that he’s a business man (and a man to boot), so he doesn’t understand my need to tell the story of the woman. Not just to spout the facts, but to tell you about the actual person (the wife and mother), the soul (that volunteered after the Grenfell Tower tragedy), and the God-given gifts that she shares with the world.

Mr. Caribdomain is always on me about not getting too personal. He thinks that people should not know about adversity or about someone’s love life, but I beg to differ. I think those are the very details that make it interesting. Mind you, I always asked if anything that we’ve talking about in the interview is too personal… so I get permission to tell you the good stuff and the ugly stuff that makes us human. That’s the stuff that magic comes from… the “Oh my God, how did she do that with all that working against her” stuff. That is the stuff that was missing from my initial inadequate attempts to write about Melissa.

You see, I could have spouted facts about Melissa all day long, but you could read these same facts by Googling Melissa Simon-Hartman, checking out her website, or just stalking her Facebook or Instagram pages. What you might miss, unless you were up close and personal, is the strength and the ability to persevere, the confidence in her own skin and her willingness to own all her quirkiness, her genius, her generous spirit, and her keen intellect. How could I capture that in 500 words? How would I convey what I learned in a brief conversation while traveling on the back roads of Virginia? How could I explain the passion that I heard–the passion that made me research Carnival and to want very much to learn about its roots and its history; to learn about the traditions, at the same time, I could feel Melissa’s desire to take Mas to a whole new level? How could I write anything that would come off authentic if I could not tell you what I really thought and felt after a brief study, from across the ocean, of Melissa Simon-Hartman?

Photo by Gokhan Goksoy Courtesy of Melissa

Would you know about the Rheumatoid Arthritis that could have stopped Melissa from pursuing her visions? Any yes, I did not say one vision? Would you know that Melissa once said to herself, “I have the disease, the disease does not have me,” and kept right on going with her life?  I’m going to stop right here and let you read what I originally wrote (it was going to be part one of a two-parter, that in my mind came anywhere near what I really wanted to share). Promise me you’ll stay to the very end. I want you to know what I discovered in this ten-month odyssey of being pushed and prodded by Mr. Caribdomain, and not understanding why it was so difficult to write what my heart was telling me to write.

 

Comic Con and Carnival meet Melissa Simon-Hartman, aka Wonder Woman!

Within five minutes of conversing with Melissa Simon-Hartman, digital artist, graphic artist, wife, mom, designer of wearable art, costumes, and couture fashion, I am sure you would agree , Wonder Woman is an appropriate moniker for the humble, yet vivacious designer. Not only has Melissa won awards for her costumes, launched a wildly successful shoe and accessory line and been featured in the first publication of Black Who’s Who a few years ago, Melissa recently accomplished something that has never been done!

 

On May 27, 2017, Melissa Simon-Hartman saw her vision of Comic Con meets Carnival come to fruition. The event, according to Melissa, was successful, but the buzz on social medial said it was so much more, Hence the “humble.” I contemplated calling this article Cosplay or Comic Con meets Carnival (both of which would have given you a good idea of where I was going), but after speaking with Melissa, hearing her infectious enthusiasm, and seeing some of the amazing designs she has created, I definitely had to rethink that approach. It is Melissa herself, the very essence of style and captivating creativity who birthed this vision, maintained her focus and created something wonderful; something that has never been done before—She is the catalyst, the forerunner, and the mastermind–a super hero in her own right. So, yes, I believe it apropos– Comic Con and Carnival meet Melissa Simon-Hartman, aka Wonder Woman!

Courtesy of Melissa Photo by Roger Charles

I had my first opportunity to speak with Melissa in December 2016. We spent about an hour on the phone as I was traveling from Hampton, Virginia — picking my daughter up from school. The connection kept going in and out, but Melissa just laughed it off very graciously. Shortly after she accepted my friend request on Facebook, she called a moratorium on Social Media so she could focus on her vision. Before she signed off, however, I got a tiny peek into her personality and a good sense of the respect, support, and encouragement that she garners from others, especially from her soulmate… her husband, Travis Hartman.

One of the last posts I remember from Melissa’s Facebook page before she signed off for a few months, involved a picture of Olympic gold medalist, Jamaican born, Usain Bolt, surrounded by a bevy of beauties clad in costumes designed by Melissa. Though the ladies appeared to be semi-nude, it was an illusion created by our very own Wonder Woman, Melissa Simon-Hartman. In the post, Melissa asked her friends to comment on a post from a woman who felt like Melissa had single-handedly contributed to the degradation of women the world over. In fact, the woman went so far as to suggest that the models could get STDs from wearing such revealing costumes. Really?

Courtesy of Melissa Photo by Universal Pictures

What struck me, however, was Melissa’s admonishment to her friends and fans. In her post, she specifically asked her supporters to be nice in their responses, “because,” she said, “everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” No one heeded Melissa and the resulting comments were not only hilarious, but they emphasized the fact that the lady who made the comments just did not understand the significance of Carnival.

Melissa embraces Carnival and everything that comes with. It is in her blood. It is a part of her just like the Trinidadian roots she inherited from her mother and the African blood she shares with her father, a native of Ghana. Many who don’t claim Caribbean roots, don’t understand the music, the color, the costumes, the dancing, the comradery, or the wild abandon that seem to embody Carnival. They may not know what comes after the joyous celebrations. They may not know the freedom that Carnival signifies.

Photo by Gokhan Goksoy Courtesy of Melissa

To Melissa, “Carnival is life. Carnival is self-expression. Carnival is mas.” She goes on further to describe Carnival, “as art in motion, but most importantly it is the optimum opportunity for culture sharing. The Carnival season, a celebration of life that offers that last chance to indulge in its sensuous pleasures–eating, drinking, dancing, and having a great time can be it days, weeks, or months. Celebrations generally lead up to Fat Tuesday, but Carnival can be held at different times of the year and in different countries—Brazil, Canada, Germany and in Melissa’s part of the world, the U.K., there is the Notting Hill Carnival held every year since 1966, and these are just a few. Carnival, according to Melissa, “is the only time of year that we get to put our troubles behind us and lose ourselves in the music and of course our inhibitions.”

Photo by Gokhan Goksoy Courtesy of Melissa

Melissa grew up in London and despite a move to live outside of London a few years ago, she says, she, “will always be a Londoner!” She comes from a self-described humble background. She was raised in Kilburn (north west London) which was an area predominately populated by the black and Irish community.  She is an only child. Her “father passed away from Cancer when she was 6, leaving her mother to raise me on her own. She did so whilst juggling her career as a Nurse.” Melissa was raised as a Catholic.  She says she was “an alter server / acolyte at the local parish, attended Convent school and the rest (laugh). I was always known to be different growing up, some would say weird and my dress sense was crazy. I have toned down with age (laugh).”

Melissa, who graduated from London College of Fashion, studied costume design, proudly claims both her Ghanaian roots on her father’s side, and the Trinidadian roots she inherited from her mother’s family. Her definition of fashion? “Historically fashion was used to represent social status and income. However, I see fashion as a form of self-expression, in the same manner as dance, art and music. Some like to wait for trends to be released to follow what they then consider to be ‘fashionable’, but I believe that the purest form of fashion is led by individuality.”

If you ask Melissa what comes to mind when she’s creating a design? She’d tell you, “About a million and one different things come to mind.” She says that she is an absolute mess trying to control all the ideas that she wants to implement. If you can picture ‘chaos’, then that is what her mind is like. Melissa always has the final look in her head from the offset but it is the crazy methods sometimes implemented to achieve that final look that will make you question her sanity, (laugh).”

She says her ethnic background influences every single piece she creates. In fact, she does not care what part of the world you were born in, to Melissa, “once you are creating art, the origins of that art are African. Even in fashion, it is possible to relate any piece seen on the runway of a high-end couture show to something created and worn at some point in Africa. It is where it all began!” Her Trinidadian heritage has given her a true appreciation for carnival culture and the wonderful melting pot of various cultures within Trinidad taught her that to create authentic and unique pieces. It was necessary, she says, for her to study the styles of other cultures across the globe and not just what was trending in her part of the world.

Melissa describes her personal style as, “Eclectic!”  She says that she is the worst person to buy clothing for as her style is not consistent and difficult to label or categorize. If she likes something, she will wear it. She tends to recycle old items of clothing more often than she buys new items, saying, “There is something about giving something old new life that is very gratifying.”

What makes her unique? To Melissa, “we are all unique, which is what makes the world beautiful. She doesn’t wait on anyone’s approval, and she does not wait for a style to come in trend to wear it as fashion. She tends to shy away from the norm and is attracted to things that are distinctively different.

Photo by Roger Charles – Courtesy of Melissa

So now you know a little about Melissa, but you don’t really know what she accomplished back in May, what she has accomplished with Legion Mas, and what she is still doing as we speak. When I tell you the woman is a creative genius? You really have no idea. Look at the pictures. Of course, look at the gorgeous, exquisitely detailed designs. Look at the vision, live and in color. Look at the vision that has come to life—the captivating, mystical, mythical vision of Melissa Simon-Hartman! Really, if you want to know how she does it, you have probably come to the wrong place… and maybe, just maybe that was my hesitation.

I can see that Melissa’s genius—her ability to create costumes that leap at you, that pull you into mythology, into Shakespeare, (thought about the seven deadly sins, lately?) and into fantasy- all at the same time, is uniquely her own. I would sound completely uninformed trying to school you about the history of costume and literature and Carnival and Mas. That would have been totally unbelievable. You would have been disappointed and I would have failed to give you the gift that Melissa gave me.

You see, what fascinated me and what I can tell you for sure, is that Melissa Simon-Hartman, is a wife, a mother, a creator, a genius, a go-getter, a girlfriend and an inspiration. What I can tell you is that she has done something that a lot of us, “girlfriendz” don’t often do. She believed in herself. She chased after the weird visions and the voice that played in her head. She silenced the doubters. She overcame the obstacles. She went for it!

Her designs (we’ve included a few here) will speak for themselves. You will be awestruck at the total depth of her creations, but would you know that a real-life hero created them? Would you understand that her story is your story? Would you take from Melissa’s story what I did? Would you tap into your wonderful quirkiness? Your unique gifting? Would you go after your dreams despite physical barriers, humble beginnings, or any other of a thousand obstacles we can come up with to tell ourselves no? Would you?

Photo by Larri Alleyne Courtesy of Melissa

Her designs (we’ve included a few here) will speak for themselves. You will be awestruck at the total depth of her creations, but would you know that a real-life hero created them? Would you understand that her story is your story? Would you take from Melissa’s story what I did? Would you tap into your wonderful quirkiness? Your unique gifting? Would you go after your dreams despite physical barriers, humble beginnings, or any other of a thousand obstacles we can come up with to tell ourselves no? Would you?

Photo by Travis Hartman – Courtesy of Melissa

 

I challenge you…here and now…put those excuses away… and let your own self be great! Melissa inspired me, and I sure hope that her story inspires you! Let us hear how…

Follow Melissa on her Website | FaceBook | Instagram

Author – Sr Editor ~ Connie Spruill, CEO MyGirlfriendzPlace

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