Fashion designer features Levi’s jeans work for stars in ‘Dessie Jones and the Six’


Melody Sabatasso In the 1970s, working as a fashion designer out of her marine boutique, she made herself available for weddings. Sabatasso, who lived only in blue jeans, took off a pair and changed them into an embroidered suit. He eventually caught the attention of Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall.

Since then, the Greenbrae resident, known affectionately as Melody in design circles, has showcased her denim and leather work for marine icon Narada Michael Walden, former Mill Valley resident Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane and Sonny & Cher. The world, including De Young Museum.

In what she believes is full-circle time, Sabatso recently created pieces for Riley Keuch, the granddaughter of Elvis Presley, the title character of Amazon Prime Video’s new ’70s miniseries. And the six.

Sabatasso, who works primarily with Levi’s Jeans, will show some of her pieces at the company’s 150th anniversary event later this month.

Q How did “Dessie Jones and the Six” come together?

A I believe they found me through Levi’s. They called me and asked if I could make some clothes, and they didn’t know I had made this Elvis Presley jumpsuit. They said, “The girl who stars in it is Elvis Presley’s granddaughter.” I said, “You’re kidding me. Did you know I made two dresses for her grandmother?” They flipped out and ordered a couple of pieces I made. When she’s in Pittsburgh in episode nine and gets off the plane, she’s wearing a dress and a leather coat that I made. I made another piece that was shown briefly in another scene. It’s a great series. I’m still in awe.

Q What got you into fashion?

A My mother, Alma Petty, was a fashion designer, working with poodle dresses. I grew up in fashion and my mother was an incredible designer, my hero. I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and came to California in the early 70s.

Q Does it boggle your mind how everything changed after that dress?

A My whole life story blows my mind. What blows my mind more than anything is that people have kept all these pieces for so long, some of them bringing them back after 50 years. I had a kid come up to me and bring me one of the first things I ever did. He said my mom died and when they were cleaning things up, he found this piece and in there was a letter that said, “After I’m gone, love, if you find Melody, please return this piece to her.” It was the greatest moment of my life when I wore this. He was crying, I was crying. It was special.

Q How did things come together with Bacall?

A My girlfriend was working in a cannery in town and she had nothing to wear. I told him to wear this outfit and that’s when Bakal saw him. She came to my little studio in San Anselmo in a limousine, I was 22 or 23, and the rest is history. She asked me, “When do I get dressed?” She said to me. And I said, “Well, I only work when I feel like it,” and she said, “If you don’t mind, I have a play in San Francisco so you can listen?” She said to me. I had no pennies, so I went into town to her room at the Huntington Hotel. Later, she led me to her elevator and I remember my mom saying, “Don’t forget to charge. She will not appreciate and respect you unless you accuse her. They may have charged her $120 for the jacket and $150 for the dress. She asked, “Is that just a deposit?” she asked me. And I said, “No, that’s all.” She sent me a check for less than $1,000. It was a beautiful moment. It was very sweet.

Q Are fashion and music stuck to you?

A Yes. I’m from New York City, I’ve never listened to country western music. I’ve done pieces like Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson’s wife, and Emmylou Harris. I had to switch radios because all these westerners were buying my stuff. I have to support them, they are helping me. And now, my son introduced me, “This is my mom from New York City, a wannabe cowgirl.”


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