In this eulogy, the family of Melma Hamersfeld - founder of Australian fashion brand Metalicus - celebrate her legacy.
Melma Hamersfeld: September 18, 1942 - February 9, 2023
Melma’s story began in St Kilda; born to Sylvia Goldstone and Ben Wald, Jewish immigrants who met in Carlton. She was a lanky free-spirited child drawn to the cinema. They lived in Albert Street, St Kilda, behind the Victory Pictures and she was often sneaking up the theatre’s back stairs imagining she was superman.
When she was 15, her father, a Paris trained tailor, suddenly passed away, leaving her mother to fiercely raise two young daughters.
Melma, contrary to her personality, completed a secretarial course at Melbourne Tech (RMIT). Her first job was in an opal company that did international mail order, and as Melma said 'go figure how ahead they were, and I was part of it.' But Melma herself was always going to be ahead of the curve.
At age 18, she had met Berni Hamersfeld at a Jewish dance where she made a bee line for him, married him at age 20 and had three children in quick succession. She was an unconventional mother who did things in a style that is more relevant today than when she was a young mother in the 1960’s.
Her creative impulse then began to knock. First a passion for painting; she was trained by some of the great local teachers of the time including Howard Arkley and John Howley. Her sense of colour and design led her to create handmade fashion accessories that she sold at the St Kilda Esplanade Market. A studded belt she designed caught the eye of a shop keeper who then ordered them on the spot. And with that spontaneous transaction, Metalicus was born.
Over the next 20 years, Metalicus expanded into a full range of locally made accessories selling to department stores and boutiques nationally. Travel with Berni was a big part of their love life, soaking up the world and bringing back style and samples to suburban Melbourne. By the 1990’s Metalicus evolved into the body stocking-worn-as-clothing.
The Metalicus body tights tag line was 'Stretch your Imagination.' She encouraged women to wear the fitted bodywear with confidence and women credit her with changing their relationship with their body. Melma was praised for encouraging local production and designers. She opened Metalicus retail stores and supplied hundreds of stockists in Australia and around the world.
After Melma successfully sold Metalicus in 2008, she redirected her energy to produce and sell bold coloured artworks, while continuing to passionately mentor women who wanted to be in fashion. She loved nothing more than to network and to connect with like-minded people and had an impact on the creativity of many aspiring entrepreneurs
Five years ago, at 75, Melma was doing head stands. Always moving on with fearless excitement, it felt incomprehensible that at this time, which she described as the creative autumn of her life, she was told she had MND (motor neurone disease). Ever a trailblazer, Melma had been espousing the virtues of yoga, making wheatgrass juice and whole foods for health in the 70’s and had continued this throughout her life, so that even when MND robbed her of the ability to walk, her yoga and exercise teachers were still doing home visits, stretching her limbs and guiding her breath and meditation work.
Melma cared about fashion and colour until the end. When her youngest son Leonard returned from a business trip to Milan, she told him she had something to say. Melma was losing her ability to speak and Leonard, thinking he was going to hear some final words of wisdom, leaned in closely to hear her ask: What were the new colours and design directions?
Melma was a progressive, a trailblazer! Her sophistication in dress and food and style was intoxicating. A female icon in an era where it was not as easy. She thought globally. She opened eyes to a different way of living life. She lived in colour. Her children continue to emulate her way of thinking and approach to life. She inspired a business dynasty within her family, all infused with her vitality, all running successful businesses and her final protegee, a grandchild starting a jewellery business this year.
Melma had a plan for Assisted Dying – an option she never used, but for which she was grateful. Till the last day she expressed that she had no regrets and saw her life lived as fabulous. She died in her St Kilda home, full circle, overlooking the Palais theatre and Luna Park surrounded by all her family, colour and love.
Melma is survived by her husband of 60 years Berni, her sister Roslyn and her three children Lindy, Brian and Leonard, twelve grandchildren and four great-grandsons.