Zoë Melo's Touch

Tiptoeing into the Los Angeles showroom of TOUCH, it's difficult not to obey the storefront's signage. The white-on-white space is stacked with oddly alluring textures—impossibly long-necked vases, chunky-funky baskets, a round of glass balanced on what look like three ultrapolished boulders. It's enough to make you want to reach out and, well...you know. And I would, were it not for the glamazon-height supermodel in the center of the room, smiling as she guards the wares. The supermodel is Zoë Melo. Retired by trade (though looks luckily last through career changes), Melo is now a curator of sustainable objects from around the world, and will be a featured speaker at Dwell on Design in June.

TOUCH Showroom
TOUCH Showroom

Melo opened TOUCH with partner Peter Scherrer as a way to showcase the socially-responsible design that Melo has been consulting on for years (we've had an eye on her since we named her one of our Nice Modernists last year). After traveling the world modeling, Melo found herself trend forecasting, curating, and developing products for companies like Artecnica, and schooling brands on her smartpath process, a way to make products more meaningful and sustainable. TOUCH, I soon come to understand, is kind of like an annotated journal from Melo's globe-trotting life. (And as fate would have it, almost everything is available for the touching.)

Jewelry, Mana Bernardes
Jewelry, Mana Bernardes
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Early on, I'm captivated by Carla Tennenbaum's technicolor spiral wallhanging made from leftover EVA (what's underfoot in your flip flops), but I'm simply mesmerized by the jewelry of Mana Bernardes, who uses objects like phone cards, toothpicks and bobby pins. As I do a little modeling myself—a delicate necklace made from polished discs cut from PET bottles is more exotic than a string of capiz shells—I'm most stunned to learn that many of the products here in TOUCH are made in Brazil, where Melo was born. "Outside the country, people know and talk about the Campaña brothers, or Oscar Niemeyer buildings, but there is so much more," says Melo. "Within the next years, Brazil might well become a major design player.

Pencil Holder, Carla Tennenbaum
Pencil Holder, Carla Tennenbaum
In that light, Melo's newest collaboration could not be more appropriate. Melo is responsible for bringing many of her country's designers some stateside attention in Destination Brazil, which opens Thursday, May 14 from 6-8pm at the MoMA Design Store in Soho (Dwell previewed the collection a few weeks ago). 75 items largely found only in Brazil will be for sale, including about a dozen products carried by TOUCH. "Some of the designers that are now starting to create names for themselves have been my friends for many years and its very rewarding to be part of their work and to see their efforts being recognized."

Organic Bowl, Domingos Tórtora
Organic Bowl, Domingos Tórtora
A perfect example of this, says Melo, is Domingos Tótora, who makes bowls from recycled cardboard using a certified sustainable process. "Domingos lives and works in my homestate Minas Gerais and through his work he provides income for the small community," says Melo. "He still lives in the same house his parents lived in, never really left his town, but his work appeals to a global market and I find this really amazing." This, she says, is a true example of sustainable design.

Ears Cup, Éstudio Manus
Ears Cup, Éstudio Manus
True to their name, TOUCH not only connects these remarkable makers with a market, but is similarly dedicated to true human-to-human contact. A highlight is their Dinner Talks series, where guests are served farmers' market-fresh cuisine while seated cheek-to-jowl with fellow designerati. In January, I chewed over the impending economic stimulus plan with a dozen other diners while seared yellowtail presented itself from a guerrilla-style grill in the back. TOUCH's next dinner party is coming up on May 27 and includes Italian apertivo-style cuisine as well as a trend report personally culled by Melo from the aisles of Milan.

And of course you'll be able to see Melo speak at this year's Dwell on Design. While she can't take the entire audience with her to Brazil, she will let us embark upon a single enlightening journey. "More and more, the stories behind objects are what we are all trying to understand," says Melo. "So, perhaps I can highlight one of these stories, which is big part of my work." Dwell on Design is June 26-28 in downtown Los Angeles. You can purchase tickets at dwellondesign.com and follow developing highlights on Twitter @dwellondesign.

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