The sun has only just come up as Melissa McCarthy strolls through her cluttered Burbank workroom, sorting through fabric samples and dress sketches from her soon-to-debut clothing line, Melissa McCarthy Seven7. On one inspiration board: photos of models, the outline of an owl, the word Spring! written in aqua-hued dry-erase marker. McCarthy proudly points out contributions from her daughters (with her husband, actor-director Ben Falcone), Vivian, age eight, and Georgette, five. The girls drew fanciful doodles that McCarthy will later convert into patterns for her charming, whimsical designs.
“Vivi designed this,” she says, beaming and pointing to the black tunic sweater she’s wearing, with the image of a cat and the word Meow woven into the knit. “And this is for spring 2016,” she says, running a finger over a line drawing of pants with patterned rear pockets. “I want to do a graffiti print, and I want the flowers to be dandelions.”
When she’s not working as an actress, a writer or a producer, or being a mom, McCarthy, 44, focuses every minute on her designs, the first of which are set to hit the market in August. The launch will contain some 80 pieces—in sizes 4 to 28, with prices ranging from $59 to $159—that will be available through retailers such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, as well as on MelissaMcCarthy.com. “It’s pretty consuming,” she says, grimacing comically at her decision to take on a fourth career. “My problem is, I don’t hand things off very well.”
McCarthy admits that her high level of involvement was a surprise to her manufacturing partner, Sunrise Brands. “The initial thought was, I may or may not go to meetings. And then I started delivering drawings and saying, ‘No, this is the length, this is the arm measurement,’ and they were like, ‘Um, we kinda didn’t think you’d be here.’” McCarthy playfully shakes her head, her high ponytail waving behind her. “I just figure if it has my name on it and I want to make people feel good about wearing it, I can’t pass it off.”
Fashion is a longtime obsession for McCarthy, dating back to her years at an all-girls Catholic school in Plainfield, Illinois, where she transitioned from preppy cheerleader to punk-goth princess. “She would turn heads when she walked into my mom’s bank in a swoop of black duct tape and Doc Martens boots,” remembers her older sister, Margie McCarthy, a health care consultant in Denver. “She was on the cutting edge. Even my girlfriends were always asking, ‘What’s Missy doing tonight?’ They knew she was where the fun was happening.”
McCarthy often found her fun in the gay and punk clubs of downtown Chicago, to which she says she escaped “to see what was out there in the world” and “to be surprised by something.” This was when a teenage McCarthy was converting turtlenecks into pants and shaving random sections of her head. “The makeup was extreme,” her sister says.
Back then, McCarthy’s partner in crime was her best friend, now-renowned shoe designer Brian Atwood, who used her as his up- for-anything muse. “We met when I was 15 at a hotel party,” says McCarthy. “Instead of trying to get drinks, I wove my way over to him and was like, ‘Can I talk to you about fabric?’ ”
After graduation, McCarthy studied textiles at Southern Illinois University but grew restless, so at 20 she quit and moved to New York City to become an actor and a comedian. But she never abandoned her passion for clothes. “When I started doing stand-up, I dressed like a drag queen,” she recalls. “To me it was like, Why not wear a gold lamé flyaway leather coat? Why not put on two sets of lashes and a Kewpie-doll mouth? Listen, I’m a Southern gay man in my heart.”