Inside the Pro Model: Desiree Melancon and the Salomon Abstract

words: Ally Watson

IT IS WITHOUT HESITATION THAT I SAY Desiree Melancon hardly needs an introduction. With the length of her career and accompanying accolades, she has made her space in snowboarding with a signature style that is easily injected into her art. Her aesthetic belongs distinctly to her, both on and off snow. She has spent years dedicating her practice to challenging the status quo and giving onlookers the tools to create their own narrative, which opens the territory for an unapologetically intersectional product that is the Salomon Abstract.

Notwithstanding the Abstract’s status as a new board in the line, its path to existence is nothing new to Desiree. The Abstract is a merging of both the Gypsy and Villain boards and their individual cult status, upheld in part by Desiree’s pro model graphics on the Gypsy.

As seen in the four pro model graphics Des created for the Gypsy, and now the Abstract, Desiree’s art is heavily influenced by folklore, origin stories, literary fiction, contemporary art, intersectional politics, and personal experience. There is a strong sense of critique that shines through, and if you have ever had the chance to sit down and talk to her, it shines through in her approach to life as well. When describing the trajectory that the Gypsy graphics took, she says, “It goes with characterization and using imagery to express things that don’t necessarily mean one thing, allowing people to make up their own narrative.”

p: Marc O’Malley

Melancon uses art to communicate, produce emotion, and dismantle oppressive power structures all at once. Being tied to a gendered board with a particular demographic on the Gypsy kept things feminized and symbolistic while Desiree underwent a prodigious evolution with her art. “Pushing towards genderless products is true to my identity. That’s true to myself,” she says referring to the birth of the Abstract. “For true progression in the space, we need to have gender diversity when creating products, and we don’t really have a ton of that yet at most brands. We still mostly have men deciding what women want. As gear becomes more fluid, it should be natural to allow opportunities for not just men to dictate crucial decisions such as product construction, graphics, and marketing.”

When looking through the sequence of graphics that ran on the Gypsy, it’s clear to see that Desiree is drawn to politicizing the human form and doing so through mixed media processes focused on manipulation and distortion. The dismantling of the Gypsy and Villain was a natural progression to build something that provides limitless expression for any kind of rider. The Abstract, itself, is a genderless board featuring Salomon’s signature Rock Out Camber profile, Popster core, and Quadralizer sidecut. It is a versatile mid-flexing freestyle board designed to blur the boundaries of the gender binary that was upheld by its predecessors.

The Salomon team met Desiree at the drawing board where she spearheaded the trajectory of the board’s development. “I gave them notes on how it should evolve and sent a list of fifteen names or so that I believed to be appropriate,” she explains. “I thought it could be an art-based board because it’s neutral territory. You aren’t capitalizing on anybody. It’s not tied to violence. We unanimously landed on Abstract as the name.”

The ideation process for the graphic amalgamated various elements of Desiree’s inspiration for the board. “I’ve spent years refining my skills to do the job, so when designing for a targeted demographic, it becomes less about you and more about the consumer. I wanted to bend the rules, though, and make something for myself and for my teammates. If the crew attaches to it, the general consumer is going to do the same. It’s why pro riders exist, because we set the trends and drive the culture.”

Compiling a vision for brand work exists within a liminal space, often straying away from personal work. However, Desiree was able to bring forward a compelling and critical piece of art that stays authentic to her identity and expression. She works through the creative process with key words and feelings, in this case: joy, connection, genderless, community, and inclusivity. Inspired by Matisse-esque color palettes, new age artists, and the human form, Melancon brought composition thumbnails to life, allowing her to achieve the green light to begin two months of relentless work on the art piece.

With the timeline of the project, it was most efficient to work digitally rather than to paint, but considering Desiree is primarily an interdisciplinary artist, working with many mediums at all times, depth and emotion shines through the digital work.

“It was really tricky to not be able to use traditional mediums that I rely on for emotional structure within a piece. So, I was proud to have been able to push and pull the digital programs to a certain level of manipulation that still showcased the original intention.”

Melancon wanted the Abstract graphic to be something that wasn’t like anything else. To be something that truly broke down the gender binary and was intersectional to the point that any demographic can find a sense of themselves within the art. The piece displays manipulation of the human form, thoughts, connectivity, and ultimately, solidarity. A lot of integrity was brought to the work behind the Abstract and it is at the forefront of Desiree’s motivation to create space for others, communicate through art, and transfer that to her snowboarding career. The Abstract is a cumulation of all those things and highlights Desiree’s ability to stay authentic within the often tightly bound structures of brand expectations.

With strong influences hailing from culture, community, and personal politics, Desiree’s art has found a natural progression toward advocacy. “I learned how to make art that could talk to people or talk to myself based on what was happening in society. It’s natural for me to tie in advocacy to art because it’s communication—that’s me talking.” Finding ways to communicate complex ideas while lifting up marginalized communities has been centerfold in the evolution of Melancon’s art practice and personal dedication to advocacy work.

p: O’Malley

Outside of brand work, private practice, and her snowboarding career, Desiree has used her commitment to advocacy and mental wellness to launch S.T.A.Y., Somebody’s Thinking About You, a non-profit coalition that does work to destigmatize suicide within action sports. Its premise is suicide prevention but includes anything mental health related within the community. The group is making a strong push to ensure that we are not adding another name to the list of those we have lost and with the creative minds of Desiree, Cheyne Brooking, Bryn Valaika, Maisy Hoffman, Emily Bergeson, and Leah Klein behind S.T.A.Y., art, education, and movement have become the key tools in sharing their message. While using art in this way is central to Melancon’s practice, creating space and building a platform for others is just as important to her. She endorses Cheyne Brooking’s talent as an artist with pride, stating, “Without her, we wouldn’t have the steam and momentum that we currently have. She has created the look and feel of what S.T.A.Y. is becoming.”

Moving into a genderless space beyond dichotomy with the Salomon Abstract has given Desiree a place to advocate for herself as an artist while creating work that is authentic to her and her advocacy. “I will work my access to provide space for other individuals to find a place to express themselves,” she says with integrity. The intersectional representation as seen so vibrantly on the base of the board is definitive to the commitment that Melancon has to challenging norms.

This article originally appeared in issue 19.2, available October 2022.

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