By Jenny Rebholz   Published Dec 29, 2004 at 5:38 AM

{image1} From a prime time spot on national television to the streets of Milwaukee, Ilse Eriksson is happy to see her Mel en Stel fashions "hired" and finding a diverse audience.

"The Apprentice" fans have seen Eriksson's designs during the fashion challenge and special runway show that just ended its second season a few weeks ago. Those who frequent Lela in the Historic Third Ward will find select Mel en Stel designs are a new addition to the racks. And for those of you who are out of the loop, here is your chance to hear about what Milwaukee and New York have in common.

Born in Belgium, Eriksson has been in the United States since 1985. Her European roots and American lifestyle have joined to create a successful combination: a clothing line called Mel en Stel. She finds it hard to put her design style into words, but says, "I am trying to create a mix between a European sensibility and American attitude. I want to have timeless pieces that can suit your mood."

According to Carrie Arrouet, co-owner of Lela, "It's an edgy, yet feminine use of vintage fabrics combined with amazing craftsmanship."

Arrouet was exposed to the Mel en Stel style while watching "The Apprentice 2" and didn't waste time hopping online. She made the contact and now Lela offers several pieces from the Fall 2004 and Apprentice Collections.

Milwaukee joins Boston, Los Angeles and New York as a destination for Mel en Stel designs, and Eriksson couldn't be more pleased. "It doesn't matter where I sell my clothing. Whether a small town in Wyoming or in a big city, a customer is a customer," she says.

So what is different about her designs? What will you notice? According to Eriksson, "I am about the details. They are not in your face, and it may even take you some time to notice all of the details." You will not find miniskirts or plunging necklines. Clothes won't be tight fitting or revealing. "That is not my idea of a sexy woman," says Eriksson.

She believes her designs are suited for more sensible women. Eriksson elaborates, "A woman who knows what she's about and doesn't need to flash it."

For her, it is about style not fashion. "Style comes from within. If a woman has style, my clothes will complement that. Style is so much more important than fashion," says Eriksson.

Texture is key to her fabric selections and designs. "The thicker the fabric, the more I like it," says Eriksson. She even works with upholstery fabrics. "It is very sturdy. I like the shape; you can do whatever you want with it."

From a color perspective, you will be sure to find earth tones, but probably hard pressed to find black. "I am not about the little red or black dress. I have never even designed in black. It is too easy; there is no challenge," comments Eriksson.

She is currently looking at colors from the 1950s, colors like those seen in re-colored black and white movies. She says, "They are not quite real; that is what I am attracted to." She finds the combination of the right colors is what makes a piece look rich. She has a particular attraction to mustard yellow and loves pairing it with hunter green.

Color, texture, sensibility and detailed craftsmanship are part of the Mel en Stel signature style. And whether you wear it or not, you will be seeing a lot more of Mel en Stel in the future. Pay attention to the celebrities on the red carpet, look for a feature in "Traditional Home" and watch the streets of Milwaukee.

(Note: Lela is co-owned by Stephanie Sherman, who is married to co-owner Jeff Sherman.)