Transfer student Melanie Susanne Olivieri, a 23-year-old SF State undergraduate with a passion for design, travel and helping others died Aug. 9 at a residential hotel in the Mission District. Friends and family remember the visual communication design major for her wit, art and kindness.
“Melanie was beautiful, smart and talented,” said Natalie Olivieri, Melanie’s older sister. “She spoke three languages and can sing beautifully. Those that know Melanie well would say that she was a ray of sunshine and someone who everyone loved to be around because she always lit up everyone around her with love and laughter.”
The cause of Olivieri’s death is under open investigation, according to Jesse Stanton, the clerk of the Medical Examiner. He said the matter may not be resolved for weeks or even months.
SF State junior Emily Prowse, Olivieri’s roommate, best friend of seven years and self-declared “wifey,” said Olivieri embraced every moment in her life.
“She was poetic and wise, yet crass and shameless — the perfect combo,” Prowse said. “She could blurt out the most crude sentence and follow it up with a deeply intelligent insight into the emotion of a situation.”
Olivieri’s humor lives on in the several posts on her WordPress blog, “One Day I Will,” in which she describes herself as a generally tolerable woman and a booze hound in the ‘prime rib’ of her life.
“Melanie was someone who made everyone laugh,” Natalie Olivieri said. “Oh my god, did she have an amazing sense of humor, and she was so witty.”
Olivieri had a unique style that was a combination of classy and feminine yet rough and dark, according to Prowse.
“It was no surprise to find her in a pair of cat eye sunglasses and perfect makeup with a cigarette in her mouth while bobbing along to her favorite rock music and cracking a joke,” said Prowse. “She never got ready or cooked food without singing at the same time.”
Olivieri grew up in a close-knit family in San Juan Capistrano, California and was the youngest of three girls who considered each other best friends, Natalie Olivieri said.
“She was such a love bug,” Natalie Olivieri said. “My favorite thing in the world is when she would come home and jump on me and just cuddle me with hugs.”
Olivieri had a big heart and could talk to anyone, according to her mother Debbie Olivieri.
“She loved people and wanted to help everyone,” Debbie Olivieri said. “In the end, she loved and tried to help the wrong person.”
Olivieri dreamed of someday traveling the world, according to her mother, who said that she wanted to move to France and get her French citizenship.
“I love to travel and am always inspired by different cultures and their histories,” she wrote on her Behance.com online portfolio. “I find a lot of my inspiration in traveling and exploring. I also find a lot of inspiration in nature and enjoy exploring the ecological aspects of the different cities/ towns that I have lived in.”
At the age of 18, she graduated from Capistrano Valley High School to pursue her passion for travel. She attended school in Salamanca, Spain where she studied Spanish. Upon completion of her studies, she embarked on a journey across Europe that included destinations like Madrid, Seville, Amsterdam, Lake Como, Venice, Berlin, Switzerland and ended at Grenoble, France where she visited close relatives who live there, according to Debbie Olivieri.
“Melanie had an eye for beauty,” said Debbie Olivieri, who said her daughter was a gifted photographer, graphic artist and illustrator.
Olivieri moved to San Francisco roughly three years ago to study graphic design. She began at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, but later, upon believing it to be a better fit, transferred to SF State where she majored in visual communication design.
SF State design professor Steve Jones first met Olivieri when she attended his typography class. She was a good student whose insight and observations benefited the entire class, according to Jones.
“She was outgoing and had a keen design eye,” Jones said. “Her work was very poetic, but informed with a sense of purpose. She used metaphor and research to great effect.”
Examples of Olivieri’s work can be seen on her portfolio on Behance.com, which includes projects on typography, color theory, product photography and logo design.
“One thing I have always loved about design is that it is constantly changing while also remaining cyclical,” Olivieri’s profile states. “All design is recycled and made new again and there is always something to learn in the world of design.”
The skills Olivieri acquired at the Academy of Art allowed her to surpass other students in the class, according to Jones, who asked Olivieri to be his teaching assistant. She often went above and beyond her duties as a teaching assistant and was well received by students in the class, he said.
“In her class assignments, Melanie often challenged me to see another point of view,” Jones said. “She believed in graphic design that provoked and questioned.”
Olivieri had the talent and ability to become a great designer, according to Jones. In her portfolio, she wrote of her dreams to complete freelance work before applying to design firms in San Francisco, where she could focus on brand identity and logo design.
While reminders of Olivieri can be found in her work and posts on various web sites, one of the best mementos of who she was is a video created by her oldest sister Jaime Adair and her friend Sam Jensen, according to Natalie Olivieri.
“Melanie will live on through her stories and art,” Adair wrote in a Facebook post beneath the video. “The stories and art that I will continue to share with the world, not because the world deserves it, but because it makes the world more beautiful.”
A service was held for Olivieri near her home town at O’Conner Mortuary in Laguna Hills Aug. 15 that was followed by a dinner for her friends and family.
A memorial will be held on at 540 Victoria St. in San Francisco Aug. 30 at 1 p.m. for friends in the Bay Area and those who could not attend the earlier service.