Location: Chicago, IL
Marital Status: Has turned 50 “more than a dozen times”
Education: A PHTS Degree (Putting Hubby Through School)
Nine years ago, Jan Melk performed her own life makeover-no help from Oprah Winfrey necessary. She divorced her husband of many years and sold Kiva Spa, the business she had built from the ground up. “I felt so free—like I could fly. I changed my life completely. I am having so much fun and have never been happier.”
Today she is one of Chicago’s most prolific fundraisers and a private investor in Broadway’s “August: Osage County,” in fashion designer Maria Pinto, and in Sepia, one of Chicago’s top restaurants. Last fall she accompanied Maria Pinto—who designed Michelle Obama’s gown—to Barack Obama’s inauguration. She just returned from a cruise with her family (including six grandchildren) to Belize, Mexico and the Grand Caymans.
How do you define your style?
I have a classic style. I like to call it elegant simplicity.
What influenced your style most?
I lived in London for over six years in the 80s. My children were in school at that time and I had a lot of free time. I was traveling to France, Italy, Spain and I really became very conscious of fashion and was fascinated by it and it changed my style.
Why do you love Maria Pinto?
Maria’s clothes are timeless. I started buying Maria Pinto fifteen years ago. I didn’t know her personally then; I just loved her classic design. I wear Maria pretty much all the time now. I have long coats, short coats, jackets, suits and wraps. I think she is a very talented designer.
Favorite restaurant in Chicago?
Sepia is my favorite restaurant. Emmanuel Nony, a former GM of the Park Hyatt here in Chicago, opened Sepia a few years ago. The food is seasonal and fresh and amazing. The restaurant is always full of people. It’s a favorite of the Mayor, and the Obamas like to eat there.
Do you have a favorite wine?
I like Italian wines. Livio Felluga Pinto Grigio is one of my favorites. Farrari Fume Blanc is another.
I learned a lot from reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. It taught me not to spend a lot of time thinking about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow, but to be really aware of what’s happening NOW. I’m very conscious of that.
What beauty products do you swear by?
My daughter, Cindy, started the beauty products company, H2O Plus, 20 years ago. All H2O products are pure, natural and from the sea. I’ve been using their facial scrubs, moisturizers and bath products for years now. I still use them, even though my daughter no longer owns the company.
What’s your secret favorite spot in Chicago?
The lily pond right across from the Peggy Notebaert Children’s Nature Museum in Lincoln Park. It’s a private little garden with a gate and a bench to sit on, and no one is ever there. If you want a quiet place to meditate, this is the place.
How do you rejuvenate?
I love to read. I’m always reading a novel, but I love to read magazines like The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, Time, Newsweek and Vanity Fair. I’m not a TV person.
What is your passion project?
I am very passionate about the arts. My biggest passion is The Joffrey Ballet and the Steppenwolf Theatre here in Chicago. I am on the board of both organizations and I feel fortunate to be able to work with such wonderful people and such talented artists.
Travel. I love to travel. I like to go to exotic places like Vietnam, Cambodia, India, and Peru. I recently took a cruise down the Suez Canal and went to Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Dubai and Abu Dubai. You get a real understanding of other cultures traveling to those places.
Single most important thing you learned in your career?
To listen. You know what you’re thinking. You know what your opinions are. You know all about yourself. Why would you want to talk when you might just learn something by listening to someone else? I do make a real effort to listen to what people are saying to me and try to learn from it.
I’m been exercising for the last thirty years. It’s part of my life. I have a trainer that comes to my house twice a week. I workout with bands and weights. I also try to walk whenever I can.
How do you feel about being single?
I’ve been single for nine years now. I love it! It’s a wonderfully freeing feeling. If you are married to a very powerful man, it’s hard to come into your own. No matter how strong you are, you are always being overpowered and it’s a constant struggle. The day I closed on my divorce was the same day I sold my Spa. I felt like I could fly. I have come in to my own these last nine years. I don’t regret the years I was married, but I certainly have been happiest the last nine years.