Gilles Mendel Talks Fur, France and Reinvention

In 2003, Gilles Mendel set forth to revamp J. Mendel, the Parisian furrier house that his family has owned and run for five generations, since 1870. He did so by launching a prêt-à-porter line and shipping headquarters to New York City. No easy task, Mendel’s work and business direction has proved successful. The label quickly expanded its global presence and since 2004 has presented at the New York Fashion Week. Mendel was admitted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Mendel’s couture has graced the pages of nearly every high-powered fashion magazine and has sashayed down the red carpet on such starlets as Kyra Sedgwick, Demi Moore, Mischa Barton, Kate Hudson and Jennifer Lopez. This Thursday, February 25, at 7PM, the talented designer will speak at Florence Gould Hall as a part of French Institute Alliance Française’s Art de Vivre series. The discussion will be moderated by famed fashion guru Mary Alice Stephenson. We hounded him down after the fashion week chaos to hear what he has to say…before he says it.

In 2003, you launched the J. Mendel Prêt-à-Porter line. Can you tell us about your experience? It was like a dream when my clients began asking for ready to wear pieces to go with my fur. Designing fur I always had a very strong point of view and I viewed the ready to wear collection as a natural extension of that vision. Your family has been in furrier business for quite some time. What’s it like to carry the torch of five venerable generations? I always challenge myself to keep up the high standards of my family tradition- they were extraordinary, master artisans who took as much pride in the making of the garment as they did in the design. J. Mendel is very much a French brand, how do you attempt to embody this legacy in your designers? I will never lose my Parisian aesthetic. It’s part of my identity. You work with a rich mix of materials ranging from tweeds, to silk and fur to make beautiful garments. What tactics do you use? Luxurious and innovative fabrics always inspire my collections — I love challenging myself to bring the unexpected to these materials. One year you collaborated with Justin Giunta of Subversive Jewelry. Any plans for more collaborative work in the future? I’m always looking for interesting new collaborations. You’ve been showing at fashion week New York since ’04, how has this benefited the label? Being part of fashion week was essential for my brand global. The attention that we receive is really incredible -– and it never hurts to celebrate the new collection with a little Champagne. Who would be some ideal attendees for your runway shows? The right mix of top editors, our very special clients and the celebrities who are fans! What is your day-to-day schedule like? 6:00 a.m. I wake up, hopefully work out and I’m definitely at the studio by 8:00a.m. Work, work, work. Sketches, fittings, store business and the evenings always vary. Where do you go to escape? Aigua Blava in Catalonia near Barcelona with my childhood friends. What are some of your favorite places to dine, drink and shop? Omen for noodles, Eto En for sushi, 11 Madison for French and the best martini; and for shopping of course I go to Bergdorf’s. For more information on Thursday’s talk with Gilles Mendel at the Florence Gould Hall, visit http://www.fiaf.org/events/winter2010/2010-02-fashion.shtml. Tommy Hilfiger and Marc Jacobs will also be partaking in French Institute Alliance Française’s Art de Vivre series with talks later this spring

Photo: Kevin Sturman

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