A fifth-generation French atelier, Gilles Mendel of J. Mendel is a master when it comes to elegant luxury. Known for his ultra-feminine designs, he combines unique fabrics – such as laser-cut mink, fine leather and beautiful cashmere, to create clothes that are timelessly beautiful and wearable (something that our clients appreciate). We spoke with Gilles about his muses, new bag collection, and his favorite place in the world.
What inspired you to create your fabulous bag collection? Launching J. Mendel handbags was a natural next-step in the evolution of the brand. As a ready-to-wear designer, I have always strived to create what I call “modern heirlooms” – beautifully crafted, stand-alone pieces that you’ll love and keep forever; which is exactly how I would want my customers to think of a J. Mendel bag – extremely chic and modern, but designed to stand the test of time.
What inspires you most creatively? It’s a combination of things – art, history, street style, movies . . . And women inspire me! My late mother, my daughter, my girlfriend, iconic actresses like Jane Birkin, Charlotte Rampling, Romy Schneider. I have a lot of muses in my life!
We know that many women have inspired you through the years, but if you had to name one, who would be your favorite muse of all time? My favorite muse is my mother. She was incredibly chic and fashion-forward for her time, and I’m deeply sorry she never lived to see me design. I would have loved to have dressed her.
How do you typically begin your design process? For me, everything begins with the fabric. Once I select my fabrics for the season, it all starts to evolve from there. I do develop an inspiration board with my design team using reference images and so forth, but that generally serves to provide the context for the collection. It’s the fabrics themselves that provide the language.
We know you have worked on special projects throughout your career. Do you have a favorite? One of my favorite creative projects was designing for the New York City Ballet, working with the incredible Peter Martins (Ballet Master in Chief), and costume designer, Marc Happel. The ballet is one of my favorite art forms. It’s all about the architecture and movement of the body, which is the intellectual current that runs through my own design process.
What music gets you going in your studio these days? I love music, and I love to dance, but in my studio I prefer the sound of silence. No distractions!
Of all the beautiful things you have created, is there one item that you would consider a greatest hit or all time favorite? My very first runway collection was, I thought, a perfect articulation of the DNA of the brand: Ethereal, highly-crafted gowns, with clear technical references to the fur masters of my ancestry. To this day, it remains among my favorites.
What was your most memorable career moment? Being awarded the prestigious Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Fashion Design, and having lunch at the White House with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, was a great honor, and a definite career high!
If you had to choose only one, what is your favorite store in the world? One of my favorite places in the world is Carette, a little pastry shop and tea-room in Paris that faces the Eiffel Tower. I used to go there almost daily as a boy, and to this day their lemon tarts and pastries are killer!
If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you be? Either a painter, or lead guitarist in a rock band. It’s probably just as well I’m a fashion designer…
Here are some of our favorite J. Mendel looks.