Designer Gilles Mendel. Photo: Getty Images
It is surprisingly quiet walking into J. Mendel
's New York headquarters less than one week before designer Gilles Mendel
shows his Fall 2011 collection at Lincoln Center. But deeper behind the scenes, things are buzzing as sewers, patternmakers and drapers piece together Mendel's stunning fur coats and gowns for the runway.
Mendel himself is back there too. Calm as can be, he is sitting with one of his designers going over some of the details. The topic at hand? How many grommets for a belt for a fur coat he is designing. Just after they finalize those plans, another designer comes over to show Mendel a gown she is working on.
"This is a beautiful one for the red carpet," he says looking over a romantic strapless black lace number. "When I design, I think about the woman in the dress. It's about sculpting the dress on the woman. And it has to have the right balance in the details -- embroidery and draping. It's about making a woman feel special in one of my designs."
Although he really couldn't be busier, Mendel took a few moments to chat with StyleList about another important event for his business: award season.
He said he never knows who (if anyone) will chose to wear one of his designs until she appears on the red carpet the day of the event, so he doesn't directly think about that when creating one of his gowns. But when a celebrity chooses his design, he says it's one of his highest honors. His long list of celebrity fans includes Cameron Diaz
, Demi Moore
, Heidi Klum
, Amy Adams, Faith Hill and Kerry Washington
, to name a few.
Here, just in time for the Academy Awards
, the designer chats about his idea of red carpet etiquette.
What makes a good red-carpet look?
It's all about combining elegance, luxury and beauty and then adding a modern twist.
What is needed to carry off a gown on the red carpet?
Confidence, poise and the perfect fit. Being on a killer body doesn't hurt.
How do you feel about accessories
on the red carpet?
I love to see a statement piece of jewelry paired with one of my gowns, but it's important to choose accessories that complete the look. It's important to remember that sometimes less is more. Too many accessories can kill the look.
Why do you think you've become such a go-to designer for those celebrity red-carpet looks?
I always try to design clothes that make a woman feel and look beautiful, and I guess actresses appreciate that
Taylor Swift at the People's Choices Awards; Iman in a custom dress at the 2011 BET Honors; Dianna Agron of "Glee" at the Golden Globes. Photos: Getty Images (2) | Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT
What is your biggest challenge when dressing a celebrity for the big event?
I'm not sure if there's one particular challenge. Being a perfectionist is pretty much ingrained in my personality. So getting a gown to the point that I'm happy with it is probably the most challenging part.
Do you have a dream client whom you would like to dress yet have not?
There are two: Michelle Obama
and Sophia Loren
Are you ever nervous when you watch the red carpet during awards season?
I wouldn't say that I'm nervous. I still find it very thrilling to see my designs on gorgeous women, and it's always interesting to see how a person's unique style shines through and makes one of my designs her own look.
How do you feel when you see copies of your dresses from the red carpet?
I find it flattering and a sign of success when someone tries to duplicate one of my designs. Craftsmanship and quality are two of the most important principles I use when designing clothes, and the knockoffs never embody either, so it isn't a threat of any kind.
What is a red-carpet no-no in your book?
I love it when women look effortless, but I can't stand sloppiness. There is a big difference!
Like what you see? Check out our review of Mendel's Spring 2011 collection
See the bright lip beauty trend from Mendel in this Spring 2011 partner video: