story written by Lisa Radano
photography and art direction by Charles Beckwith
styling by Theo Hackney
styling assistant Sharone Reid
makeup by LaTasha Quianna
hair styling by Jeb Stuart Johnston
models Kendall and Amy of Red Model Management
garments by Arthur Mendonca
shoes and belts by Schumacher
jewelry by Sharone Reid for Traci Lynn
Arthur Mendonca designed his first collection in 2002 and has been a prized contributor to the Toronto fashion scene ever since. He has also shown his collections in New York, Sao Paolo, Montreal, Los Angeles and London, garnering fulsome reviews. His boldly feminine clothes have adorned the covers of Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and Elle magazines, and have been found within the covers of In Style, Wallpaper and Forbes. His special occasion pieces have attracted attention on red carpets around the world and are favored by many actresses who appreciate the way his rich colors, classic lines and fine quality stand up to the hot light of the world’s attention.
Accomplished as he is, Mendonca is a decidedly low-key person. He is soft spoken, he comes to the point and sticks to it, eschewing the sort of frivolity and hyperbole that so many in the fashion world are prone to. Over the last decade his brand has grown steadily, sold in Holt Renfrew, Canada’s premiere department store, as well as many preferred boutiques. Of late he has opened a New York showroom in lieu of establishing a foothold in the American market, which he and his team know is essential for the growth of the business. We spoke to him amidst this positive time of new direction, and found him to be – quietly excited.
mC: What got you started as a designer?
Well…I was always into fashion. I studied design at Ryerson University and I’ve been doing fashion for as long as I can remember – sketching or just playing dress-up. I’ve always made clothes for my friends; it’s always been something I was interested in.
Word has it that as a young child in his native Portugal, Mendonca’s creativity and talent were put to use drawing two particular things: spaceships and dresses. Gifted as he was, he was also practical beyond his years and realized that with the limits of existing technology, drawing and subsequently making dresses would be his more fulfilling choice. And so his future was decided early on.
mC: Who were you big influences in finding yourself as a designer?
I love Yves Saint Laurent’s mix of masculine and feminine. I’ve always loved “The Smoking” – always loved women in men’s clothes.
Tailoring is an identifying feature of Mendonca’s collections. He can be relied upon to offer glamorous yet pulled together clothes for a woman’s day that may need to go from the breakfast to the after dinner espresso. A balance between the sleek precision of menswear, and the caress of vibrant color or sensual texture are what imbued Saint Laurent’s classics with that mysterious Gallic flair – and Mendonca strives ably for it. His suitings, and separates have keen structure and offer support to any sort of woman’s body, while still imparting glamour. His evening and special occasion clothes are also tailored and well defined – the sheath being a frequent submission – however in evening, and also in resort clothes, Mendonca’s other influences come out to play.
I’ve always loved the color choices and the sexy Rock and Roll Amazon women of Gianni Versace.
Elaborate and florid as Versace was, he was devoted to perfection of both materials and fit. The vibrant, saturated colors and prints, which have increased with each collection over the last few years, may well be an homage to the ebullient optimism of Maestro Versace – but Mendonca’s work in general is guided by that Italian worship of craft and quality. “Quality is everything,” he says. As a “Project Runway Canada” judge, Mendonca urged that young designers, always be working on their quality.
He credits finally Halston as another inspiration; the sexy drape and touchable aspect of seventies style are qualities to which he also aspires. His Spring 2013 collection explored an Asian theme, a world that YSL, Versace and Halston all frequented. Kimono coats, Mandarin collars, and origami pleats were played against the silken drape of slouchy pants, shifts and skirts. Ethereal swath was girded by a variety of waist focusing belts and cropped jackets. When a designer’s varied influences and contrasting strengths fuse to form an effortless balance – when their talent matures into a confident yet enthused voice – then surely it’s time to broaden horizons and get the work out to a wider market.
When asked about how he positions his clothes he spoke about his expansion into the New York scene with the subdued optimism he’s known for and which is also proper for the times.
I showed in New York in 2007 and I’m just about to launch my spring collection with a new showroom in New York. I think this has always been a tough business but I think now more than ever. I’ve signed a contract with Winston Showroom to have my clothes represented, so that’s a helpful step. But it’s never a one-man show. There’s always a lot of people that make it all happen and I think having the right people around you to guide you and guide the collection – to take care of it – is important. Hopefully soon we’ll start showing in New York again. I hope to get into the right stores, major department stores and high-end boutiques. Hopefully with the New York showroom we can start to be a little more global.
Though he mentions hope more than once, selecting an Asian theme for this pioneering collection was both a clever and creative choice. Mendonca, known for grounding his talent with level-headedness, has no interest in trends or disposable clothing. He knows that’s not the woman who buys him or who will.
I like my brand to be known for great quality, great design, classic timeless clothing that you’ll wear forever. I’ve seen a lot of clients come in to fittings, Bankers or Lawyers, who are maybe not having the best day, and they’ll put on something a little more special, a cocktail dress maybe, and their whole persona changes. I think fashion is all about that. about bringing a little glamour into everyday life…
Now back to those spaceships. As time and technology march on, the dream of designing a craft in which to fly to the moon and beyond might eventually be a far less far-fetched dream for Mendonca. Should he ever finally get to build a spaceship, we are certain it would be a essentially practical vehicle, with just that touch of glamour.