Gilles Mendel was at Maison Atia’s first fashion week presentation Thursday morning purely for moral support.
While his daughter Chloe and her business partner Gustave Maisonrouge showed their first full-fledged fall collection of faux-fur coats, jackets, capelets and accessories, the designer stood off in the wings. Bright-colored teddy-bear-type styles and rocker-chic designs were the main attraction in a salon in the Baccarat Hotel.
Mendel said she was inspired by the Seventies, “the strongest era in art, music and social movements,” and favors a rock-‘n’-roll chic, traces of which can be seen in the faux leather belts on the coats. A more of-the-moment musician, UNI’s Charlotte Kemp Muhl, was photographed by Henry Lopez for the fall look book.
Since launching Maison Atia in November 2017, the founders have created a business that has prospered from personal connections. Photographer Inez van Lamsweerde has become a strong supporter and friend. Mendel met van Lamsweerde through Stila founder Jeanine Lobell, whom she has been friends with for years. Van Lamsweerde wears Mendel’s design on a regular basis, including on Feb. 8 when she photographed Kate Moss. Moss liked the Maison Atia coat van Lamsweerde was wearing so much that she inquired about getting one. So the photographer texted Mendel straight away and Mendel replied that Moss could have anything she wanted. Coats were sent, thanks were given, photos were taken.
“This week Sophia Bush got a coat, Naomi Watts got a coat, and that’s all because of [InStyle’s editor in chief] Laura Brown. She’s been amazing,” Mendel said. “She wears our coats all the time. And she’s been promoting us on the side. She will text me, ’This girl needs a coat. What do we do?’”
As part of its Buy a Coat, Save a Puppy program, every coat purchase provides free transportation for a homeless animal to a no-kill shelter. The faux-fur label works with “old-school” furriers, who understand they need to be more modern, expand their factories and try new techniques. Maison Atia makes 90 percent of its goods in New York. Ikram in Chicago and Gratus in Beverly Hills are among the specialty stores that carry the label. “Wholesale is not our bread and butter. It is a partnership with beautiful stores that we feel elevate the brand. And we can work with stores to make cool experiences with customers,” she said.
Favoring a direct-to-consumer model, the brand sells online and hosts pop-ups such as ones at Performance Ski in Aspen and three stores in Chicago. “Gustave and I want to build interaction. That’s what we like most about it,” Mendel said.
Having interned and worked for her father off-and-on for six years, Mendel’s take on faux fur is more sophisticated than most. When needed, her father offers “a wealth of advice,” even texting photos of his hand-drawn solutions to any design conundrums that she occasionally asks of him. “I’m just here to make sure the belts are straight,” he said kiddingly Wednesday.
Mendel also has the ear of her husband Billy Corgan, frontman of the Smashing Pumpkins. With a three-year-old son and a four-month-old daughter, she divides her time between New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where Corgan often works. A wrestling fan since he was a child, Corgan bought the National Wrestling Alliance, a historic wrestling organization in 2017. While the WWE is a $1 billion company, Mendel said there is room for two, adding that the NWA offers various styles of wrestling, different videos and the opportunity for competition globally. As a boy, Corgan watched [Chicago promoter] Bob Luce’s wrestling team on weekends with his grandmother. “As it’s been publicized, he had a rough childhood. His grandmother was someone who really took care of him. That was a way that they spent time together,” Mendel said.
Corgan owns Luce’s photography collection and ultimately would like to stage an art exhibition. Mendel said, “Bob was a reporter and he shot everything on a Brownie camera so he just bought thousands of pictures from the archives. He has an incredible wrestling art collection. They did all their posters on metal transfers, great black-and-white and great color photos. It would be great for a contemporary art museum.”