By Hannah Yakobi
Photography by Kareen Mallon
In a jam-packed venue, the audience eagerly clapped, nodded in approval and shouted words of support after the show. It was a long runway presentation that was a true feast for the eyes – plenty of silks, trendy oversized eyewear and funky stilettos. A stylist next to me was smiling, as we both got up from our seats. That’s always a good sign.
This was a very special collection by Arthur Mendonça, as it marked the designer’s tenth anniversary in the fashion industry. After a hectic week of interviews and meetings, he caught up with me to chat about the show and also reflect back on his career so far.
HANNAH YAKOBI: You had a great collection this season. People are still talking about it now. Can you tell us how you put it together? Did you have a specific idea in mind?
ARTHUR MENDONÇA: I work very closely with my fashion director George Antonopoulos, and we’ve been working together for 10 years now. We bounce around ideas and look at fabrics together.
Silhouette-wise, I was definitely feeling an Asian influence this season, so we started with that and played with different shapes. We bought a few kimonos and took them apart to see how they were built.
We also looked at the colour schemes. Sometimes, it just triggers something like: ‘Oh, this reminds me of x, y, z.’ The fabric will sometimes dictate where things are going or the colour story.
And you had a big collection too, there were a lot of pieces. How long did it take to put everything together?
We went to a large fabric trade show in Paris that happens twice a year. I guess that’s where it kind of began. So it started in February, and we finished the main bulk of the collection in August.
If you had to pick three trends from this collection, what would they be?
I would have to say shine, colour and volume.
People also loved the accessories that accompanied the clothes in your show. I know some were wondering where the shoes came from.
Oh, that’s something George scoured the city for, and we really liked the whole lacquered feel to them and the sculptural shape of the heel. But he has his secrets, so I am not sure he would divulge them! [laughs]
We would love to design shoes one day too, and it’s just a budgetary thing right now, so we buy or borrow shoes, and we usually revamp them. We’ve had shows where we’ve covered shoes with fur, spray-painted them, or we did a whole ribbon revamp.
You also have a European background – does that influence your work and your style, or do you try to combine American elements with European ones?
I think a bit of both. The European part makes me a little more romantic and not so practical. And my North American side is more practical sportswear. I think I am a mix of the two.
How much of your time do you spend in Toronto?
Almost all of my time is spent in Toronto, but I go to New York maybe twice a year for a week or two just for sales and personal purposes. And I spend a week in Paris twice a year at the fabric shows.
You dress a lot of celebrities. What are some of the challenges of doing that?
Celebrities come in and they always want more classic or Red Carpet pieces. Most celebrities I have dressed have all been really great, not super demanding or diva-like. A lot of the time, I just send pieces to their home or to their agent, but some of them do come in and try things on.
You also frequently judge different competitions. You’ve been involved in Basch It Up with Wesley Badanjak and were also on Project Runway Canada as a guest judge. In some of these projects you obviously have to coach people and give them advice, and sometimes you have to be very blunt. Are you good at being blunt?
[laughs] Well, I never want to be mean, I try to be constructive and, you know, a little constructive criticism is always good. And just give them some pointers, some advice.
When I did Project Runway, and [then watched] the final episode, most of the clips were actually of me being more critical. What they didn’t show was all the other constructive criticism or positive feedback I had given. It’s interesting. TV is a whole different animal and you never know what they are going to edit in the editing room. I much prefer having a one-on-one with the student or young designer.
This is FAJO’s Anniversary Issue and this year you are celebrating your own anniversary – a decade in the fashion industry. What would you say have been the highlights in your career so far? Have you had any of those moments, where things just happened and you thought: ‘I really made it now’?
I think when I had one of my dresses on the cover of the American Cosmo, that was a pretty big moment. It was in 2006 or 2007, with Hayden Panettiere from the show Heroes wearing a white jersey dress of mine. That was very exciting.
And also the time when Nelly Furtado wore my outfit to the MTV Music Awards in Europe or the Grammys, that was pretty cool. Those kinds of milestones are great.
The first year I got into Holt Renfrew was a big event too.
What do you love about the fashion industry?
One of my favourite things is seeing real women wearing the clothes in public. For example, at the last show, I had a lot of my clients in attendance, and they were all wearing Arthur Mendonça from head-to-toe. These are not supermodels or actresses; they are real women of all ages, with different body types and sizes. And they all looked great.
When you’re a designer, you do a lot of lookbooks and photoshoots. If you could do anything for a dream photoshoot, what would it involve? How would you picture it?
I would love to do it somewhere exotic, like South America. If we had a dream photoshoot and an amazing budget with no qualms, I would hire someone like Daria Werbowy, or supermodels from the 90s, or Gisele Bundchen. And fly everyone down to Rio de Janeiro for a photoshoot in an exotic rain forest.
Super glamourous, tropical and fun. Something like a Duran Duran video!
In the studio