From Russia with Love

An Interview with Gilles Mendel

OR: What do you think makes a great luxury brand?

Mendel: A great luxury brand is true to its tradition and history. Luxury to me is timeless. It’s something that is unique, that has the highest level of craftsmanship. We do fashion, but as a luxury house. Luxury is something that is special, that feels unique for you.

We live today, obviously, in a global world. The market is global, and luxury brands are also getting more and more global. I think that in this market, J. Mendel has a very unique niche because we are artisans. I think more and more that J. Mendel is not about a label, it’s not about a logo. It’s about the product. I think luxury gets appreciated when it’s about the product and not logo-oriented. I think that wealthy consumers today are looking for products that are special, that are unique, where you can see the workmanship in the garment, and you can also not automatically identify it with what your neighbor might be wearing.

Globally, the luxury market seems to go directly to those most special things. That’s why I think big houses today try to do things to measure. Everyone is trying to recreate a niche of uniqueness in a world of disposable fashion. Wealthy people want to spend money on something extraordinary, something that doesn’t look like what someone else can acquire. Our brand definitely caters to that customer. I think that a very exclusive clientele appreciates and understands our craftsmanship. They understand the quality; they understand the modernity of the product, but also its exclusivity. I think exclusivity becomes essential in this troubled market.

OR: What’s next for you and for the company?

Mendel: There are different categories that we want to develop further. Obviously, accessories are very important, especially bags. We are looking to further develop bags and leather goods, basically. There are natural affinities with J. Mendel. We want to develop home furnishings, for example. There is no more natural extension to the fur and the ready-to-wear sides of our business than to bring all those details and all that refinement and femininity to home furnishings, whether they’re fur blankets or pillows or upholstered furniture. All these things are part of our future. Outerwear is another idea. We started as a company that makes coats for the wintertime, so naturally we want to do more fur-lined coats, things for skiing and so on. This a project we’re working on. We want to bring perfume into the equation. That will come once we have reached a certain amount of distribution worldwide. We are getting there slowly, but we need a little time before moving to perfume.

OR: Are there people in the industry that you regard as real visionaries?

Mendel: In fashion, I would say that you have iconic designers like Karl Lagerfeld or Alexander McQueen.

OR: What was it like to work with Snoopy?

Mendel: I loved it. It was not that difficult: you have clear DNA and a clear picture of what the brand is about. Belle had to wear my little ethereal dress. It was fun. I love to play with cartoons, I love the challenge of bringing new ideas and a little piece of my experience to a world that is so different from mine. My best experience like that in the past was when I did two ballets for the New York City Ballet with Peter Martins. Working with dancers was extraordinary. It brought freshness to my eyes. I felt I was on vacation every day in the studio in the New York City Ballet atelier, because when you bring hand-pleated dresses to life on dancers — it’s heaven. It’s a lot of fun. I want to do more of those projects.