Chloé Mendel recalls after-school walks home along the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she grew up, and fond memories of her regular visits to her father’s J. Mendel workroom, located just next door to their residence. As a young girl, Mendel was captivated by the trade and traditions of the multi-generations of furriers in her family. Fast-forward, and today she is in the process of building her own legacy that not only sustains those techniques passed down, but makes sustainability the very focus of the brand. Maison Atia produces faux fur clothing and accessories from couture and ready-to-wear, to a newer line called MA by Maison Atia and fabricated from plants and recycled plastic with a zero-waste policy. While Mendel’s New York City roots hold strong (she has a design studio in East Harlem), her current residential base is here on the North Shore of Chicago.
Maison Atia is comprised of a small staff led by Mendel and her friend and business co-founder Gustave Maisonrouge. “He is the one who manages strategy, organization, and deadlines for the company,” says Mendel, “because I don’t even pay my own bills on time!” Within one year the dynamic duo had a capsule collection that debuted in 2017, and soon an impressive national retail market followed. Now available at small exclusive shops including Winnetka’s neapolitan, and larger high-end department store venues such as Neiman Marcus, the pair also hosted a Maison Atia stand-alone pop-up boutique on Madison Avenue last fall. “Fur is such a luxurious medium,” remarks Mendel, “but you need big investors, as a sable coat, for example, can cost up to half a million dollars. We wanted a product applying the same craftsmanship and care with more accessibility and affordability.” Full-length and mid-waist coats, sweaters, vests, handbags, hair accessories, shoes, and a host of other garments may be accented on collars, cuffs, and pocket squares, or allover detailed in a fur-like material. To the touch it is just as soft and luxurious as the real thing, yet easy to spot-clean with soap and water and without the same cost or controversy. “We noticed a gap in marketplace,” comments Mendel, “women of all ages needed an alternative and also another vernacular for fur.” That ingenuity has enabled the company to branch out in a multitude of directions. In 2019, they introduced the label MA by Maison Atia, with a more reasonable price point for outerwear made from Koba, composed of corn by-product and repurposed materials. More recently, the “Zoom dress” premiered as an easy-go-to A-line short-sleeve ruffled sheath available in two color variations and perfect for workplace meeting quarantine chic.
Her father, Gilles Mendel, apprenticed in the Paris atelier of his father (the family furrier lineage dates back to late 19th Century St. Petersburg, Russia), and after developed the full-service J. Mendel salons, offering furs, bridal, and evening gowns. So too, Mendel began as an intern with her father. “Every summer during middle school I was learning sewing, stitching, pattern-making, and my brother even ran deliveries,” reminisces Mendel. It’s that hands-on approach that finds her both at ease with needle and thread embroidering a one-of-a-kind piece, and in her deep appreciation for quality and beauty. She remembers dressing for dinners served on fine porcelain when visiting her paternal grandparents in France, contrasted to the influences of her fashionable mother, a fabulous cook seeking a more holistic approach, “If I had a headache my mom would say, let’s meditate.” The combination consistently informs Mendel’s own initiatives. MA by Maison Atia is proudly 100 percent sustainable, and while Mendel is always sourcing vendors internationally within the framework of this environmentally conscious mission, it is never at the expense of style and elegance.
On a local level, Mendel’s personal passion for pet advocacy and her relationship with PAWS Chicago, has become a critical part of her work. She describes the organization as a “magical place,” and one that benefits from a percentage of company sales through the #BuyACoatSaveAPuppy campaign. Her involvement began shortly after moving to the Midwest to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and it is a commitment she shares with partner Billy Corgan, the musician and Smashing Pumpkins lead band member, and their two young children. As a couple they run Madame ZuZu’s Teahouse in Highland Park, a cafe with a plant-based menu, comedy and concert evening events, and a space to showcase and sell a selection of MA by Maison Atia. Once a self-described “city kid,” Mendel is surprised at how easily she has taken to suburban life. “I have a vegetable and a prairie grass garden in my backyard!” When not traveling the globe to launch a Fashion Week seasonal show or find a cutting-edge textile mill, you might catch her baking vegan pastries at 5 in the morning or poring over sketches that she frequently presents to her father for his valued input. No matter the scenery, Mendel’s vision for faux fur and Maison Atia remains clear as it is one that is quite simply in her nature to nurture.
For more information, visit maisonatia.com. Madame ZuZu’s Teahouse is located at 1876 1st Street, Highland Park, 847-926-7359.