Rebeca Mendoza showed signs of being a fashion designer from an early age. “When I was little, I would bring hand sketches of drawings of clothes and dresses and bring them to the supermarket,” Mendoza says. “When people were lining up to pay, I would pass them off to women and tell them that I could make dresses for them.” Growing up in a creative family in Mexico City—her mom is an art historian, her grandmother a painter and sculptor, and her father a writer—she was surrounded by inspiration and given freedom to experiment. It paid off, as she’s now the creative director at Mark Cross, America’s oldest luxury brand known for fine leather goods and ladylike purses.
Before joining Mark Cross in September 2021, Mendoza worked for many storied fashion labels. She started in womenswear at J. Mendel in 2003, then went to Proenza Schouler and Bibhu Mohapatra. She joined the Savile Row menswear brand Richard James as an accessories director in 2010, and two years later launched her own accessories brand, Rye, which she shuttered when she joined Calvin Klein in 2015. She’s worked for a wide-ranging number of brands, from the ultra-feminine J. Mendel to the height of sophisticated menswear at Richard James, so it makes sense that her own personal style would pull from eclectic influences as well. Armed, no pun intended, with a killer handbag collection and an eye for vintage pieces, Mendoza’s personal style is as enviable as the bags she designs for Mark Cross.
“I like to buy things that have a point of view,” Mendoza says. “I like wearing statement pieces. I feel like clothes and accessories give you power and they can help set you in a right mood. You feel more yourself, even, once you get dressed up in certain pieces.” Her favorite labels include Raf Simons for Calvin Klein, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, and Meryll Rogge. “I bought heavily into that collection. It was a very exciting time to be there,” she says of Simons’s time at Calvin Klein. He introduced several garments wrapped in plastic—notably a yellow fur coat from the fall 2017 collection—and Mendoza collected a few. “I think I’ll wear them forever,” she says.
Plastic-wrapped slip dresses might not be on any list of timeless investment pieces, but Mendoza sees things differently. “Clothing is too fun to wait to wear it,” she says. Designers that have an identifiable look—she calls out Phoebe Philo at Céline as an example—also have a staying power that appeals to her, whether or not the clothes are widely considered “classic.” As an accessories designer, she’s focused on that kind of longevity. “ I love that relationship with accessories that people have,” she says. “In accessories, you can invest in something and pass it down generations and I think that’s ultimately very sustainable.”
As for accessories, Mendoza has handbags from her grandmother that she treasures and always looks for a specific designer, Roberta di Camerino, at vintage stores in Europe. “It was a hot brand,” she says. “You can identify the years by the design of the pieces.” She also favors vintage Miu Miu bags and shoes, Helmut Lang accessories, and, of course, vintage Mark Cross. She had a few bags in her collection before she was appointed creative director, but recently has been delving into the archives. “I just recently reconnected with the last design director of Mark Cross before it temporarily closed in 1997,” she says. “I visited her at her home in Brooklyn and she showed me her incredible Mark Cross archives, which are amazing. It’s just so nice to have that piece of the puzzle and learn more about her brand and her heritage.”
Another key piece of Mark Cross’s history are two glamorous artists and expatriates from the 1920s: Gerald and Sara Murphy. Gerald took over Mark Cross from his father in the 1930s. Before then, he and Sara were friends to F. Scott Fitzgerald (they are widely believed to be the inspiration behind Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night), Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso (who painted portraits of Sara). Their life in Paris and Antibes is the subject of several books, including Mendoza’s “North Star,” Living Well Is the Best Revenge, by Calvin Tomkins. “[Sara] just carried herself in a very elegant way, but very casual,” Mendoza says. “She would wear pearls a lot but wear them to the beach. She called it sunning her pearls. Picasso painted her with pearls draped down her back. I’m using a lot of that history in the design of our bags. There’s a lot of icons in the company. I believe in introducing them to younger generations and making them fun and interesting and giving them more power, as well.”