An electric guitar wails, and a keyboard chimes right in. It's a good thing the neighbors are rarely around when Gilles Mendel and his teenage children rock out on weekends, given the decibel levels the trio generates. Says the blue-eyed, close-cropped fashion designer, "We have no problem converting the apartment into something of a soundstage." With Mendel manning a guitar and daughter Chloe and son Sacha taking charge of the other instruments, tunes by Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles regularly shake the rooms of the family's elegant duplex near Central Park.
This juxtaposition of raucous use and subtly rendered spaces seems perfectly normal to the CEO of , a fashion house known for fanciful furs and painstakingly crafted red-carpet gowns whose lines appear misleadingly spare. The clash between the apartment's shiny surfaces and mirrored walls (reminiscent of the 1970s glamour embodied by ) and its earthier elements (a Picasso lithograph, a vintage African-style ceramic mask) is a provocative consequence that its owner finds infinitely pleasing.
"He's definitely not a minimalist but neither is there any desire for excess," says Mendel's friend , an interior designer who took the residential settings in hand. "Gilles encounters so much visual noise in his working life; at home he was looking for a tailored, pared-down environment."
Until recently, however, his client had amassed an enviable collection of Art Deco furniture and Paris flea-market finds, which he ultimately decided not to deploy here. "With this apartment, I felt it was time to move into a new era, to move forward," Mendel says. The treasures have been stored for Chloe and Sacha, the potential sixth generation to lead a family firm that was launched in 1870.
Back then, Joseph Breitman, Mendel's great-great-grandfather, wrapped Russian aristocrats in sable. Three years ago, his descendant energized the business by launching sumptuous ready-to-wear that attracted a new roster of ardent Mendelites, among them Natasha Richardson, Demi Moore, Kyra Sedgwick, Beyoncé, and Kate Hudson. In the movie Factory Girl, Sienna Miller donned a striped mink coat custom made by the firm. Grindhouse star Rose McGowan showed up in a Grecian-style gown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute gala last spring with Mendel as her escort; he had whipped up her silk confection the night before.
Any of the aforementioned women would recognize this duplex as Mendel's. And not just for its creative use of fur. (Though who else would swathe a vintage Swan chair by Arne Jacobsen in meticulously sheared white mink?) "I wasn't initially convinced that my fashion principles would work here," says the designer, "but Alan allowed me to realize them."
When it comes to influences, Mendel has two particular weaknesses: the Far East and the 1970s. The latter period, he notes, was "a very special time, populated by muses like Jane Birkin, Charlotte Rampling, and Romy Schneider." Accordingly, Mendel's part of an 1882 townhouse synthesizes those disparate worlds—the romance of Asia meeting disco-era polish, Forbidden City scarlet giving way to floors painted high-gloss black, mirrored walls, and silvery flashes of chrome and nickel.
The work of , the Finnish-American architect responsible for the breathtaking TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport, is another Mendel touchstone. A Saarinen Tulip table topped with black marble centers the dining room, where the inky walls offer a gallery of black-and-white photographs—some are by legendary Colombian lensman Nereo, while others were snapped by Mendel's friend Günter Siever, the German über-hairstylist.
"I love how Saarinen transformed heavy materials like metal and concrete and made them seem weightless, pushing the boundaries of their potential," Mendel says. "I try to do likewise with fur, using it in unexpected ways, recasting it as a lithe fabric that can be fashioned into almost anything." With a grin, he adds, "I'm the only designer I know of who creates furs that don't always keep you warm!"
In the living room—an almond-pale space anchored by an oversize sofa that seems to float atop a mirrored base—pillows of nougat-beige mink made in Mendel's workshops are scattered here and there. A floor cushion of shaggy white Mongolian lamb is tossed invitingly in front of the fireplace. In one corner is a armchair tailored with jet-black pony hide.
In the striking master bedroom, a zebra rug serves as a graphic counterpoint to the blood-orange walls and ebonized wood floor. A deliberate departure from the '70s attitude of the rest of the apartment, this private space, Mendel says, "evokes Asia to me and is very close to my heart. When I sleep here, it takes me into another world." But not too far: When the temperature drops, there's a chinchilla blanket ready to warm things up.