Thursday, February 24, 2011

They have a grand design: Michael De Paulo and Tonya Mezrich

Braintree native De Paulo is the designer of the couture evening label Michael De Paulo. Mezrich is the creator of Jewel Design by Tonya and the wife of Ben Mezrich, author of “The Accidental Billionaires,’’ the book on which the Oscar-nominated film “The Social Network’’ is based. Now the longtime friends have joined forces, debuting the Fall 2011 line of their new ready-to-wear fashion label mike&ton at the W this week. We chatted with them about the new venture.

De Paulo: We basically started thinking about it a year and a half ago. From the beginning we started with the idea of maybe doing party dresses. As it evolved, it got more specific to doing a full-scale collection for Fall 2011. Tonya and I met through a mutual friend. I dressed her for the Boston premiere of “21,’’ the movie based on her husband’s book, and we clicked immediately. I’ve been dressing her in my couture gowns over the past three years. It was a great natural thing.

Q. How do you describe the new designs?

Mezrich: It’s a women’s contemporary line. We have mixed Michael’s aesthetic from his couture line with a modern everyday Boston woman’s aesthetic. We’re starting with the Boston market because this is our hometown. We wanted to design clothing women could wear to be dressier at work, but transition into something they can wear at night by switching out their shoes and jewelry. That way the clothing has legs.

De Paulo: It’s a very clean aesthetic, for a sophisticated, urban, chic woman. It’s classic, but it has an edge to it which can be seen in the bold industrial zippers we’ve been using as our signature, and adjustable slit heights. We have signature elements like angled pockets in skirts and pants. And it’s filled with separates: pants, pencil skirts, tops, dresses.

Q. How does the partnership work?

De Paulo: I do lots of the sketching, and we constantly are either draping fabric together, or she’ll come up with a piece that she thinks might be nice in the line and I’ll build upon it or vice versa. It’s very collaborative, we mutually agree most typically. We talk it out.

Q. Is that common, for designing partners to get along so well?

De Paulo: I think we’re both positive people. When we do business we do business and when we’re friends we’re friends. I think the reason it works for the designs is we have a similar aesthetic. We can read each other’s minds.

Q. Tonya, you’ve done mostly jewelry design previously. Was this a big jump?

Mezrich: It’s different in the sense that the process is very specific to garments, but the actual designing process of working through a sketch and tweaking it, that is very similar. It’s an artistic process. Where it was different is I don’t come from a clothing background, so Michael is the one I defer to on fabric and vendors — who we’re getting zippers from and that kind of thing. I put in my two cents in that we’re designing for a demographic of 25-55 — and up — but that’s our core demo. I sort of give the voice of that woman. That’s where it’s handy to have that partnership. Michael has a beautiful aesthetic sense, but he’s still a guy. It’s great to have that woman’s point of view.

Q. Michael, you are dressing Tonya for the Oscars, right?

De Paulo: I am. The dress is done. We’re fitting it and doing tweaks on it. The gown is a red taffeta gown, and it’s in a mermaid style. It has my signature, layered pleats on the skirt, and it has a feminine touch with a sculptural silhouette, embossed flowers on the bodice intertwining.

Q. Who else would you be most excited to see wearing your line? Any big names lined up?

De Paulo: Our plan is to get it on celebrity clientele, maybe something like a “Gossip Girl’’ or something like that. That would be fun and great. But really the great thing about the line is it’s kind of ageless. Someone from age of 20 to 80 years old can find something that they can utilize within the line.

Q. What do you think of the state of fashion in Boston right now? Is it still an afterthought?

Mezrich: Good question. One of the reasons why we had this idea is that we feel Boston has started to put itself on the map for the fashion world with all our local designers. I think it’s important for Boston as a metropolitan city to really embrace fashion. Boston Fashion Week, every year it gets better and better. I think it’s only going to grow from where it is. It’s not the town where people wear their plaid shirts and khaki pants anymore. People go to parties and don’t want to be wearing just that little black dress, they want to make a statement.

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