Fashion Masochist: The Designer's Muse

By Rachel Baker | Boston Magazine |

Couturiers have long had "muses," stylish, high-profile women from whom they seek inspiration, and on whom they showcase the fruits of their inspired labors. Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn. Alexander Wang and Erin Wasson. Marc Jacobs and Posh Spice. When Braintree gown maker Michael De Paulo, once known for his more matronly outfits, teamed with local bombshell Tonya Mezrich to dress her for red-carpet events, it was win-win: He got exposure outside the graying debutante circuit; she got a new frock for every night.

After a few less-than-subtle hints, I get Boston fashion wunderkind Sam Mendoza to take me on as his muse. Wholeheartedly. We must, he insists, rack up substantial quality together time to ensure the essence of my style—my soul!—imbues his inner consciousness and, thus, his designs. So we buddy-shop on Saturdays, cocktail after work, and give each other wake-up calls every shaky morning.

The night before our public debut at a fashion-centered gala with pricey tickets and a boldface guest list, Sam works into the wee hours finishing the "Rachel" skirt—a tweedy number with a long train—which he pairs with a black chiffon T-shirt. As a cocktail-mini kind of girl, I wouldn’t have chosen something like this. Suppressing my inner control freak, however, I remind myself that as a muse, mine is to be inspiring, not demanding.

This accommodating outlook lasts until we make our grand entrance, when I spew to everyone within earshot, "I’m wearing Sam!"—which translates loosely as "Don’t blame me if I look awful!" But once the compliments start gushing and photographers angle to get a shot of us together, I’m back at ease.

I find myself growing addicted to my inspirational superpowers, but also spread thin. I’m expected to hop out of work to "collaborate" whenever the moment strikes. When Sam holds a trunk show for his holiday line, I’m tapped to DJ: I’m needed to inspire with musical stylings, and besides, my namesake skirt has a prime window spot. After splurging at the Barneys sale, I sprint over to show Sam my scores. The dress I plan to wear on a big date the next night, the Master feels, would look better a tad shorter (read: from knee-high to mid-thigh), and he’s willing to sacrifice sleep to make that happen.

After two weeks, I’m so hooked on the gig I’ve started shirking other responsibilities to get my fix. I appreciate Sam’s sacrifices but no longer have any left to make myself. If only musing came with a salary and health benefits.