City Style: Sew Cool

With four collections already under his (brand-new Marc Jacobs!) belt, 21-year-old Sam Mendoza is quickly stitching his way to the top.

For Sam Mendoza, it all started with a few Texas gals in full-length fur. As a child in Houston, Mendoza learned that fashion always comes first by watching his mother’s friends brave the 50-degree “chill” in their finest minks. Later he discovered his own flair for refining a look: “In the ’90s, if you were wearing Polo, you were wearing all Polo—boots, jeans, boxers, belt,” he says. “All the kids did it, but I did it really well.”

Since then, the thrift store fanatic and Boston University junior has held fast to his keen sense of style. Nowadays he’s outfitting others with his two-year-old couture clothing line, JeTom (“pronounced ‘zhuh,’ like the French word, and ‘Tom,’ like the all-American boy from the hills,” he explains). His one-of-a-kind dresses, handmade from vintage materials like curtains, couch upholstery, stretch polyester, and reconstructed denim, are feminine and edgy. Many are cheekily stenciled with images of his friends: Ernesto, an advertising major from Houston; Anita, an education major from Connecticut.

“I’m not about being counterculture or a hipster,” says Mendoza, whose influences include Alber Elbaz for Lanvin and Olivier Theyskens for Rochas, and whose personal wardrobe veers toward the muted monochromatic. “I want women to look perfect, put together.” Between a hectic school schedule and two part-time jobs, Mendoza has produced four Fashion Week–caliber runway shows and caught the eye of local stylemakers, including Stil owner (and Mendoza’s boss) Betty Riaz.

“It sold out. And then sold out again,” says Riaz of Mendoza’s fall collection. His new line for spring—a mix of Indian- and Mexican-inspired pieces ranging from $200 to $400—is now showcased in Stil’s windows, but don’t expect Mendoza to get too big, too fast. “I’ll never mass-produce JeTom,” he insists. “I don’t think I could ever let anyone else touch it!”