By Tammy Scileppi
“Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” —Rachel Zoe
Used to be, fashion dictated what people wore. Obviously, that’s no longer the case. Just look around you.
The newest, edgiest creations walked the runways and became the talk of the town during New York Fashion Week, which took Gotham by storm from Sept. 6 to Sept. 10.
While the artisan cocktails flowed, the audience could probably sense some of the city’s street fashion vibe reflected in the exclusive styles walking the runways. And within a truly awe-inspiring setting, all eyes were on the graceful models.
This gala event took place at the Angel Orensanz Center — located at 172 Norfolk St. in Manhattan — an amazing venue transformed from a former synagogue built in 1849.
Maria Elena Couture showcased designs from a head-turning, eye-catching collection during two New York Fashion Week shows at Angel Orensanz. The shows on Sept. 7 and Sept. 9 had an intriguing theme: seaside moonlight romance.
Reflecting that theme, a total of 14 MEC handbags along with the fashion company’s “Mimmo and Lola” couture styles walked the runways Sept .7 for the Art Heart Fashion Show, and on Sept. 9, MEC’s creations included 21 handbags and couture pieces defining the 2019 Collection for the SMA Global Fashion Show.
Music and art accompanied the glitz and glamour and MEC’s models rocked a stunning array of designer numbers to a composite of traditional Cuban sounds from mambo to boleros. The audience silhouette consisted of people from TV and retail, to fashionistas, and family and friends.
“MEC, like myself, calls the very culturally diverse borough of Queens home,” said MEC founder Maria Elena Piña-Fonti, a Queens resident and fashion designer/business woman who knows how to get things done.
She said she was excited about presenting her colorful Cuban-inspired creations at the New York Fashion Week shows and was “thrilled” to share her story with TimesLedger readers.
Piña-Fonti’s designs are expressed in fashionable prints and patterns, and distinctive shapes and textures. She knows how to skillfully blend a touch of Cuban flavor and retro glamour with a variety of other influences, to create striking contemporary designs that take inspiration from family, friends, and Cuban historical figures and icons.
“My designs are a blend of the contemporary and traditional to create the unique. As is the case of everyone in a relationship with their fashion pieces. I believe that fashion, whether clothing or handbags, should not be defined or limited to the age of the person wearing them. Rather, it should be an extension of the spirit of the woman that carries it or wears the creation,” she said. “Colors are devoid of age. They are an expression of the energy you feel and that which defines you as the woman selecting and wearing the design.”
She described her collection’s vibe at New York Fashion Week as “a visual depiction of the varied phases of romance, from puppy love to tempestuous passionate romance in synergy with the never-ending energy of the seaside.”
Inspired by the energy of her everyday life and memories of her dual cultures of the United States and native Cuba, the designer said her handbags are christened after important women both in her life and historical figures in the Cuban culture.
“For example, we have a new bag called Florencia after Florence Nightingale, mother of nursing,” Piña-Fonti said. “Additionally, the Dulce bag is christened after a Cuban poetess and daughter of the author of the Cuban National Anthem. Its colors are reflective of the colors of the U.S. and Cuban flag and National Cuban bird Tocororo. I believe fashion can be a teaching moment.”
She is personally engaged in the construction of her couture and handbag designs. The garments are skillfully crafted here in New York and Miami by “stellar” men and women with great experience. The handbags, a mix of fabric and leather, are manufactured impeccably by hand in New York and the leather products by a Chinese company with extensive experience.
And the fabrics, of course, are selected based on the collection and season. The collection walked in September is a mix of colorful leathers and fabrics ranging from silk shantung to ombré to beaded lace and soft organzas.
Although MEC’s new designs walked the runway this past February, they were formally launched in September with the 2019 collection. As a company, MEC’s creations have walked runways in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and New York City.
MEC was founded in 2014 as a handbag company. This year, they’ve added a couture collection line called “Mimmo and Lola” — Mimmo, named after the designer’s husband, Domenico, and Lola, after her Spaniard sub-culture.
Maria Elena’s story
The designer’s formal education was in the sciences and education. However, since early childhood she recalled that she became saturated in the world of fashion via her mother, who after arriving here in the United States entered the fashion world as a talented runway sample seamstress.
“Not having the dominant language fluidity, I became her voice in every aspect of the fashion industry. She instructed me on technical components as well as the art so embedded in the industry. She instilled in me fashion’s contribution to the health/wellness of the mind and the psyche/soma connection of a person to fashion,” Piña-Fonti said.
The local creative said she defines her history with fashion as “first love.”
“You never forget it irrespective of place or time. It is always a part of you. Such is fashion for me,” Piña-Fonti said. “I love all the phases. From the inspirational creative phase that sparks a transformation from simple to complex, to the visual phase that brings you to the visual expression in a sketch that can change many times, to the treasure search for materials that will concretely express your cognitive vision, to the actual physical construction of your vision, which will mutate many times.”