Whether seen coiled around Rihanna in the latest issue of Vogue Arabia, styled on the arms of Beyonce in her 2013 XO music video or gracefully swaying off the lobes of influencers like Kate Foley, it’s easy to see why the Colombian jeweller’s creations are so enthralling. Paula Mendoza’s designs are striking, rich and sure to command a room. Like ornamental sculptures, they embrace the body with an empowering and alluring sensibility, sitting complimentary to anything the wearer dons.
Mendoza’s designs, however, are not just stylish pieces made to enhance an ensemble; they are riddled with thought-provoking motifs and concepts and are made through highly ethical practices with responsibly sourced materials. Though the jewellery industry is not often synonymous with sustainability - where blood diamonds, illicit trading, dodgy supply chains and human rights abuses are still very much prevalent - Paula Mendoza is truly one to fight the odds and has dedicated her career to giving back to indigenous communities and contributing towards a more sustainable industry.
Though these principles exist throughout all of her collections, it is most apparent in her latest SS’18 ‘Ianimi’ collection, which exemplifies the richness of Colombia and is inspired by the country’s native communities. Referencing sacred Amazonian symbols, many pieces feature motifs of Mother Earth, femininity and divinity, representing Mendoza’s careful contemplation of her homeland. One exquisite piece in particular, the ‘Chivor Necklace’ - a handcrafted, gold plated Bib-style ornament with colourful beading - is dedicated to a community in the south of the Amazon, who will receive a generous percentage of the proceeds.
“With this collection, I decided to speak a little bit louder about my country, my culture and the way I work with them and display my immense admiration. SS’18 is the representation of my own contemplation of my country, of my own mind and my relationship with the outside world. Every piece in this collection represents something that I have learned from them and my belief is that when people wear these pieces they will feel protected by the beauty of Mother Earth and feel good in knowing every piece was made with “Pachamama” in mind” muses Mendoza.
The designer, who grew up surrounded by Pachamama reverence, spent months traveling around the southwestern region of Colombia, taking quality time to work with local artisans and learn about the symbols they utilize in their crafts. This hands-on experience is what sets Mendoza apart from her contemporaries. She immerses herself in every aspect of her creations; from design process; to sourcing raw, conflict-free materials like emeralds and gold from ethical Colombian mines; to working with local artisans in her Bogotán-based workshop. This deeply entrenched work ethic has enabled her to fully support and give back to marginalised communities and provide countless jobs to help them thrive.
Mendoza is also a firm advocate for spreading awareness on the importance of sustainability and exposing the natural beauty of her country on a global scale, limelighting traditional Latin American crafts, techniques and cultures. She does this through her work but also through enlightening talks at seminars such as the first ever Costa Rica Fashion Summit earlier this year (a non-profit initiative and two-day event addressing regional issues on environmental sustainability, social justice and corporate responsibility).
The ethical doyenne’s portfolio now includes a roster of impressive collections, including a collaboration with rising Colombian designer, Esteban Cortazar for his SS’17 womenswear collection, which took design cues from parts of a deconstructed saxophone, creating mesmerizing kinetic shapes. A former journalist, Mendoza became interested in jewellery over a decade ago; first travelling to Brazil to learn about stones, then spending two months in Peru to learn the art of filigree from some of the original masters of the artform. From there, in 2004, she moved to Washington D.C. where she initially created pieces for private clients. After graduating from the Corcoran Institute in D.C., with a degree in ‘Jewellery as a Sculpture’, Mendoza’s entire design ethos was redefined, moving to settle in New York City in 2012. This is where her refreshingly bold signature style really took off. Working between her design atelier in New York and her workshop in Bogotá, the designer’s namesake label has since expanded to grace the shop floors of retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Rare Market, Net-A-Porter, Bergdorf Goodman and Scanlan Theodore.