William “Billy” Mendibles, Fashion Designer


William “Billy” Mendibles
Courtesy Photo

William (Billy) Eugene Mendibles left this mortal plane on Easter, after a valiant battle with cancer. He left behind many friends who cherished him and many other acquaintances whom, if only for a brief interlude, he left an indelible mark upon. He possessed the rare ability to make everyone he interacted with feel special.

Billy was a designer (he graduated from The Fashion Institute of Design in Los Angeles), an artist, a one-of-a-kind. His energy was boundless; his intellectual curiosity insatiable, his humor second to none. He was a one-man comedy routine. After listening to his anecdotal phone conversations, I often had bellyaches from hardcore laughter.

Although he was a much sought-after tailor for fashion shoots (Versace, Prada, Armani, Ralph Loren, Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole, Gap, etc.) and a personal tailor for celebrity magazine spreads (Jennifer Lopez, Brad and Angelina, George Clooney, Shakira, Gwen Stefani, Lenny Kravitz, etc.), he was in his true element when embellishing costumes for friends.

Billy considered himself the resident costume designer for my store, Victorian Vogue. There isn’t a rack today that doesn’t display at least one of his original depictions of the era. There are hundreds of customers who have been transformed into characters with panache because of him. From couture cave men to classy Cleopatras, Billy exercised his passion for costume with flair and vision. For almost 20 years, he created his version of vintage fashion, from 1860s saloon girls to elegant Titanic and Gatsby gowns to cutting edge mod and disco wear. I give him credit for the longevity of my business.

If any customer was lucky enough to come into the store when he was there, they were treated to an experience of personal exaltation. Billy would lavish them with his expertise and infect them with enthusiasm. He would garnish them in an outfit, head to toe, that usually won them first prize in costume contests. He brought out, in even the shyest introvert, a person’s latent rock star persona.

Probably because he was so close to his late grandmother, “Nana,” older women adored him. Once Billy had clothed them, he was the one returning matrons giddily asked for. He could connect with every social, economic, and age group. He beguiled my employees. Whether they had worked for one day or 10 years, he connected with their essence and managed to inspire them with self-esteem and joie de vivre.

A couple years ago, La Cumbre Junior High asked the store to outfit its production of Hello, Dolly! Billy insisted on taking time from his hectic schedule to archive the measurements of every single cast member. He wasn’t interested in making money (although he did delight in selling me tiny-sized ensembles I wouldn’t have ordinarily bought). He was steeped in the pure joy of working with theater, and I think he influenced the young actors to be even more wholehearted in their parts.

Old Hollywood and Broadway musicals were an integral part of Billy’s personality. He could quote exact passages from classic Marilyn, Ginger and Fred, and Bogart movies. He was up to snuff on current cinema and historical period film, all the while inventing avant-garde styles of the future. His heroes were Coco Chanel, Pierrot’s Pierre Carrilero, and Charles Frederick Worth.

Billy was the proverbial life of the party. Whether dancing, cavorting, or blending into a role at a murder mystery dinner party, his actions were the ones you remembered the following day even when he didn’t remember a thing! I recently met a producer for Talbots that had hired Billy for many of the store’s magazine spreads. She said everyone on the crew loved him and fought to sit next to him during shoots. She also noted that whenever there was down time, Billy could be found in his trailer reading.

Billy read voraciously, everything from the Dead Sea Scrolls to The Da Vinci Code; his curiosity was never sated. He loved the History Channel, especially anything to do with ancient Egypt, Greece, or Rome. Historical dramas like The Tudors put him in ecstasy, which, in turn, put everyone he talked to about it in ecstasy! His collections of Victorian and antique clothing and textiles are museum-worthy.

As outgoing and demonstrative as he was, Billy was also quite private. For the last few months, his mentor from the days of the Pure Gold vintage store, Teri Ascolese, was his window to the outside world. He passed away surrounded by his mother, father, and beloved Aunt Patty.

The many friends I’ve encountered on his Facebook page have convinced me that Billy was universally special. They are stylists, models, artists, and bon vivants. They loved Billy as much as I and are just as devastated by his premature departure. The man was so full of life that, by not having him here, we all feel like our own vitality has been depleted a bit.

Billy would not want us to grieve. He would prefer us to infuse our lives with fun and camaraderie. On Thursday, June 3, from 6-8 p.m., we plan to celebrate what would have been his 44th birthday week at EOS Lounge, 500 Anacapa Street. Please join us if Billy has touched your life, too.


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