For years, when guests asked Paul Mendes to visit the basement of his Capitol Hill home, he hesitated, fearing their reaction.
“I was afraid they would think I’m a hoarder,” said Mendes, only half jokingly.
What lurked below was an eclectic and stylish collection of women’s fashion, from a 1950s khaki-colored car coat made of wool mohair to a recent Diane Von Furstenberg bubble skirt dress to a maroon Lilli Ann swing coat from the 40s.
Now, you can buy some of Mendes’ prized possessions. He and his friend Cat McCadden have opened Style Syndicate in what used to be the Capitol Hill Market at 12 and Howell. The boutique features McCadden’s own jewelry line and some clothes and accessories by local designers, but the bulk of the merchandise, about 100 pieces, comes from Mendes’ personal inventory.
“I’m obsessed with vintage fashion,” said Mendes, who worked as a buyer for Nordstrom a decade ago and for Red Light in the University District before that. “Most of my friends are women and I love to dress them…So where I used to give the clothes away, now I sell them. As an obsessive shopper, it’s nice to have an outlet, rather than filling a basement.”
To turn the space from a grocery store to a fashion house, Mendes and McCadden rolled up their sleeves, helping to break down shelves that once stocked Cheetos and Twinkies to make way for garment racks for vintage dresses. The two also painted and stained the floor, working till four in the morning on many nights.
The pair was still outfitting the space with fixtures and trying to nail down the store’s feel in its opening days, but you only need to look at one piece of furniture to dissect the peculiar yet fun character of this enterprise. Right as you enter the store, there is an old gray metal autopsy table.
“Yes, that came out of a sex dungeon in a neighbor’s home,” said Mendes. “They were known for their wild parties. When they demolished their home, they asked if I wanted it and I’ve kept it ever since.”
The autopsy table, which Mendes has refused to sell despite numerous offers, now displays assorted sweaters and scarves.
Mendes says he wants to keep the store and its fashions “tightly curated.” While they welcome folks who want to sell their clothes, they will be very selective.
“I don’t just want people dropping off things they have gathered,” said Mendes. “We are not going to try to hit every point. I want people to know us for great style.”
As CHS reported, developer Scott Shapiro has plans for the building the shop calls home. In the meantime, Mendes and McCadden say they are excited to see how their venture fares.
Aside from showcasing local artists – custom handbags from a Vashon Island designer hang on the back wall above monster-themed baby tees from a Seattle woman – Mendes says they also want to use the store to host occasional fashion clinics and “night markets” where DJs spin while people shop.
Since the store’s opening last month, shoppers have bought a number of the vintage garments (dresses from the 1970s seem to be the most popular). Mendes says it doesn’t hurt to see strangers walk out with his personal belongings, especially since “this means I get to buy more.”
And after all, Mendes’ truly prized collection is the clothes he wears, which he says could fill many storage units. Last year, he donated 50 pairs of shoes to Lifelong Aids Alliance and that only made a small dent in his collection.
Beyond what you might find at Lifelong’s thrift shop, his vast wardrobe is not for sale…not yet.
Style Syndicate 206 is located at 1728 12th Ave. You can learn more at facebook.com/StyleSyndicate206.