Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Aldo Mencatto was hiking in Red Rock National Conservation Area when he had the vision that set him back on course.
As he explored the canyons, there among the cacti, Joshua trees and layers of rock that make rainbows of red hues from fuschia to magenta, he envisioned Debora Mattoso, the Brazilian model.
Mencatto was not lovesick, and he was not homesick for his native Brazil.
He had emigrated two years earlier from Rio de Janeiro and had found a job as a dishwasher at Denny’s.
For two years he did not give a thought to the profession that was his passion — the one that made him famous in his native country — fashion design.
He had been ruined in Brazil, and came to the United States to start fresh.
That day at Red Rock, Mencatto saw Mattoso in his mind wearing a beautiful red cascading gown, and the first thing he did when he got home was sketch it out.
It was finally time to start on his initial goal when he left Brazil.
“I left Brazil with nothing. I had $50 and a visa for the United States,” he said. “I didn’t even know any English. I just knew I had to get my name back.”
Just three years earlier, Mencatto was dressing Brazilian movie stars and traveling with the country’s president.
As quickly as Mencatto rose to fame in the Brazilian fashion world, he fell even faster, done in, he said, by his own business partner.
FROM FARM TO FASHION
Mencatto’s story starts in the small, southern Brazilian town of Dois Vizinhos, where he grew up on a farm.
As a child he made clothes, shirts, pants, dresses, whole outfits out of potato sacks and accessories out of banana leaves.
He finished high school, but did not go on to college. He moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he did some modeling.
“I was involved with fashion in a way, but I had no passion for what I was doing when I was modeling,” Mencatto said.
Mencatto’s mother made everything for her children — pants, shirts, clothes of all types — from scratch. After her death, Mencatto said he took inspiration from his mother and became interested in clothing design.
In 2003, he started in fashion design. His break came in the form of a Brazilian film star asking him for a dress for an event. Mencatto’s career took off, and before long he had six boutique stores in Brazil selling his garments, and he was traveling to Fashion Week in Angola with the Brazilian president at that time, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. When Mencatto returned from that trip in 2006, everything was gone.
Mencatto says he had entered into a contract, which he admittedly did not read carefully, with a partner. Mencatto would focus on making clothes and his associate would manage the stores and finances. His partner sucked the company dry, Mencatto said, took everything from him and then disappeared.
“I was working on designs, making clothes, and collaborating with celebrities that wanted clothes for events to market the line,” Mencatto said, in fluent but still heavily accented English. “I trusted too much. I made a lot of money and wasn’t watching over the business. I have to believe they were stealing from me the whole time we were together.”
Mencatto’s maid, whom he could no longer afford, had a sister in Las Vegas who offered to take in Mencatto, so he chose Southern Nevada over one of the fashion capitals such as New York or Los Angeles.
He sold a couple of the gowns that he still had in his possession and bought a ticket to the United States.
For two years he washed dishes, struggled to learn English and lived with his maid’s sister and her husband.
After his vision, Mencatto set to work. He saved money from dish-washing to buy materials, and when he wasn’t elbow deep in suds and silverware, he was drawing sketches, scrounging for the right fabric and stitching seams.
In the meantime, Mencatto had been promoted to manager at the Denny’s, straight from dishwasher. The manager, Mencatto said, appreciated his hard work and dedication. After three years at the Denny’s, he moved into a position as night manager at Marilyn’s Cafe in the Tuscany Hotel and Casino.
By the end of 2010 he had a collection together for release.
‘TALENT CAN NEVER BE REMOVED’
Mencatto has now had a few shows, with his long hours and investments of time, money and sweat paying off in a May 23 show at the World Market Center as part of the Las Vegas Fashion Design Council, of which he is now vice president.
Aldo’s line got a standing ovation at the event, according to Terry Hernandez, a Las Vegas event organizer who runs the Fashionista Social Club events at Lily Bar and Lounge in the Bellagio. Hernandez, who also invited Mencatto to do a fashion show at Lily, calls the designer “brilliant” and is an admirer of his dedication and perseverance.
“When you’ve got a talent, it can never be removed,” Hernandez said. “It speaks to one’s resilience. We went through a tough time with the economy. This was a time when people were struggling to find work and to keep their homes. To have someone come in at that time and pursue their dream, that alone is enough to inspire. This is clothing that comes out of pain and struggle. What it took to achieve his dream speaks to the triumph of human willpower. Aldo had it all and lost it all. Aldo knows pain and struggle, and to rebuild it all takes passion.”
Mencatto’s skills had not dulled, he only needed to find inspiration again after falling so far.
“Aldo knows what women want,” said Roni Taylor, a model who swears by Mencatto’s designs. “He knows the materials we want, he knows how to make it sexy, and he understands the female form. Some designers don’t even think about what is comfortable, they pick a fabric because it looks good. Aldo thinks of everything, and you feel great in his clothes.”
Business is taking off for Mencatto, and he is busier than ever, but he continues to work as a night manager at Marilyn’s Cafe, pouring every extra dollar into his designs.
And he hasn’t lost his faith in humanity.
“Yes, I still trust people the same way, even though it’s why I lost everything in Brazil,” he said. “I don’t want to live my life that way. Life is hard when you can’t trust people.”
While there is no shop in Las Vegas currently carrying his clothes, he said stores in Miami, Brazil, Italy and parts of Africa already have his clothes on racks.
Mencatto’s name is again on the lips of retail fashion buyers, but he still sees a long path ahead of him and he has no plans of leaving his job at the cafe.
He is currently working on his spring catalog, which he hopes to launch in March 2013. Next, he’d like to find a studio and showroom space where he can work on his designs, keep his equipment and meet with retailers.
Mencatto met his wife at Denny’s, where she works as a manager. They bought their “dream house,” and now that he is married and is a permanent resident, he is working toward U.S. citizenship.
“I have a beautiful life here. This is my home now, Las Vegas,” Mencatto said. “I don’t want to just be successful again, make money, and then go back to Brazil. No, this is my home.”