As long as I can remember, I’ve looked up to Beyoncé and followed her career. So when I learned that her personal assistant and her kids’ fashion stylist is a Dominican from New Jersey, I immediately contacted him. It took me exactly three months from the initial email to the actual meeting to interview .
After my initial request, I didn’t know what to expect, but as author once said: “Patience is not simply the ability to wait — it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” Having such a busy workload, I assumed that Mendez’s time was something he managed with care; because of that, I emailed my questions to him so that he could answer them at his convenience. To my surprise, weeks later I received a direct message from him saying: “I haven’t forgotten you. It’s been so busy.” I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved that he didn’t brush me off.
After months trying to coordinate, we sat down in a coffee shop in downtown Manhattan — and before I even had the chance to bombard him with my questions, he looked at me and said,“I understand where you come from and I wanted to make sure that I acknowledge you because I know how it feels to be overlooked.” His comforting words kicked my sympathetic nervous system into gear and until this day, every time I remember what he said, I can feel a lump in my throat. Immediately, I realized that Beyoncé is called Queen Bey not only because she is one of the greatest performers of modern times, but also because she surrounds herself with the best team possible: educated, cultured, and immersed people from different backgrounds and ethnicities, that despite having the entire world open to their wishes, they prefer to keep it simple, to be humans with empathetic hearts. Just like Manu.
The interesting part about Manuel Mendez’s story is that it doesn’t start with his career or his clientele, but with the sacrifices that strong women made so that he could become the successful man that he is. We all know the expression, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” and Mendez is no exception.
In fact, he has two women in his life who fought tirelessly to make a huge difference in his path to success. One of them is his grandmother Maria, a brave and visionary woman who sought a better future for her family in foreign lands and migrated to Puerto Rico in a type of makeshift boat known as “yola,” continuing her journey to the U.S. mainland to find new economic opportunities and employment. The other is his mom Quisqueya Mendez, a supportive and hardworking woman who accepted her creative son unconditionally; instead of dimming his light, she encouraged him to always be bright, happy, and follow his passion. Together, they built a solid foundation using love as the primary material and raised a hard-working and humble man.
Discovering his passion for fashion at nine years old while watching telenovelas, Manu dedicated his free time to learning how to sew with the help of his mother and taking classes at FIT in New York. After graduating from high school and years working in the retail field, in 2009 Beyoncé‘s stylist as wardrobe assistant during the “I Am” world tour. After consulting with his mother, he made the leap that changed his life forever. “I was a little bit scared at the beginning,” said Mendez. “I prayed to God, I spoke with my mom and my store manager. They all encouraged me to do it, so I accepted the offer.”
It’s been 10 years and Manu continues taking care of the wardrobe, but this time as Blue Ivy’s fashion stylist. “Working with Blue was a very organic and beautiful transition,” said the Dominican. “After the tour ended, I occasionally assisted Beyoncé‘s cousin and mom in other projects. I was so comfortable working with this amazing family that later I started to organize Beyoncé‘s closet,” he revealed. Mendez’s background in visual merchandising and retail management skills helped him to stand out. “I did it with so much love and passion that I became her [Beyoncé‘s] personal assistant,” he added. “Years later, when Blue arrived to this world, I wanted to make sure to take care of both; Therefore I took the initiative of starting to buy her baby clothes like if she was my niece.”
Mendez shared that he was very excited Blue was born, so he kept helping with everything she needed. “Blue’s mom liked my style of work and organically I became her stylist,” said Manu, honored that the singer trusted him with her baby. “Now Beyoncé has two other babies [Rumi and Sir] and I’m evenly excited to help her curate their wardrobe.”
But Manu is not a regular fashion stylist. He tries to leave his mark as much as possible when working with the Carter babies. “I love my work so much that even when I’m having lunch, I’m thinking about looks,” he said. “I find inspiration everywhere and since I know how to sew I always try to collaborate with a designer and together we make basic pieces like a jacket or a hoodie, keeping the essence of the brand.” The stylist also said that brands let him explore his creativity and trust his ideas. “I understand the taste of my client and I work on my ideas based on that,” he continued. “The brands generally accept my references and the result is always positive.”
Having so much experience in the industry and after building an impressive resume, Mendez is looking forward to continuing to grow as a professional and doesn’t rule out the possibility of having his own fashion line. “I visualize myself having a fashion line for kids,” he revealed to BELatina. “It is a project that I’ve been dreaming of and God willing it’s going to happen. In the meantime, I will keep working with my clients and collaborating with brands,” he continued. Manu just finished working on his annual project “Manuween,” an event to help kids to explore their creativity and personalize their own Halloween costumes.
Even though Manu dresses the kids of a powerhouse figure in the music industry — at this point, every fashion brand or designer would love to collaborate with him — he also tries to take some time off to clear his mind and enjoy his family. Although he doesn’t live in the Dominican Republic, he assures me that nobody can take the half-island out of him.”I go to the Dominican Republic once or twice a year,” he said, adding that visiting the country is a must for him. “It is a need for me because it is my culture, my roots, where everything comes from. When I cross water, I take a break from my job to enjoy the beaches and relax, and then when I come back again I feel like a phoenix, with more power, energy, and ready to do a better job.”
Finally, Manuel Mendez shared his message to every person in the Latinx community who wants to be part of a creative field and hasn’t had their big opportunity yet. “Left and right doesn’t exist, always look straight,” suggested the fashion stylist. “You will have a lot of distractions during your path, but you have to stay focused on your goal and believe in your inner voice, that voice that tells you to keep pushing forward. And if by any chance you feel depressed or discouraged, remember to always seek help from your loved ones. Talk to a friend, your mom, or grandma like I did. We all have someone that will believe in us and will encourage you to keep fighting.”