Whether it’s for her custom silk kimonos, party-ready cocktail dresses, exquisitely embroidered gowns, or the perfect day suit, Miami’s best-dressed A-listers have fashion designer Mayda Cisneros on speed dial. Known for her classic and feminine designs that make women feel beautifully put together, her couture gowns regularly crown the gala season’s stylish dress code.
Her eponymous boutique is a sophisticated, light-filled “intimate studio” in Coral Gables, adorned with large mirrors, racks of dreamy dresses in primary hues, and glass sculptures by her husband, Terje Lundaas, a glass artist from Norway. Through a doorway, the scene changes to a workshop where her team is busy on the sewing machines, pleating a ball gown or carefully applying lace to a silk fabric. Production suddenly stops for a Cuban cafecito. Like Mayda, the atmosphere is creative, warm and friendly.
As a self-proclaimed “fashion therapist”, the first step in her designing process is genuinely listening to her customers to discover what empowers them to feel beautiful.
“I don’t just do perfect clients,” says Mayda. “When you get someone who is not at the right weight, it’s a challenge to make her feel good and to choose the right look that will fit correctly. I have one shot to make her look great.”
Many of her loyal followers are professional women who need more polished daywear looks. “We do quality classics, timeless pieces in great fabrics that last forever. It can be a beautiful top and pair of pants for a speaking engagement, or an entire wardrobe. It’s important they feel comfortable and confident about themselves.”
Born in Camagüey, Cuba, Mayda exiled with her family to Miami in 1960. Having beautiful clothes made by a seamstress was a long-held tradition of stylish Cuban women, but now they couldn’t afford that. “Although my mother was an accountant by trade, at night she would sew us dresses from fabric remnants, allowing us to choose how they would look,” remembers Cisneros. She credits her mom for inspiring her early love of fashion.
After graduating from the University of Miami with a degree in psychology, she moved to New York, and did fashion styling, producing covers for magazines such as Vanidades and Cosmopolitan. One day, serendipity struck when a buyer for the now defunct department store, Henri Bendel, admired a tie-dye, chiffon wrap blouse she was wearing at an event. After learning Mayda had made it, she invited her to the store’s Open-See Friday, the day slated for discovering young indie designers for their New York store.
“I sat there waiting with about 100 people. She saw my blouse and said, ‘OK, make me 12 of these,’ and I thought, oh my God, I don’t even know how to make that many.” She hired a seamstress to complete the order and determined to learn the craft of design and construction, enrolled in the French Fashion Academy.
Next came a mini collection based on Liberty of London prints she sold to Bloomingdale’s. They admired her designs so much she got her own store window. Soon, Mayda was successfully selling under her brand name Ola to more stores such as Bergdoff Goodman, Barneys, Harrods of London and Ann Taylor. Eventually she moved back to Miami to be close to family, trading the department stores for private clients.
Today, she travels to Paris twice a year to buy fabrics for her couture collections. “I also do a lot of fabric manipulation, such as embellishing them with beading, lace or flowers,
or doing things that will turn them into something else. Now I am on a pleating kick,” laughs Mayda. For her next collection, fans can expect lavish pink pastels, more pleating, and a combination of metallics in silver and gold with jewel tones. Glamour, no holds barred.