by Megan Waldrep
First published in the Montecito Journal, December 2019
An Upper Village dress shop for over half a century, Giuliana Montecito has a new creative director that is focusing on its past as much as the present. Mandana Mir is a Millennial with an old soul, carrying herself with mannerisms reminiscent of English high society. Maybe her background has something to do with it – her mother has family ties to the second wife of the Shah of Iran. It wasn’t until nine years ago, after discovering distant relatives who lived in Montecito that the Mir’s made the move to Santa Barbara. “I discovered the Upper Village and decided the natural beauty, sophistication, the arts, the music, it all called me home,” Mandana said. “I feel it is truly an overlooked gem and I feel so blessed to have discovered it.” How the family became owners of Giuliana Montecito is sort of kismet. While walking one day in the Upper Village, Mandana met previous boutique owner Giuliana and her husband George Meta, who became family friends. A year ago, when Giuliana was ready to retire, Mandana’s family bought the business and deemed Mandana the Creative Director.
Although most items lean towards a higher price, she’s added a range of chic and high-quality products at lower price points as well. It’s her way of carrying on the tradition of the shop’s first owner of twenty years, Audrey Jones, and a tribute to Giuliana Meta who ran the boutique for thirty-one years after that. (Though the boutique has stayed in one place, the name has changed from Audrey Jones to Giuliana Haute Couture to now, Giuliana Montecito.) “I’m someone who likes excellence, who aspires to perfection, and I’m sensitive to luxury in that sense,” Mandana said. “In the past year, I continued with all the European designers Giuliana had in the store since it has a loyal local following, and introduced new and some sustainable European, Australian, and American brands.” Manada has one overall motive; to create not just outer beauty, but beauty from within. When it comes to buying clothes, Mandana believes in quality not quantity, directing clients to look for pieces that will last and ones that match with what they already own. For a more sophisticated fit, Giuliana Montecito has a tailor on-call to alter your purchased items if needed. Some featured designers include Kevan Hall, Joseph Ribkoff, Nina McLemore, Saint James, Lourdes Chavez, ESCADA, Luisa Spagnoli, and custom jackets by Beth Westen. A new swimwear brand called GIGI C Bikinis is also available, designed by mother/daughter team GiGi and Tina Caruso of the Rosewood Miramar Beach family.
Fashion has always been a part of her life. Growing up, Mandana’s mother helped style friends into the “best dressed” ladies at parties. Seeing a budding scientist and the artist in her child, her parents urged Mandana to study music, painting, health and nutrition, and yoga. “My dad, who is a dentist, always encouraged me to become a fashion designer. As a teenager, I remember constantly drawing and designing clothes on paper,” Mandana said. Turns out, her clientele at Giuliana Montecito Boutique stop in for styling advice as well as tips on healthful eating. Which, could be encouraged by the hot Persian teas, cappuccinos, and fresh homemade cookies she offers. Before acting as Creative Director, Mandana had a cookie business. Her sweets became so popular at Isabella Gourmet Foods, she could barely keep up with the demand. During that time, she’d been accepted to the Dietetic Internship Program at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, New York and took it as a sign to wrap up the cookie business to study clinical nutrition. She now offers nutrition consultations and is working on a cookbook called, Making Food with Love filled with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free recipes from around the world using Trader Joe’s and farmers market ingredients. “Deep down I always knew my calling was to help people through different modalities,” Mandana said. “At the core, I am an artist. But, I have a business and science side to me and always wondered how these gifts would all come together.” Her educational background also includes a Master’s degree in Nutritional Science at San Jose State University, a Masters degree in Technology Management at UCSB College of Engineering, and a yoga teaching certification.
Mandana believes in the power of community. She hires students through the Partners in Education Internship program to help train and provide job opportunities to the local youth. “Now that I’m living in a community where there is so much appreciation for all things beauty, I feel inspired to start a series to cultivate all those aspects that I enjoy myself.” In spring 2020, she’ll host an empowerment series featuring speakers such as former principal scientist at Apple Inc. Dr. Rao Machiraju, former Head of Equities at Credit Suisse and UCSB alumni Micheal Stewart, and UCSB professor of Market Validation Frank Robinson among others who have inspired her over the past nine years since moving to Santa Barbara. Mandana also hopes to raise money for the Montecito firefighters association with a spring fashion show, donating proceeds from a new line of t-shirts depicting a map of the Upper Village, and a monthly gentle community yoga and meditation. Firefighters are welcome to join the classes for free. Mandana wants her store to become a beacon for the community, a welcoming place where locals and visitors alike can sit, enjoy tea and cookies, and share ideas. “It is now obvious that everything led me to my passion for fashion. Now, I get to help people in the community feel better and look better, too.”