M. Dot - Native Designs Decidedly Modern

Naudah Rugely at the San Diego Zoo

Photography by Jonah Gilmore / Studio Rocket Science

Meet Michelle Aquino and Jennafer Grace – two young and innovative custom clothiers, home to San Diego. This is their style – birthed from inspiration and good design to create contemporary women’s fashion by fusing classic lines with a decidedly modern twist.


More Than A Feeling

M.Dot Design Studio

Models: Naudah Rugely, Katherine Dente, and Brielle Denuccio

Photographed by: Jonah Gilmore of rocket science photography [ www.studiorocketscience.com ]

Clothing and styling by: Michelle Aquino, m.dot design studio 

Hair by: Gwendolyn Sneed and Megan Hefti 

Make-up By: Marisol Garcia [ marisolmakeup.com ]

Assistant: Julia James Justus

Videographer: Gaberial King

Narrative by: Rosalie Cushman

Special Thanks: San Diego Zoo, Dani Dodge, Staff and Trainers; Malcolm Koll and David Armstrong at Charles Koll Jewellers; Jordanne Muldner at Olive PR Solutions.

Although it starts with a feeling, it certainly does not end there. When asked what fashion means to custom clothes stylist and designer, Michelle Aquino, her answer is forthright: “It’s a way to express yourself.” Operating out of her studio in downtown San Diego, Aquino creates custom clothing for women drawing on her immeasurable talent and passion for classic lines, modernizing them with a contemporary edge. And it usually begins with the fabric.

mdot fine magazine augusut fashion san diego zoo

[ PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Brielle in Sandstone skirt, Mandalay top and scarf by M.Dot. hand fabricated necklace in 18k yellow gold with 1 d = .03ct, internally flawless; platinum band ring with 60 d = .25cttw and 18k yellow gold band ring with 46 d = .39cttw by Charles Koll Jewellers. San Diego Zoo Elephant Odyssey. Naduah in Bohol top and Mindano pants by M. Dot. 18k yellow gold guartz necklace and 18 karat yellow gold studs with 56 d = 0.17 cttw and 2 lemon quartz = 2.40 cttw  by Charles Koll Jewellers. Katherine in Bird’s Eye Vest and Baguio Skirt by M.Dot. 18k white gold Metatron necklace and CKJ custom-made Starfish earrings by Charles Koll Jewellers. ]

Coming from spare beginnings, Aquino began flexing some creative muscle as she reworked hand-me-downs at an early age, quickly generating her own creations by the age of 11.  “My grandmother was a seamstress,” she confides, “and I watched her.” Indeed, many of her ideas stem from classic 20s and 30s styles that become both timeless and hip, as she fuses ‘then and now’ effectively. “A lot of my pieces are tailored with pleating, beading, and ruching to contemporize them.”

mdot fine magazine augusut fashion san diego zoo

[ PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Brielle in Shanghai top, Signature Wool skirt and scarf by M.Dot. 18k white gold bracelet with 81 d = 1.48cttw and 18 karat white gold Hearts On Fire Fulfillment studs, 22 diamonds = 1.00 cttw by Charles Koll Jewellers. San Diego Zoo Panda Canyon. ]

Naudah Rugely fine magazine fashion shoot san diego zoo

[ PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Naduah in Borneo skirt, Sumatra top and Elisa Gonsalves necklace by M. Dot. 18k yellow gold ring with 12d = .28cttw by Charles Koll Jewellers. San Diego Zoo Skyfari. ]

mdot fine magazine augusut fashion san diego zoo

[ PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Naduah in Osaka Skirt and Signature Lace top by M. Dot. Custom made (CKJ) 18 karat white gold pave hoops with 174 d = 0.74 cttw; Platinum and 18k yellow gold with fancy yellow diamond ring = 2.05 ct. and .70cttw; Hearts on Fire 18k white gold bracelet with 1 d = .38ct; 18k white gold bracelet with 81 d = 1.48cttw; 18k yellow gold custom made snake ball with 80 carats of black bead diamonds by Charles Koll Jewellers. San Diego Zoo Urban Jungle. Brielle in Cavite Dress by M. Dot. CKJ custom-made padlock necklace in 19 karat white gold and 35 d = 0.17 cttw by Charles Koll Jewellers. ]

In addition, Aquino has a keen eye for what will look good on a woman and incorporates the fundamentals of fabric, color and lines that will accentuate the body. “I want to compliment the body type for a specific person,” she says; never creating more than three of a design with most being one-of-a-kind. All functions are performed in-house from pattern sketching to sewing and finish work.


Vintage Meets Vavoom
Jennafer Grace Handmade Fashion

Model: Alexis Coons

Photographed by: Emily Soto

Hair by: Aliana Lopez

Make-up by: Megan McDaniel

“I am and always have been a body-conscious designer,” says custom designer Jennafer Grace.  “Historically, I seem to keep a woman’s waist in mind.” Incorporating a lot of cut-outs, revealing just the right amount of tantalizing skin in her clothing line, Grace is further inspired by the fabric itself. “When I put my hands on a textile, I know exactly what kind of silhouette it should have, then I focus on the details and how a modern stylish woman would want to wear it.”

Jennafer grace fine magazine fashion august

Grace was also influenced by an artistic grandmother and began sewing early in life, owning her first sewing machine before even entering her teen years. She is inspired by vintage silhouettes but adds unpredictable textiles and colors, thereby contemporizing the style without “over-costuming vintage references.” And while there is a lot of vintage influence in what she creates, Grace also loves to make what she describes as ‘cozy daywear’ that does not make it into edgy photo shoots yet ‘flies off the rack’ at area boutiques.

Jennafer grace fine magazine fashion august

Jennafer grace fine magazine fashion august

While Grace likes the diversity of making custom pieces, she also creates ‘micro lines’, with three to six identical pieces in various sizes.