by alexandria geisler | February 20, 2014 | Style & Beauty
Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs have already dressed a number of A-listers with designs from their young label, Cushnie et Ochs.
On a balmy summer evening in New York City, Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs walked fashion’s most illustrious red carpet in fiery red and chartreuse gowns of their own design. It was the pair’s first-ever Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Awards, a high-profile style event likened to the Oscars. They were attending as nominees for the CFDA’s Swarovski Award for contemporary womenswear. “It was kind of crazy,” recalls Cushnie. “Steven Kolb, the CEO of the CFDA, called the office to ask if we’d be coming to the [nomination] announcement, but I had forgotten about it. I thought we had done something wrong!”
Quite a year for the five-year-old label that has dressed style icons including Salma Hayek Pinault and Karolína Kurková, unveiled a debut collection of swimwear, and recently celebrated its arrival at Saks Jandel and Neiman Marcus Tysons Galleria this October, a meaningful homecoming for the Maryland-raised Ochs. “When I was going to school in DC, Tysons was the only place where you could get fashion. There wasn’t a Barneys or Dior or Louis Vuitton,” says Ochs. “The DC woman was more conservative then, but she’s evolved now. She’s more informed about fashion, and there are so many more options for her to dress the way she wants to.”
Cushnie et Ochs’s latest collection evokes a nautical theme.
Ochs attended St. John’s College High School in Chevy Chase, where her penchant for fashion was encouraged by the school’s strict dress code. “I’ve always been drawn to fashion. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” she says. “When I saw the military uniforms I’d have to wear—the camouflage on Wednesdays, and how pristine and ironed everyone was—my fashion bell went insane. To this day, I can press shirts like nobody’s business.”
Soon after graduation, Ochs moved to New York City to attend Parsons The New School for Design, where she met the London-born Cushnie. The two earned the class’s top accolades—Ochs was named student Designer of the Year, while Cushnie took runner-up—and logged apprenticeships under fashion virtuosos Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, and Ralph Rucci, before launching their own label in 2008.
The nautical theme is reflected in the designers’ inspiration boards with pops of bold color.
“We were just looking for jobs and taking time off, but we kept going back to this idea of doing something together,” says Cushnie. “We thought there was a niche for clothing that was sexy yet modern, clean, and sophisticated—styles that are not vulgar, but not so conservative either.”
Form-fitting silhouettes and peekaboo cutouts ground the label Cushnie et Ochs’s designs in modernity, such as a below-the-knee cocktail dress with sheer side panels, and a feminine A-line dress with a dramatic keyhole neckline. “It’s for the woman who wants to look like a woman. We’re two female designers, and for us, it’s about celebrating the female body,” Cushnie explains. She describes Ochs as the “firecracker” of the pair: hysterical, yet obsessively organized, a trait that explains her partner’s proclivity for tailoring, whereas Cushnie gravitates toward soft, feminine draping. “That’s what creates this nice balance in the collection. It’s not too masculine nor so girly,” she says.
Michelle Ochs and Carly Cushnie wearing their designs at the 2013 CFDA Awards.
Each collection builds upon its predecessor, reworking past shapes and fabrics deemed most successful. “We’re really mindful of the structure of the fabric [we use] and how it stretches, because there are a lot of things we want to accomplish in terms of lines and cutouts that are specific to our design process,” explains Ochs. Fabrics are sourced from Italy and France, and imported to New York City’s Garment District, where the designers create their apparel. “People keep taking their business overseas, but it’s amazing for us [here]. We can turn around goods pretty quickly and maintain our quality while we support the industry,” says Cushnie.
For Resort 2014, which is new to Saks Jandel and Neiman Marcus Tysons Galleria, the brand’s body-hugging styles are rendered in a neutral palette of white, beige, and black with pops of red and key lime. The theme is nautical, evidenced by a white, long-sleeve dress finished in a fishing net-like diamond pattern, and the halter-style maillots and two-piece bikinis in Cushnie et Ochs’s first full line of swimwear. A croc-printed, beige leather skirt suit and a navy cocktail dress named after model Karlie Kloss are two of the collection’s strongest looks. “Karlie wore an evening dress version to the CFDA Awards, and this is sort of the baby sister to that dress. It’s very sexy, but modern and fun,” says Cushnie. When asked who else they hope to dress in the near future, Ochs quips, “Every woman. We won’t stop until everyone is in Cushnie et Ochs!” If the designers’ collections continue to resonate with women with such force, that might not be so far out of the question.
photography by evan sung; bryan bedder/getty images (CFDA Awards)
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