Badgley Mischka label favoured by celebrities

CanWest News Service
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Mark Badgley and James Mischka measure their success in small things - like the fact that most people now know there are two designers behind the label Badgley Mischka.

Mark Badgley and James Mischka measure their success in small things - like the fact that most people now know there are two designers behind the label Badgley Mischka.

"It's gotten better, but when we first started, we were one person," says Badgley. "We were a Russian woman for years."

That's changed since the pair, who have been designing together for almost 20 years, became a favourite of celebrities like Julianne Moore, Sharon Stone and Eva Longoria, and their sophisticated evening wear became a red-carpet staple.

But they admit that early misapprehension wasn't too far off the mark.

"We discovered that we really do have the same sensibility about almost everything," says Mischka, in Vancouver recently with his design partner to introduce their new fur collection at Holt Renfrew.

"Somebody said it's like having one mind and two bodies, because we think exactly alike, but that means we have half a mind each, so I don't know if that's really the best way to put it."

But from design concepts to the business end of managing 25 collections encompassing everything from jewelry and accessories to fragrances and bridal wear, their partnership "is a total collaboration," Badgley says.

It's perhaps a bit of a surprise that the pair, who met each other at design school in New York, came together creatively from two different fashion worlds - Badgley from women's sportswear at Donna Karan and Mischka from menswear at WilliWear WilliSmith. But their hearts were in neither place.

"Although we worked for sportswear companies, it was never really our first choice. We always had this fantasy about beautiful evening clothes," Badgley says. "We were inspired by old Hollywood glamour."

Their breakthrough came with something most women consider a wardrobe staple - the little black cocktail dress, which in their hands took its inspiration from the clean, classic lines of something Audrey Hepburn would wear.

"That's what got us noticed in the press and how the stores noticed us," says Badgley.

They moved on to evening gowns, but kept the same design sensibility. Their creations often have a retro influence, but the end result is always sleek and modern.

"It's been our quest to make clothes that are new and fresh but timeless," Badgley says.

"Our clothes are never too tricky," he adds. "We love beautiful fabrics and we love beautiful embellishment, but for the most part, our cuts are pretty simple, pretty streamlined."

Celebrities soon started to take notice as well. Teri Hatcher of Desperate Housewives fame, who at the time was Superman's girlfriend in the TV series The Adventures of Lois and Clark, was the first to ask for one of their dresses to wear to an awards show.

"At the time, that whole thing hadn't really started to snowball the way it has in the past 10 or 15 years," says Badgley. But the red carpet has since become their best friend. "It's the best source of marketing you could do - the kind of exposure it gets is incredible," he says.

The pair can recall only one time that exposure wasn't the most flattering. That was when a female singer, whose name they diplomatically can't recall, made interesting use of a chiffon cape attached to the dress they had lent her for the MTV awards.

Mischka recalls they were both watching the awards show when he said: "'It looks like she wore our dress, but what's that thing on her head?'

"She had tied the cape on top of her head in a bow," he says. "We wish she hadn't done that."

Badgley and Mischka have long been fond of using fur, which, like other designers, has put them in the line of fire for groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. They have had blood-covered furs with heads and legs attached thrown at them and been confronted with posters of skinned animal carcasses at some of their public events in recent years.

The designers refuse to rise to their bait. "Their tactics can be a bit bizarre and brash at times," says Mischka. "But they're entitled to their point of view as much as anyone else is."

The one sop they give the protesters is that they use only fur from farmed animals, never from those that are trapped in the wild. It's a gesture that's unlikely to win Pamela Anderson's heart, but it's something. A fur coat or jacket "is really a little ultimate piece of luxury," Badgley says. "A plain fur doesn't really mean that much to us. Ours tend to have some sort of dressmaker detail to it."

Their current collection includes a mink tuxedo jacket with jewelled belt loops that look like ornate brooches - "it looks great going to the opera and it looks great over jeans," says Badgley - as well as a chinchilla-trimmed brocade jacket and a dramatic rust-coloured dyed mink jacket with blouson sleeves.

The one design niche Badgley and Mischka haven't yet conquered is menswear. After a brief flirtation with it early in their career, they dropped it to concentrate on their women's collection. But it's something they'd like to revisit at some point in the future.

"We'd like to do menswear one day," says Badgley. "It would be fun to do a product that James and I could actually wear ourselves."

Mischka thinks male customers are ready for what they have to offer. "I think it's time for elegance to creep back into menswear . . . not in a twee way, but in a classic Hollywood way."

Organizations: Holt Renfrew, MTV, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Geographic location: Hollywood, Vancouver, New York

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