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Meet: Badgley Mischka

Award-winning designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka share red carpet secrets, tips for special event dressing, and how social media has changed New York Fashion Week forever.

All photos by Gustavo Fernandez

Known for designs that consistently rock the red carpet, Mark Badgley and James Mischka brought Hollywood glamour and Fashion Week excitement to Walnut Creek during a recent personal appearance at Neiman Marcus.  The men behind design powerhouse Badgley Mischka sat down to answer just a few of the one million questions (only a slight exaggeration!) I had for two of my favorite designers.


When you established Badgley Mischka in 1988, how did you decide to start with eveningwear?

Mark: At the time, the market was saturated with American sportswear.  There were a lot of young designers like Isaac Mizrahi, Carmelo Pomodoro, and Cynthia Steffe. James and I always had an affinity for evening clothes. Our friends were going out a lot, and they couldn’t find a great little dress. Evening clothes are all about fantasy; there are no rules.

What is your design process?

James: When we started the company, we did everything—every fabric appointment, every fitting, and every sketch—together. Now, we can split up. One of us can be in Florence doing shoes, and the other can be in Paris selecting fabrics. A lot of the time we are together, but when we have to, we can be in two places at once.
Mark: We start the collection together—the inspiration, the fabrics—then we go our separate ways once things get rolling.

What was your inspiration for your Fall 2012 Collection?

James: The movie Metropolis from 1929. The distorted camera angles and brooding sexiness of the movie inspired this collection, from the color palette to the shapes to some of the details. This collection is a little edgy.
Mark: For fall, a lot of our embroideries were deco-inspired, which is always a constant inspiration for us. Not a lot of color—fall was very neutral for us. It seemed like our customer was open to a lot of black again, since we hadn’t done black for a while.

And the Spring 2013 Collection?

Mark: Spring 2013 is fresh, effervescent, feminine, and girlie. We find that once we roll around to spring, we are “blacked out.” A lot of our customers live in resort areas, and in the Middle East, where they don’t even wear black. Spring is always a big celebration of color, and always will be.

You have designed gowns for actresses for the Academy Awards and Emmy Awards: Brooke Shields, Helen Mirren, Oprah Winfrey and Julia Roberts, to name a few. When a celebrity wears your design on the red carpet, how does that happen?

James: It can work a million different ways. Their stylist or manager can contact us, and say,  “she liked style number 23 from the runway; can she try it?” Or, if it’s someone we’ve worked with in the past, we can collaborate secretly with her stylist before the nominations even come out. She doesn’t want to be jinxed!
Mark: Sometimes, they see a silhouette that we’re doing and suggest a color they have in mind.  Sometimes, we’ll sketch from scratch because a lot of them love the idea that a dress has been made to order. And who wouldn’t?
James: Our couture gowns are very limited, so in order to avoid duplicate dresses showing up at the same event, we keep track of who’s wearing what to which event.

Do you have any advice for women dressing for a special event? 

Mark: Fit is so important!  You can take an average gown, and if it fits you impeccably, it can be absolutely magical.  I think a lot of women are too rushed. They grab something off the rack that they’ve got to wear that night, and it’s never going to do them justice. So, if you find something you really love, have the dress tailored. You’ll feel better at the end of the day, and the dress will enhance you that much more. 
James: If you are the “guest of,” you should shop ahead of time. Have something in your closet that you can rely on.  You’ll never find the right thing at the last minute.
Mark: Every woman that goes shopping in a pinch never finds that perfect piece. She winds up spending too much, she feels too much anxiety, and it doesn’t end up working out. It takes all the fun out of it. 

When you started the Bridal line in 1996, did you anticipate its phenomenal success?

Mark: From our trunk shows, we had a lot of requests for our gowns in white or candlelight (a soft white) because our brides wanted a more sophisticated look, like a white evening gown. 
James: We knew there was a need for it (the bridal line); we just didn’t know how big it would be.  The bridal details (bridesmaids, shoes, jewelry, groomsmen gifts) are very important. These were layered on as we went along. We design shoes, why not bridal shoes?

Which situation is more stressful for you: a high-profile bride (like Tori Spelling or Jada Pinkett Smith) or a celebrity dressing for the red carpet?

Mark: To me, they’re the same.
James: With a celebrity, there’s always a back-up dress. And with a bride, there never is. 
Mark: For the bride, that is her red carpet. Each one thinks she’s Gwyneth Paltrow, and she is.

Tell me about your contemporary collection, Mark + James.

James: We started the line about two years ago, because we had a number of young celebrities (Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood) who wanted to wear Badgley Mischka to parties and openings. The regular line of BM is a little too serious for these girls.
Mark: They’re not big investment gowns, just a sexy little short dress that girls can wear to parties. They’re very accessible, and many of our clients will buy one or two for their daughters.  We’ve had a lot of fun doing the line.

How has social media changed fashion week? Are you tech savvy?

Mark: I’m hopeless. 
James: It’s changed things dramatically. The dissemination of knowledge was so archaic compared to the way it is now. Now, everyone is tweeting from the front row. Then there are pictures (of the show) on style.com or vogue.com within hours of the show. I like reading the reviews immediately, instead of waiting days to read if Women’s Wear Daily (fashion’s Bible) is going to kill you or love you.
Mark: I like that there are so many voices now. For a long time, there were only two or three voices in fashion. They still exist, but now there are so many other voices.
James: It’s tremendous exposure. When a celebrity tweets from the runway, “I love Badgley Mischka!” and she’s got 200,000 followers who may not know about us, and now they do because so-and-so said it was cool—that’s amazing.  

If you weren’t designers, what would you do for a living?

Mark: I show horses, hunters and jumpers, so I would do something with horses.
James: I was going to be a biomedical engineer, but I don’t think I’ll go back to that.  I think I’d like to be a Formula One racecar driver.


You can shop Badgley Mischka at Neiman Marcus, 1000 S. Main St., Walnut Creek, neimanmarcus.com.