Showroom Visit: Cushnie et Ochs

– By Thomas Dai – 

If you’re looking for Cushnie et Ochs, the 4-year old label designed by Michelle Ochs and Carly Cushnie, head to West 37th street, between 8th and 9thAvenue. The building itself is nondescript. A sliver in space, packaged not-so-neatly with its neighbors. A tarot card parlor languishes next door and odd bits of window front sit dusty and unused nearby.

The brand calls the 12th floor of the building home. There, in an airy, white room earlier this week, breakfast was being served to a gaggle of eager young fashion students who had gathered there that morning to ask questions of Carly and Michelle and to see the brand’s covetable clothes in the flesh.

For those that don’t know, Cushnie et Ochs is hot right now. The heat may have something to do with a recent acceptance into the CFDA or the fact that the designers themselves are hot in their own right, the perfect ambassadors for their burgeoning line. At breakfast, Carly is wearing a black, sleeveless silk blouse which might have been basic if it were not bisected at the midriff by a foursquare of sexy cutouts. Michelle is wearing a blouse as well, hers in shimmery champagne with half-moon detailing at the bust. Both are sporting stick-thin, dark jeans and sleek high-heeled sandals. Though it’s essentially just another day in the office, not a hair is out of place on either woman. Looking at them, it’s easy to draw parallels between the clothes they design and the clothes they actually wear. The duo’s look is unadorned, attenuated, minimal with a frisson of danger thrown in. Similar, if not identical, descriptors could be applied to the Cushnie et Ochs line, which is defined by a certain level of austerity and a sensuality that is as intelligent as it is revealing.

The clothes on display at the showroom were pulled from the brand’s recent Resort 2013 presentation. When asked about their starting point for the collection, Michelle responded that she was inspired by watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel while Carly was thinking about Marie Antoinette, that imperial kind of decadence. She gestures towards a mood board on the wall, where sure enough, print outs of conical skulled alien Nefertitis share space with portraits of France’s last queen. Looking at the clothes in their orderly rows, I could discern a certain let-them-eat-cake quality to a vampy center slit gown in crimson silk, and a skirt and shirt combo in hologram fabric screamed intergalactic warrior princess, but overall, the stated themes of the collection were played upon only lightly. Instead, the designers seemed to be providing a tightly edited collection of things they do well–namely dresses with sexy (never vulgar) cut outs and a tailored fit—codifying succinctly the aspects of their clothing that lead women like Eva Longoria, Olivia Wilde and FLOTUS herself to come calling.

Such a strategy of concentrating on the brand’s pillars is practical, even smart, for a brand on the rise like Cushnie et Ochs. Resort, after all, is a season driven by sales, and if the Cushnie et Ochs designers have learned anything in the 4 years since their thesis collections at Parsons landed them on the cover of WWD, it’s that designing for a viable business is worlds apart from designing for class. “In school, you could make anything you wanted…” Carly mused, a nostalgic cant to her voice. Not so anymore. Yet that doesn’t mean that this talented duo can’t continue to make beautiful clothes at the intersection of good business and great design.


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