Known for their ability to seamlessly fuse sophistication and sensuality, Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs have got creating refined event attire wear down to a fine art. The New York City-based duo share their insights on statement dressing for the season ahead.
Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs met while studying at Parsons School of Design in New York. Their similar aesthetics and shared creative tastes caused them to form a close friendship and upon graduating in 2007 the two decided to combine forces. A year later they officially launched their eponymous brand Cushnie et Ochs and debuted their spring/summer 2009 collection at New York Fashion Week. The rest, as they say, is history. There have been plenty of milestones along the way to the pair’s fast approaching 10-year anniversary, including winning the Ecco Doman Fashion Fund Award, selling a stake of their company to private investors and the expansion of their brand into accessories, not to mention the fact that their ready-to-wear offerings are consistently worn by some of the most powerful and influential women in the world – Michelle Obama, Rihanna and Selena Gomez are amongst them. Despite all their success, they remain extremely down to earth and have continued to work hard at developing and fine-tuning their sleekly tailored designs that celebrate the female form.
“It’s about modern sensuality,” Carly explains of the duo’s aesthetic. “We aim to create classic, iconic pieces for the modern woman – basically we design the pieces that we want and need in our own closets,” she says with a laugh. Michelle chimes in, in agreeance, “As women ourselves, we want versatility and longevity from our wardrobes. As designers, we want to be able to dress our women from day to dusk or from dusk to day - in whichever order works for them,” she says with a wink. It’s this profound understanding of what their peers want – laced with a touch of lightheartedness – that has seen the pair triumph by bringing together quality and functionality with just the right amount of sex appeal and sass. “While our woman has grown with us, she always remains the same. She's strong and confident, yet feminine and sexy,” expounds Michelle. “She’s a modern woman who is unapologetically bold in all that she does. We want to give our woman timeless and striking updates to her wardrobe season after season.”
The duo’s autumn/winter17 collection shown in New York earlier this year was a natural progression from their spring/summer show, consisting of simple yet powerful silhouettes that weren’t overtly ostentatious but held plenty of impact. “Each season, we research an idea and expand upon that through the exploration of colour and fabric before we define what the silhouettes and details of the season will be. Only then does the sketching begin - we each sketch separately and we bring our ideas together,” explains Carly. “This season we looked to American artist Robert Smithson for inspiration,” recounts Michelle. “His broken glass sculptures informed the icy tones, sharp angular lines and the lace detailing of the collection.” From well-cut jumpsuits and tuxedo jackets to peek-a-boo bodycon and sheath dresses, the collection holds endless options for women who require their wardrobes to exude round-the-clock allure. When it comes to naming the most glamorous look of the collection, Carly and Michelle are divided. “I love the midnight navy cocktail dress with the angular neckline and sequins because it’s sexy, glam and modern all at once,” declares Carly. “The finale look from our runway show is a glamorous, modern show-stopper,” counters Michelle. “With head-to-toe embroidery and glitter - it makes you look like a disco ball and you’ll command the attention of any room!”
As purveyors of red carpet attire, Carly and Michelle have their fingers well and truly on the pulse when it comes to what women should be wearing come event season. “We’d like to see people taking more risks on the red carpet this season and we especially want to see more pants!” Michelle asserts. “Pants should be more acceptable on the red carpet - we’re waiting for our moment to dress someone in a really amazing jumpsuit or trouser look for an award show.” Carly is quick to agree, “We believe jumpsuits and formal pant looks should take centre stage this season. Play with separates by pairing a great bodysuit or crop top with pants or a skirt, or try out a fitted suit. It’s all about power dressing.” Having found themselves on many a red carpet over the years, Carly swears by a strong cat’s eye or red lip as the key to pulling off any ensemble. For Michelle it’s sleek hair either worn blunt and straight or tied tightly back.
In the time that they’ve worked together, Michelle and Carly have developed systems to bring their respective ideas together cohesively. “Because there is two of us, we have a vast amount of ideas and thoughts that we need to narrow down each season,” explains Carly. “Two heads are always better than one,” echoes Michelle. “Our differences complement each other, which always works to balance out our collections. We being able to bounce ideas back and forth against each other and to make directional decisions together each season. This results in the strongest representation of our collective vision.” However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing; the pair took a major risk for their autumn/winter10 collection, which paid off in the end. “We had a change of heart just three weeks before the show, and ended up changing the entire collection,” recalls Carly. “We switched everything from the fabrics to the designs and the colours and even brought on a new stylist. It’s still one our favorite collections to date.”
As the end of the year approaches things show no sign of slowing down for Michelle and Carly who have just shown their spring/summer18 collection and simultaneously debuted their foray into footwear at New York Fashion Week. “We can't wait to receive our new handbags which we launched this season! This has been a much-anticipated category for us, and we’re so excited to carry our own bags around with us,” highlights Michelle. If the recent Emmy Awards, where Lea Michele and Padma Lakshi donned Cushnie et Ochs ensembles, are anything to go by, the duo’s standout designs will no doubt be in high demand as the film and entertainment industry heads into awards and events season.