Roughly twenty-four hours before their sophomore collection debut, the atmosphere at the Cushnie et Ochs studio is eerily calm. The designers, Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs, rest on chairs around a table chatting with their co-workers – all stylish twenty-somethings. Two well dressed men surf the web and snack on Chipotle burritos, while two petite blonds lounge on a pristine white leather couch labeling cards. Models have been in and out of the studio all day, and everyone is having an amusing time poking fun at the young girls’ naïveté. Dancing around the studio to MGMT‘s “Electric Feel,” Michelle says she wants the Asian model they just fitted for the second look. “The one who says she wants to move to New York because she likes pizza!” an assistant chirps. The entire group erupts into giggles, each giving their two cents on viable reasons to move to New York.
Both designers call Manhattan home, but neither are native New Yorkers. Michelle, a Canadian by way of Maryland, and Carly, a Londoner, met during their second year at Parsons. Although they never collaborated as students, the two decided to go into business together over short ribs and red wine at Soho’s Shorty’s .32 due to their similar design aesthetic. With a penchant for body-con dressing and strategically placed cut-outs, the duo’s American Psycho inspired collection last September garnered a lot of attention. It wasn’t so much the fanatical serial killer that influenced the collection, but “really it was the notion of taking care of one’s self. The book goes on for pages with no break about his morning routine.” Carly lulls in her enticing English accent. Christian Bale fans will recall the ten minute shower scene from the film where he waxes poetic about his daily ritual. Michelle remarks “It was really the language from the book and the visual from the film…we were designing for Patrick Bateman’s counterpart.”
The clean meticulous aesthetic is a signature for Cushnie et Ochs. Midriff-baring tops and second-skin dresses are ever present, but coupled with cocoon-like jackets and fur accents for Fall 2009. The inspiration for their current collection started from Edward Burtynsky‘s industrial landscapes. They were intrigued by images of factories in China where so many people are lined up in rows “they become almost a texture – not people,” says Michelle. Indeed there is a sense of texture in this collection that wasn’t present last season. Intricate beading incorporated into key pieces takes on a life of its own. “We played around with the concept of old world beauty” Michelle says. Sculptures made out of marble and cement serve for a muted color palate of grays, blacks, and whites. The clothes look almost as if they are one with the model. Michelle definitively states the word “android” sums up the collection nicely.
On the eve before they present their second effort to fashion’s elite one would expect a just a twinge of nervous energy, but they seem to be taking it all in stride. When asked how they feel about the many comparisons to Proenza Schouler, the girls are quick to point out that there are a lot of other design teams to come out of Parsons in recent years. They start listing a catalogue of names such as Vena Cava and Ohne Title. “We’re a duo and we’ve graduated from Parson’s” Carly summarizes. But the girls imply the comparisons end there; they certainly aren’t letting the attention go to their heads. When asked what the first thing they plan on doing post-show, Carly exclaims “Sleep!” as she leans back in her chair with wistful hope. The girls also will play tour guides to visiting guests. “We’re going to Bergdorf’s. We have family in town and they haven’t seen our line in Bergdorf’s yet.” There’s nothing that rounds out a trip to New York better than a shopping excursion to the city’s staple department store – especially when it involves seeing their own names under fluorescent lights!