Michelle Ochs, who for 10 years was half the creative team at Cushnie et Ochs, is returning to business under her own label.
She will launch her own luxury women’s wear collection, Et Ochs, as part of JS Group, a Canadian family-run business. Ochs plans to show her first spring collection in a virtual show on the CFDA’s Runway360 on Thursday. Ochs will service as creative director and founder.
Ochs and Carly Cushnie were in business together from 2008 to 2018 and became known for their cutout, body-conscious dresses. Cushnie et Ochs won an Ecco Domani award in 2009, was nominated for a Swarovski Award for Womenswear at the 2012 CFDA Fashion Awards, was a finalist for the 2011 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and was a nominee for the 2010 Fashion Group International Rising Star Award. Celebrities and public figures such as Michelle Obama, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Lopez and Gal Gadot donned their designs.
The designers, who were cofounders and co-chief creative officers, split in 2018 and the Cushnie et Ochs business closed. Cushnie continued to design a collection called Cushnie, which shuttered in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 and the difficult retail environment. A lawsuit between the former partners over a settlement agreement came to a close last year. Ochs declined comment on the lawsuit.
Now, Ochs has decided the timing is right to make a comeback.
In an interview Friday, she said she made good use of the break, had two children who are now three and one, worked on some projects, did some consulting, and is ready to jump back in.
“Over the two years, I took the time and reflected. I’m reenergized about design, I have been quietly working on this. I really felt there was a white space that was left behind after Cushnie et Ochs. And I thought this was the perfect opportunity,” said Ochs, who graduated from Parsons School of Design with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and received Parsons’ top honor of Designer of the Year in 2007 (Cushnie was the runner-up). She also received a 2006 CFDA Scholarship Award and SAGA Design Award when at Parsons. She and Cushnie met while students there.
When asked how she and Cushnie used to divide responsibilities or whether they designed Cushnie et Ochs together, Ochs said, “I led the creative direction and executed the creative for Cushnie et Ochs. I think the consumer, with the launch of Et Ochs, will see a seamless transition from what Cushnie et Ochs was doing, and what Et Ochs is.”
Ochs said she found an amazing partner in JS Group, who believes in her and her aesthetic. “We figured out what we can do to bring it to the next level under my own namesake,” said Ochs. JS Group acquired the Cushnie et Ochs label and trademarks after the business closed, and could eventually use that label for another business, she said.
Mitchell Hops, chief executive officer of JS Group, said, “Michelle is an incredible talent, and we are thrilled to launch Et Ochs with her, and stand behind her strong vision for this brand.”
Describing what she sees as the white space, Ochs said the collection will focus on clean lines, artful tailoring and femininity combined with a minimal sophistication. “It’s still about the body with all those details carefully considered,” she said. She described her aesthetic as the perfected fit using beautiful fabrics, as well as a play on hard and soft that celebrates femininity. “I think that I’ve grown as a woman over this time, I’ve grown as a designer, I want to carry that DNA to another level with a new perspective as a woman and a designer. I’m a mother now. What you’ll see hopefully is there being a sense of ease.”
She said so many people view her as a designer for cocktail and evening, “But everything has changed in the world. I think [the consumer] has also evolved, and I think a lot of that will be reflected. There will be an easiness to it and a more paring down at its core and still about the body.” Ochs said she’ll still give her dresses and little bit “of that evening moment,” but there is also an assortment of daywear. At Cushnie et Ochs, she said, people generally saw cocktail dresses on the celebrities, but they had a very strong business with separates. “It was there, but I think we want to bring it [day] to the forefront now,” she said.
Ochs, who has begun showing the line to stores, is targeting retailers such as Elyse Walker, Mytheresa, Harvey Nichols in Dubai and Bergdorf Goodman.
The Et Ochs collection will be manufactured overseas of Italian-made fabrics. Ochs said it runs as its own business and they share resources under the JS Group umbrella. Et Ochs doesn’t have a president at this point, and she’s working with JS leadership. She will offer four collections a year and e-commerce will be available for preorders this week, with a full e-commerce operation coming in January when the product hits the stores.
Ochs will show 20 looks on Thursday, including jackets, bodysuits, pants, dresses, knitwear and gowns. The collection has hardware details and architectural lines; there’s also a hint of crystal that plays off novelty sequins and a vibrant print that Ochs calls “an adult tie-dye.”
Aiming to align with the emerging designer price point, knitwear will retail from $445 to $1,095, tops will range from $495 to $725, pants will retail from $695 to $995, dresses will range from $1,095 to $1595, and gowns and jumpsuits will retail from $1,395 to $1,895. She said price points have been brought down around 15 percent from where they were at the height of Cushnie et Ochs.
“I really wanted to build on where we left off from Cushnie et Ochs and those stapes and evolve them,” she said. She said her customer is reenergized and excited to get dressed again. “We were always very sexy, but always had an element of stretch and some undertone of active component to it. We want her to feel easy and comfortable getting dressed, but still be polished and put together.”
In the future, she would love to return to the categories she was doing at Cushnie et Ochs, such as active, footwear, swimwear and bridal. “I don’t know why that would not be the case for Et Ochs. With the support of JS Group, we have no limitations now of what we’re capable of doing,” she said.
JS Group, which is headquartered in Montreal and has a showroom at 475 Tenth Avenue in New York, has such licensed brands as ML Monique Lhuillier, Kay Unger New York, and Halston, along with its own brands, Theia, Amur and JS Collections.
Gary Wassner, a former investor in Cushnie et Ochs and CEO of Hilldun Corp., described Ochs as the workhorse and more of the direction-setting partner of Cushnie et Ochs. “Michelle is the perfect person to re-birth the brand. I think it’s a remarkable opportunity. Everybody loved the brand. The last two years, after Michelle left, the response was not as strong as when she was there. The market is very anxious to see what she’s doing. It was a great-selling brand for many retailers. They locked up that category, and there’s no reason she wouldn’t lock it up again,” said Wassner.
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