From “Badgley Mischka: American Glamour” by Mark Badgley and James Mischka (Rizzoli New York), with an introduction by Dennita Sewell, preface by Andre Leon Talley and contributions from Hal Rubenstein.
Body-conscious, embellished, modern evening gowns imbued with the dreamy feeling of Hollywood’s golden age have been Badgley Mischka’s signature for more than twenty-five years, cultivating a revival of American glamour on the red carpet. Since joining forces in 1988, Mark Badgley and James Mischka have established a place in the arc of American fashion, concentrating on social dressing in the style made legendary by designers Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior, and Adrian. Like their predecessors, Mark Badgley and James Mischka’s personal charm is reflected in the relaxed, elegant beauty of their clothes. Their process of working as a creative pair is unique. With sensibilities that are so complementary, they have developed a mental shorthand between them.
Badgley grew up in Portland, Oregon. His father was chairman of a May Company department store, but Badgley developed his love of clothes by watching hours of TV as a kid, sketching Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, and other glamorous stars. He studied at the University of Oregon and USC before transferring to Parsons School of Design in New York, where the two met. Mischka was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Malibu and Princeton; he studied biomedical engineering at Rice University but dreamed of a fantasy inspired by the Sixties’ suburban glamour of his mother, who wore designer dresses by Paco Rabanne, among others. After graduating from Parsons in 1985, they both worked in the industry—Badgley for Jackie Rogers and Donna Karan, and Mischka for Willi Smith— before starting their company.
Mischka’s background in tailored men’s wear famously melded with Badgley’s love of ruffles, beading, and embroidery. Badgley’s twin sister, O’Hara, was their muse and constant inspiration. From the beginning, in their loft in Hell’s Kitchen, they worked together with a singular voice. “Nothing is sacred. We take each other’s sketches and draw over them,” says Mischka. “There’s absolutely no competition,” agrees Badgley. Having similar tastes and sharing a passion for the creative process, the two men split the work of the company between them, completely trusting each other’s decisions and judgments—even when working apart. One might be in Italy working on shoes while the other is in Paris or New York working with fabrics or the patternmaker, yet when the components are brought together, they seamlessly create a unified whole. The designers’ distinct qualities have become intertwined to create a unique style of modern, streamlined glamour that has been key to the pair’s success. Season after season, their collections are based on a few favorite, deceptively simple silhouettes, such as the mermaid fishtail gown, which serve as the foundation for their couture-style workmanship, detailed beading, and embellishment.
“We like what we like—and that has been consistent over the years. We have never tried to be everything for everybody,” Badgley explains. “We have never tried to be trendy, and we feel that this has been the reason we have earned the loyalty of our clientele. We’ve always just tried to make beautiful clothes.” Reflecting their one-zip-and-you’re-dressed philosophy, their gowns impart high glamour with an uncomplicated, modern-day simplicity—the beaded dress, in fact, acting as its own jewelry.
“Life today is so streamlined and mechanical, so processed. Our clothes hark back to when people had time to pay attention,” Mischka explains. “Today, the ultimate luxury is to have time. We try to package a sense of the charm and grace of that golden era for people.” Their signature muted colors—blush, misty gray, lavender, bisque, champagne, and platinum—are selected to highlight a woman’s complexion and to evoke an old-world atmosphere. These ethereal, antique colors, paired with the texture of custom beadwork, create an understated, shimmering luminescence. The remarkably fluid gowns made from delicate feather-light fabrics, such as chiffon and silk crepe, embrace the body because of the weight of the beads.