NEVER MIND THAT COURTENEY COX ARQUETTE, ANGELA Bassett and Jamie Lee Curtis are fans of Badgley Mischka’s beautifully cut, ultra-glamorous gowns. Or that Badgley (Mark) and Mischka (James) sent out 60 camera-friendly frocks for celebs to consider wearing to this week’s Academy Awards. The twosome isn’t above fishing for clients. “We have a platinum striped lace gown that I know Sharon Stone would want if she saw it,” says Badgley. Adds Mischka, only half jokingly: “We just have to find out where she lives and keep driving past with the dress in the car window.”
Not that their designs need the added visibility. Business partners for 8 years and romantic partners for 10, Badgley and Mischka, both 35, are suddenly white-hot in Hollywood, where being fashionable once again means glitz and glamor. Perfect fits for any awards show or black-tie bash, their bare-all creations of tulle, silk and lace have in the past year draped Tori Spelling at the Emmys, Paula Abdul at the Grammys and Lea Thompson at the Golden Globes. Flouting the tradition of keeping their choice of Oscar-night finery secret, Bassett and Winona Ryder have announced plans to wear Badgley Mischka at the March 25 Academy Awards.
“It feels wonderful to embrace a little bit of elegance,” says Lois & Clark’s Teri Hatcher, a longtime Badgley Mischka fan. “Wearing their dresses is sort of like playing princess for a day.” Even though the pair’s fashions are pricey ($3,00045,000) and include such details as antiqued pearls (their distressed patina comes from baths in Drano), the simple cuts and styles are anything but froufrou. “Our philosophy is, ‘One zip and you’re glamorous,’ ” says Badgley. “When you get dressed for evening, you shouldn’t have to work hard at it.”
Badgley began designing as a kid in Lake Oswego, Ore., where his father, Paul, was a department-store executive, and his mother, Marjorie, a homemaker. (Mark’s twin sister, O’Hara, is now Badgley Mischka’s West Coast coordinator.) “I remember drawing women and clothes when I could barely hold a crayon,” he says. After graduating from high school in 1979, he studied fine arts at the University of Oregon and USC before transferring to Parsons School of Design in New York City.
There he met Mischka, whose route into fashion was more circuitous. The oldest of three boys, Mischka was raised in Malibu and later, at 12, suffered culture shock when his father, Carl, a sales executive, and his home-maker mother, Judith, relocated the family to Skillman, N.J. “In Malibu we would make love beads and dye our clothes,” Mischka recalls. “In New Jersey, it was totally chinos and button-down shirts.” A National Merit Scholar, he won a scholarship to Rice University to study biomedical engineering and planned to design artificial limbs one day. “I was trying to be as artistic as I could be in a scientific field,” he explains. Eventually his creative side won out. He completed a major in arts management, and in 1982 he too enrolled at Parsons.
After the pair graduated in 1985, they were cohabiting and employed—Mischka as an assistant designer for Willi Smith, Badgley as an assistant designer for Donna Karan. Two years later, with $250,000 from their families, they formed their own company. “After working for others, we both wanted our own thing,” says Mischka. “We knew we had the same aesthetic.” They held their first show the next year to little fanfare. “People thought Badgley Mischka was some old Russian lady,” laughs Badgley. But following their second show, Barney’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue came calling, as well as such clients as Joan Rivers and Whitney Houston.
Now, except for occasional weekends at a Southampton, N.Y., rental, the pair, who live in a Village duplex with their three dogs, spend most of their time at their Seventh Avenue studio. Admits Badgley: “We’d rather go to work than do anything else.” Given that devotion—-they even nitpick over the color of the office toilet paper—it’s no wonder their creations give them a vicarious thrill. “We love seeing our stuff on TV,” says Badgley. “Our clothes lead much more exciting lives than we do.”
ALLISON LYNN in New York City