In honor of the label's 30th anniversary, designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka discuss how the red carpet helped launch their careers — and keep them in the spotlight for three decades

By Sharon Kanter
September 26, 2018 03:41 PM
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Winona Ryder at the 1996 Oscars; Jennifer Lopez at the 1997 Oscars; Kate Winslet at the 2005 Oscars.
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When stars want to feel glamorous, they know they can turn to Badgley Mischka — as they have for the past 30 years.

Ever since Winona Ryder helped put them on the map by wearing their blush beaded strappy gown to the 1996 Academy Awards, the list of celebrity fans of the Mark Badgley and James Mischka-designed label is seemingly endless: Jennifer Garner, Melissa McCarthy, Kate Winslet, Taylor Swift, Queen Latifah, Carrie Underwood and Meghan Markle are just a few A-listers who have worn the label’s signature feminine, figure-flattering looks. Jennifer Lopez chose them to dress her for multiple appearances, including her first Oscars in 1997 when Selena was the talk of the town, Jennifer Garner had them dress her baby bump for the 2005 Emmys, and Helen Mirren has worn them to every major awards show, from the Golden Globes to the Oscars, for over a decade.

Jennifer Garner at the 2005 Emmys; Taylor Swift at the 2008 Met Gala; Queen Latifah at the 2016 Golden Globes.
Gregg DeGuire/WireImage; Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage; Jason Merritt/Getty

“Stars are like American royalty, and there’s nothing more gratifying than when you see a beautiful woman walking down the red carpet in one of our pieces,” Mark Badgley, who designs the label alongside his business partner and husband James Mischka, tells PEOPLE.

“It’s incredible how that whole red carpet phenomenon has snowballed over the years,” Badgley continues. “In the very beginning, people thought it was going to peak, and it just seems like it just keeps gaining more and more and more momentum. The public loves it — and it did a lot for our business.”

Helen Mirren at the BAFTA Los Angeles Britannia event; at the 2010 Oscars; at the 2015 Tony Awards.
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It’s a business that continues to grow: The pair celebrated their 30th anniversary at their Spring 2019 fashion show during New York Fashion Week on Sept. 8 with a dreamy, floral-filled collection that delivered exactly what fans of the brand have come to know and love about them: Easy elegance for all types of women. (Nine days later, Laurie Metcalf wore one of the gowns from the fashion show to the Emmys, where she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.)

A model at the Spring 2019 Badgley Mischka fashion show on Sept. 8; Laurie Metcalf at the 2018 Emmys on Sept. 17.
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In fact, Badgley Mischka has been inclusive before being inclusive was even part of the fashion vernacular, with the aim of designing for a wide variety of women. For them, dressing all types of women was — and always will — be a given, as they’ve cornered a market for women who want fanciness without the fussiness. “One zip and you’re glamorous,” Badgley likes to say.

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“We don’t like to make complicated clothes,” Mischka tells PEOPLE. “You can have a dress that might otherwise be as simple as [to call it] mediocre, but it fits you perfectly, it’s going to be a home run.”

“We’ve always stayed true to our roots and not tried to be everything to everybody,” Mischka continues. “We really tried to maintain that sense of glamour through everything that we do, through every trend that comes and goes. That’s been our secret and that’s why we’re happy to be 30 years old today.”

Mark Badgley, Helen Mirren and James Mischka at the Spring 2016 fashion show in N.Y.C.
Michael Stewart/WireImage

Celebrity stylist Micaela Erlanger — who has styled the label’s fashion show for the past several seasons and has chosen their looks for clients including Catherine Zeta Jones, Lupita Nyong’o and Meryl Streep — says that maintaining that “elegance for all” mantra isn’t easy, but they make it look like it is.

“To sum it up, they know what works,” Erlanger tells PEOPLE of the designers. “They design for all different types of bodies and they want women to feel fabulous in what they have on. That comes through with their designs.”

When the designers started their business, they had no idea it would grow into an empire that encompasses red carpet-worthy eveningwear, as well as sportswear, daywear, footwear and accessories. 

James Mischka and Mark Badgley met as students at the Parsons School of Design in New York. After designing for other labels — including a stint at Donna Karan for Badgley — the pair teamed up to launch their own line in 1998. “I can remember in the beginning we didn’t take a day off in two-and-a-half years,” says Badgley. “But, if you’re passionate and that’s what you want, that’s what it takes. It’s a ruthless industry. It’s extremely gratifying, but the competition is intense.” 

Several years into designing, they launched bridalwear in 1993. Their feminine aesthetic translated easily to wedding dresses, which made them a first call for celebrity brides, including Lauren Conrad, Kellie Pickler and Morgan Stewart.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith on the wedding day.
Will Smith/Instagram

One of their fondest memories was designing the wedding day looks for Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.

The designers were in Germany for Christmas in 1997, and got a call that Jada needed a dress and Will needed a suit—stat. “We spent the night Christmas Eve sewing, because the wedding was right after,” says Badgley. “I’ll never forget we pulled an all-nighter the night before and sewed through the night on Christmas Eve.” 

That moment was nearly 10 years into their run, and 20 years later, the two are as hard at work as ever: They bought back their business from Iconix Brand Group in 2016 in order to be able to exert more control over its direction.

The debut of Badgley Mischka childrenswear at the Spring 2019 Fashion Show on Sept. 8.
Getty (3)

Their Fashion Week show also marked their debut of childrenswear for girl sizes 4 to 14 (available at Nordstrom and Dillard’s next month), as well as an announcement of the release of their 30th anniversary fragrance named Badgley Mischka Eau de Parfum ($28 to $115 at badgleymischka.com). “To us, perfume is the most glamorous accessory a woman could have in her wardrobe,” says Badgley.

While they are growing, maintaining their voice in the cluttered fashion space has been difficult at times, they admit. “The business has changed so much. When we started, it moved at a much slower pace,” says Badgley, who adds that the Internet has changed the landscape of how women shop. “Now, it’s a complete blur,” he says. “There are no rules. There’s no reasoning. There are so many choices. There are so many voices in the industry now. And, it moves at lightning speed.”

Gina Rodriguez won her 2015 Golden Globe in a dress by Badgley Mischka.
Kevork Djansezian/NBC/Getty

Their secret: Not straying from their vision. They don’t care if you don’t think they’re trendy or cool or avant-garde — they never tried to be, nor want to be. “You can’t compare yourself along the way to other brands, and you can’t really mark their progress,” says Badgley. “You’ve got to do it your own way and find your niche and sort of stick to your guns and what you believe in.”

Another secret to their success: Believing in each other. Not only are they business partners, they are partners in life. The pair married in New York City in March 2013 after 28 years together.

“We got married at City Hall and the Justice of the Peace was reading off her list and then she saw our names and she’s like, ‘Oh my god, I love your shoes!’ Right in the middle of the service,” says Mischka. “She went off on a 10-minute dissertation on the various shoe styles that she’s bought from us, which we found very funny, because it was so unexpected.”

Mark Badgley (left) and James Mischka (right).
Gary Gershoff/WireImage

“It’s actually a blessing to have a partner in this business, trust me,” says Badgley.

“A big part of it is that Mark and I don’t have any ego when it comes to each other,” adds Mischka. “We really just don’t. Neither one of us tries to outdo the other — we just try to outdo everybody else together.”

What does the future hold? More glamour for more women, they say. 

“Fashion’s gotten so fast and furious,” says Badgley. “We like a woman to take a breath, look at herself in the mirror when she’s going out, and feel really beautiful and confident.”

“When a real woman wears a piece of ours, it’s so major,” Badgley continues. “It’s almost as much fun as someone coming out on the red carpet at the Oscars. Those are the moments that really make it all worthwhile.”

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