Born Mark Badgley, January 12, 1961, in East St. Louis, MO; son of Paul (a department–store executive) and Marjorie (a homemaker) Badgley. Education: Attended the University of Oregon; attended University of Southern California; graduated from Parsons School of Design, New York, NY, 1985. Born James Mischka, December 23, 1960, in Burlington, WI; son of Carl (a sales executive) and Judith (a homemaker) Mischka. Education: Earned a degree from Rice University, c. 1982; graduated from Parsons School of Design, New York, NY, 1985.
Launched line of women’s eveningwear under label Badgley Mischka, 1988, after jobs as design assistants at Jackie Rogers and Donna Karan (Badgley), and Yves St. Laurent and Willi Smith (Mischka); line backed financially by Escada AG, 1992–2004; introduced bridal line, 1996, and footwear, 1999; opened store in Beverly Hills, CA, 2000.
American designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka create elegant, ultra–luxurious evening gowns that are red–carpet favorites for some of the
Mark Badgley and James Mischka
entertainment industry’s best–dressed actresses. The beaded, form–fitting Badgley Mischka–label designs seem to hearken back to a bygone era of Hollywood dazzle. “Our philosophy is, ‘One zip and you’re glamorous,'” Badgley told Janice Min when she profiled the duo for People. “When you get dressed for evening, you shouldn’t have to work hard at it.”
Though the two designers—partners in business and in life—have lived in the New York City area since the early 1980s, each have ties to California. Badgley was born in East St. Louis, Missouri, in 1961, and grew up in suburb called Belleville. His father was a department–store executive whose job took the family to Lake Oswego, Oregon, when Badgley and his twin sister, O’Hara, were seven. The future designer claimed to have sketched evening clothes since he was a child. “I remember drawing women and clothes when I could barely hold a crayon,” he told Min in People. He studied art at the University of Oregon, and then moved on to the University of Southern California, where he took business courses. Around 1982, he enrolled at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.
Mischka was a native of California, the eldest of three boys and born just before Christmas of 1960. The family moved from the beach town of Malibu to New Jersey when he was 12, however, and Mischka recalled it as a rather difficult transition. “In Malibu we would make love beads and dye our clothes,” he said in the People interview with Min. “In New Jersey, it was totally chinos and button–down shirts.” During his senior year of high school, Mischka won a National Merit Scholarship, and used it at Rice University. A biomedical engineering major there, he planned on designing artificial limbs as a career, but eventually switched to an arts–management program at the Houston, Texas, school. Around 1982, he, too moved to New York to study at Parsons.
Badgley and Mischka met at Parsons, and after graduating in 1985 began careers on Seventh Avenue. Badgley worked as a design assistant for Jackie Rogers and Donna Karan, while Mischka did a stint in Paris at Yves St. Laurent before working for the menswear line of designer Willi Smith. In 1988, the duo put together $250,000 in loans from their families, and formed their own company. They used their own names, though having an eponymous label initially seemed a bit of a drawback. “People thought Badgley Mischka was some old Russian lady,” Badgley joked in the People article.
From the start, Badgley and Mischka were determined to only design eveningwear, keeping clear of the far more fickle, highly competitive sportswear and career sectors of women’s fashion. Though their first showing of evening gowns was not much of a success, their second one resulted in orders from Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, and Neiman Marcus. Buyers and customers alike loved their ultra–feminine, sleek dresses, and a minor cult following developed, despite price tags that sometimes reached $5,000. Their designs were sewn from a variety of delicate fabrics, often in a subdued metal palette that became part of their signature style, and were usually elaborately beaded or embellished. The designers even aged some of their materials on purpose, so “they’re not plastic and new–looking,” Badgley told St. Louis Post–Dispatch writer Becky Homan. For example, they use Drano and a dry–cleaning fluid to take the orange sheen from gold thread, and soaked pearls in a Drano bath to achieve a more antiqued patina.
In their early years in business, despite doing $2 million in sales a year, Badgley and Mischka struggled to keep their business solvent, and were sometimes forced to resort to credit–card advances to make ends meet. In 1992, German ready–to–wear powerhouse Escada AG bought a controlling stake in their company. “We’re really excited,” Badgley told Constance C.R. White for a WWD article at the time. “Escada has unbelievable resources so we’ll be able to use more luxurious fabrics.” Within a few years, their dresses were favorites of actresses like Winona Ryder, Angela Bassett, and Sharon Stone, but well–heeled young executive women also liked them as well. “Our customer almost dresses like a man for day, in a real modern way,” Mischka explained to Homan in the St. Louis Post–Dispatch about their line’s appeal. “But she’s bored dressing like that for evening. She wants over–the–top glamour by night.”
In 1996, after devoted clients began clamoring for specially made dresses from the Badgley Mischka collection in white or off–white for their weddings, the designers decided to launch a bridal line sold out of the high–end salon at Saks. “A lot of the women who come to us wear designer clothes, and they want that look for their bridal dresses,” Mischka said in a 1997 interview with White for the New York Times.The fashion journalist described the new Badgley Mischka venture as representative of a trend toward a more daring, couture–inspired elegance in bridal wear, but Mischka did admit that reality sometimes intruded on fantasy. “When we envision our evening gowns we see them being worn in palaces and on marble staircases,” Mischka told the newspaper. “In reality, they’re going to the Marriott.”
With the Escada backing, Badgley Mischka were able to expand into daywear, evening bags, and shoes by 2000. They also opened their first store, a Beverly Hills boutique, which placed them near the epicenter of the old–style Hollywood glamor that continued to inspire their line. Overhead costs for their company remained high, however: the luxurious fabrics came from Europe, and were then cut, sewn, and fitted in Badgley Mischka’s Seventh Avenue workshop. From there, a dress was boxed and flown to a beading factory in Bombay, India. By the time it returned ready for sale, it had logged some 70,000 air miles. Though their company did $40 million in sales in 2003, Badgley Mischka’s label failed to turn a profit in tough economic times after 2001. Escada, struggling to stay afloat as well, began seeking a buyer for its 80 percent stake in late 2003, and several high–profile luxury–goods makers were reportedly interested. The designers were pragmatic about the pending sale. “We are ready to branch out, like open up another store,” Mischka told San Francisco Chronicle writer Sylvia Rubin. “We want to do fragrance, eyewear, loungewear, and you need deep pockets for that. We’re very, very close to signing a new deal; we’re all geared up and ready to rock and roll.”