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‘We Like Strong, Powerful Women’ – ELLE Chats To The Duo Behind Cushnie Et Ochs At NYFW

Over the weekend, Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs celebrated their 10th anniversary show and aptly took inspiration from ‘Queen of the curve’ Zaha Hadid.

‘That was quite surreal,’ says Michelle Ochs, one-half of dynamic duo Cushnie et Ochs after their Fall 2018 runway show. She could be talking about last night’s runway: on a bitterly cold Friday night, inside Pier 17 – an empty building in lower Manhattan – they celebrated their 10th anniversary. Whoopi Goldberg stood nearby, Ashley Graham sat front row and the models emerged from behind white screens while base-heavy trap and house music blared out over the speakers.

It was quite surreal.

But Ochs’s words could also refer to her and her design partner Carly Cushnie’s impressive career trajectory. Once dubbed the queens of body-con, they’ve dressed everyone from Selena Gomez to Blake Lively and Michelle Obama (and not just once, fyi).

A model walks the runway at Cushnie Et Ochs Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2018-2019 fashion show during New York Fashion Week on February 9, 2018 in New York City | ELLE UK

The designer’s ethos is clear: for women, by women – and you can see it in everything they do. Whether it’s curve-skimming silhouettes, architecture-inspired dresses or a peek-a-boo cut-out giving you just a hint of shoulder – the women who wear their clothes look simultaneously smart and smoking hot.

‘The female body has always been a muse to us,’ explains British-born Cushnie, ‘it’s really about how the body makes the dress.’

Ochs agrees: ‘We like strong strong, powerful, feminine women. So even though she’s wearing a beautiful draped dress – like some of the girls in this collection – we still want her to feel powerful and feminine. That’s our goal.’

Designers Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs walk the ruway at Cushnie Et Ochs Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2018-2019 fashion show during New York Fashion Week on February 9, 2018 in New York City | ELEL UK

Carly Cushnie (l) and Michelle Ochs (r) walk the runway at their NYFW show

For their 10th birthday (‘where does the time go?’ wonders Ochs), the collection paid homage to their ultimate muse, the late, world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid.

‘Since day one, we’ve been inspired by art and architecture,’ explains Cushnie. ‘Our collections are inherently very clean, so it’s always been a good starting point for us, and we’ve looked at Zaha over the years but never properly focused on her. She’s known as the ‘Queen of the curve’ and, as we’re known for designing clothes that fit sculpturally around the body, it just felt right.’

The result? Everything fitted to perfection. Evening dresses skimmed the model’s bodies and if you hadn’t quite got the brand’s ideology – sleek, minimal sexiness – there was no way you walked out of the show without it seared into your mind.

Each girl marched out wearing figure-hugging dresses (the show opened with a spectacular white feather-trimmed dress), pencil skirts, and bodysuits in pops of hot pink, shiny silver, black and gold.

Yet ten years in, and the duo are feeling reflective. They’ve successfully navigated the notoriously fickle fashion industry, despite describing it as a boys club. The secret? Sticking to your guns, says Ochs.

‘The very first look, in our first collection, was a pink dress with a cut out…and we kind of got bashed for it in the beginning. Back then cut outs and crop tops weren’t popular silhouettes but we thought they were really interesting ways to play and show off skin. So we stuck with it. It was always about: how can we make her look strong and feminine but not overtly in your face?’

While there have been many highlights, dressing the former First Lady is most definitely up there. You know you’ve hit it big when Michelle Obama starts wearing your clothes (something Jason Wu knows a thing or two about). They received the request the night before Thanksgiving and, in less than a week, the olive green dress was ready for a Christmas appearance at the Washington gala in 2011. Michelle then chose a little black dress (with a curve-hugging cut, naturally) for the ESPY awards in 2017, and has worn Cushnie et Ochs several more times, too.

But, for a fashion brand all about strong women, Gal Gadot stepping out in their floral bustier on The Tonight Show was equally exciting.

‘Before Wonder Woman came out, I was like “I want to dress Gal!”‘ says Ochs. ‘I was like she’s amazing, and she’s going to play Wonder Woman, we have to dress her.’

The list of women they’d like to dress, however, is always being refined. While Halle Berry is currently number one (‘we’ll make it work one day!’), the duo wants ‘absolutely everyone’ to wear Cushnie. And with a new range of shoes, bags, and activewear (in addition to ready-to-wear), they’re not so far from it.

‘We started the brand in our twenties,’ explains Cushnie, ‘and I think sometimes blissful naivety was helpful at that age. When you think you can just do something it gives you the balls to go and do it. Now we’re in our thirties and we are able to dress these women from head-to-toe, from the shoes all the way up, and it’s a huge milestone.’

Ochs agrees: ‘When we started Instagram didn’t even exist, so I can’t even imagine what the next ten years will look like. We’ll have drones delivering dresses to women on their doorstep, or something. You just have to roll with the punches.’

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This article originally appeared on elleuk.com